Theresa May needs to ditch the advisers, put the paperwork aside and start making some big decisions, the former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has claimed, as he warns that her tendency to micro-manage could prove to be her downfall.
Mrs May’s choice of Brexit Ministers could also prove short-lived, Mr Clegg argues, as he predicts Trade Secretary Liam Fox will be the first of the so-called Three Brexiteers to lose his job.
Reflecting on the big political events of 2016 in an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post, the former Lib Dem leader echoes the views of many in Westminster that it has been a particularly “turbulent” year.
However, he notes it has been a good year for “the smashers”, with both the referendum and US election seeing a surge in support for right-wing, anti-establishment movements.
“We’re living through a phase in politics at the moment where if you have a contest between people who either want to maintain or tweak the status quo, and another lot who want to smash it, the smashers win,” Mr Clegg said.
“During the referendum, I was struck by the number of times people didn’t really talk to me about the European Union as such.
“However, what did come out again and again was just a profound dissatisfaction about the way our country is run.
“[Donald Trump] is an archetypal smasher who wants to tear up the rule book.
“It’s relatively easy these days to do well if you are shameless enough in seeking to blame somebody or something else for a host of complex problems.
“The difficulty for mainstream politicians like myself is that if you are honest about the complexity of those problems you don’t give a simple answer.”
One of the most high-profile victims of this backlash against the establishment was former Prime Minister David Cameron. Within hours of the EU Referendum result being announced, the one-time golden boy of the Tory party was tendering his resignation live on television.
After five years of working together in the coalition, Mr Clegg admits he felt a twinge of sympathy for his former partner.
But he stresses that he had “no sympathy at all politically” because “ it was so patently obvious that he was only holding the referendum to manage his own party”.
“I, of course, had sympathy with him as a human being and as someone I got to know well.
“I’ve been through an abrupt change in my own political fortunes – it’s not a pretty sight,” he states.
“It’s what you deal with in politics, you take the rough with the smooth but for politicians and their families it’s a very abrupt change.
“My heart remained pretty unyielding when it comes to the politics of it all.
“The lesson for Cameron – and Zac Goldsmith is another example –is if you invite the electorate to have a vote to basically suit your own political ends, the electorate has an unnerving habit of providing you with a different answer.”
Mr Cameron was promptly replaced by former Home Secretary Theresa May, following a truncated leadership contest which saw five candidates whittled down to one within the space of a week.
Offering his assessment of her first few months in office, Mr Clegg argues she has performed “very poorly”, pointing the finger of blame at her “steadfast, methodical, slightly stubborn way of working”.
“As a Prime Minister you can’t sit around for months and months buried in paperwork, expecting the rest of the world to wait for you,” he said.
“You have to sometimes work on instinct, you have to work on intuition and you have to work with imagination. So far [Theresa May] seems to have retreated into a bunker of papers – particularly around Brexit.
“What she should be doing is getting rid of all the briefing papers, getting rid of all the advisers and just sitting there and making some big judgments about where she thinks the country should go over the next ten to 15 years.”
He adds that her choice of fellow Yorkshire MP David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox to fill the three most influential Cabinet roles in relation to Brexit could throw up additional challenges for the new Prime Minister.
Dr Fox in particular is a “fuse ready to blow”, Mr Clegg claims, and “will be the first to go”.
“I’ve known David Davis for years – he is sort of a charming, quite roguish Westminster fixer – but I think the jury’s really out as to whether he is up to the international complexity of Brexit,” he says.
“And Boris Johnson – [Theresa May] clearly needed to give him a big position, but a big position that was as far away from the levers as possible.
“That’s exactly what the Foreign Office is.”