George Pascoe-Watson: Theresa May is finally finding her feet

Written by George Pascoe-Watson on 13 July 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

And as long as there is no obvious successor in the wings, senior Tories are now clear that the PM can endure.

-- THE INSIDER --

“She’s back”. So one well-trusted Theresa May ally tells me is the word around the Cabinet table.

Those spending time with Theresa May report she is finally finding her feet after the General Election disaster. The pieces are slowly but resolutely being put together again.

A reshuffle of her most senior ministers has made some subtle but important changes. Damian Green’s appointment as First Secretary of State was inspired. He’s a Remainer, sure. But he’s also popular amongst all wings of the Conservative Parliamentary Party and no fool. He’s certainly no ideologue and that matters.

The loss of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill exposed Mrs May to a sea of advisers from whom she’d been kept at considerable arm’s length. For a while, it was hard to see from where and from whom the Premier was taking counsel.

When you’ve put your complete faith in two people for six or seven years, outside your own husband, trusting newcomers is a challenge. But Gavin Barwell, her new chief of staff, along with Mr Green and other loyal ministers are beginning to bridge the gap.

A number of Downing Street staffers have gone. There was for a while a real prospect of destabilisation leading to Mrs May throwing in the towel. Her determination to serve the public out of duty, however, overcame any despondency and urge to walk away.

Mrs May has resolved to dig in and govern Britain by competency.  Sure, she’s no TV presenter. But the nation doesn’t need a TV presenter right now.

Newspaper headlines predict some figures like David Davis are on manoeuvers. There is a view that he would be a perfect shoe-in if the Premier could be persuaded to step down as Tory leader over the summer. There would then be a coronation and Mr Davis would lead the nation, not just our Brexit negotiations.

This, or something like this, could indeed happen in the coming months. Iain Duncan Smith will happily tell you that October party conference is a week of extreme peril for a leader without the support of his or her troops.

But there is a strong mood amongst wise heads in Parliament that Mrs May is on stronger ground than it is fashionable – or in some cases hopeful – to think.

She is personally wedded to staying, I am assured by people who know her.  Some – a small band - even canvass the notion of her leading the party into the next General Election. And as long as there is no obvious successor in the wings, senior Conservatives are quite clear that Mrs May can endure.

Cabinet ministers are enjoying their new found freedom to communicate with the outside world. This was off-limits to them during the previous regime. It understandably rankled and caused unnecessary friction.

Mrs May is, I gather, showing great focus in Cabinet and in her private meetings with colleagues. Of course the true test will come in the form of Brexit negotiations and unknown knowns. And unknown unknowns. The things we call “events”.

A steady hand will be required. Nobody needs a talent show. But competency is vital. Carelessness, or worse, being perceived to be uncaring, would probably be fatal.

But surrounded by wider and deeper counsel – and as long as she’s prepared to listen – the PM might well plough on for far longer than the bookies predicted, people in government are beginning to agree.

New faces are emerging in Downing Street. Robbie Gibb, plucked from bossing Andrew Neil at the BBC, is an inspired director of communications hire. A new team of business advisers at a very senior City level is being recruited. She may even have half a chance of reassuring the corporate world that business actually matters.

We shouldn’t forget there are some individuals who will have none of this. They are adamant that she is broken, and a lame duck and must go now for the good of the Party.

The question is how strong is their resolve in the face of the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn moving into Number 10?

 

 

 

About the author

George Pascoe-Watson is a partner at Portland Communications and former political editor of The Sun.

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