The sabotage of Theresa May’s authority is well under way. Boris has his eyes on the prize, but he knows he first must break every foundation that makes her stable.
Her defence to the media is that a cabinet should not be full of ‘yes-men’. A cabinet should be there to criticise, to guide and to follow. Heeding her own advice, however, will tarnish any legacy she hoped to leave in British politics.
Boris Johnson is one of modern Britain’s craftiest politicians. He knows that one day he will lead the party, and potentially the country. After he was given the opportunity to run for leadership in 2016, he withdrew his bid to avoid being the PM with the ‘impossible job’.
Theresa May was not so calculated in her approach. Her win was easy, her premiership a gauntlet.
It seems weekly now that May is giving the ‘speech of career’, as the press often put it. First it was the escapade in Florence, a chance for the PM to put herself back on track with EU diplomats after a period of destructive stagnation. What transpired instead was a PM undermined by Johnson’s article in the Daily Telegraph that regurgitated the nonsense he spoke of during the referendum.
He irritated the UK Statistics Authority by reviving the ‘£350m’ pledge, inflamed veterans like Ken Clarke who voiced their opposition, and undoubtedly annoyed the PM herself.
‘Boris will be Boris’ she quipped, attempting to mask the fact that her government is being dragged forward by a Eurosceptic buffoon.
What is most pressing, however, is the way May attempts to use Boris’ antics to consolidate her power. She hailed herself as the leader of a true government, one not inhabited with yes-men, but built on difference of opinion, moderation and contrast.
May is right. In fact she was spot on. Cabinets should not be built on a personality cult whereby each secretary or minister simply pledges their allegiance to every spoken word of the leader.
But Labour’s Shadow Cabinet is a discussion for another time …
Fundamentally, May’s doctrine on government is accurate. She knows however, that by following this doctrine she digs her own grave deeper and deeper.
Her cabinet is not full of yes-men. Nor is it one of constructive difference.
Johnson — and to some extent David Davis — make her Cabinet nothing but a power grab. A vacuum left by weak leadership and volatile cabinet members has turned her doctrine on government into a shambles.
If we compare it to the last truly conflictive government, the differences are stark. Blair kept a solid ruling hand over his government even if Gordon Brown eyed the prize well before 2007.
The Blair-Brown differences proved relatively constructive. With different economic ideals, the Chancellor was able to talk Blair out of joining the Euro, and persuaded him to adopt what could be seen as a less free-market stance.
May knows that a leadership challenge looms. What she must be cautious of is a leadership challenge before the end of the Brexit proceedings in March 2019. If her centrist approach is underplayed anymore, Boris will become the person able to ‘appeal’ to the Eurosceptic right.
His Brexit ideals, outlined questionably in the Telegraph would become governmental priority. The cliff edge that we’re heading for as a nation would become steeper and higher.
May should approach the next period with caution and confidence. She knows what is coming, and her own doctrine is making it a possibility. Let us just hope that her power does not crumble at a period of grave importance to our country and the world.