Bernard Ingham: Can Theresa May save the mutinous Tories from themselves?

Prime Minister Theresa May outside Downing Street
Prime Minister Theresa May outside Downing Street

AS another silly season draws to its close and party conferences approach, only one question matters.

No, it is not whether Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will at last do something sensible or whether the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Vince Cable, 74, will start behaving his age instead of telling geriatrics like me they were out of their tiny little minds in voting to leave the European Union.

Anybody who thinks either would undergo a conversion to reality is crying for the moon. Neither will ever walk the road to Damascus because they are arrogantly convinced of their own righteousness.

No, the crucial question is whether Prime Minister Theresa May can rescue her government from itself and some uncommonly thick Tory backbenchers.

It is a very serious question because her failure would guarantee political turmoil just when the nation needs stability if it is to strike an acceptable bargain with Brussels.

As one who had to cope with continuous internal carping criticism of Margaret Thatcher, patrician wets, Michael Heseltine’s downright disloyalty and the warped ambitions of Sir Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, I do not envy Mrs May.

In my experience, the Tory Party is never far from self-destruction when it fears it might lose the next election. Mrs May’s hope must therefore be that her Parliamentary party will be spared a moment of madness such as that which sank Thatcher even though she was undefeated in an election or in a confidence vote in the Commons.

They had better be careful what they wish for when her decapitation could land the nation with Corbyn in concert with the Liberal Democrats and the UK break-up crew of Scottish Nationalists, Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein. How could they possibly be so idiotic and so neglectful of the national interest in securing an acceptable break with the EU?

Well, let’s face facts. Britain is exhibiting every sign of mental instability under pressure from the insufferably pious politically correct and Remainers.

It is not just that Corbyn sacks Rotherham’s Labour MP, Sarah Champion, for demanding action against mostly Pakistani gangs for raping and exploiting white girls. Surely her job, among many others, is to protect the daughters of her constituents?

The National Trust betrays itself by demanding its volunteers promote gay rights and banishing Easter from its traditional egg hunt. Moffat’s council bows to the animal rights Twitter mob by cancelling its annual sheep race. Frome in Somerset drops its carnival queen – for five “carnival ambassadors” of varying ages and presumably sex – as being 
“not in keeping with 21stC values”.

The nation wallows in Princess Diana sentimentality and, with monumental hypocrisy for a country beset by divorce and single mothers, hammers Charles and Camilla.

The mind boggles when a policeman takes sexist exception to a store classifying women’s sanitary products as being for women.

And then Mr Speaker Bercow – who else?– heads a committee that silences Big Ben for four years on health and safety grounds.

You might well ask why Tory MPs should be uniquely sane in a country steadily qualifying for the loony-bin.

But why do we send MPs to Westminster? It is to bring mature judgment to the affairs of the nation. So, it is not so much Mrs May on trial as her MPs.

Let us face more reality. Tory MPs have every right to be concerned about her leadership when she failed to win an election outright because of her lack of charisma, a botched campaign and unelected advisers who clearly got above themselves.

Now the two domineering officials have gone, Northern Ireland’s DUP is sensibly keeping the Government’s head above water and Mrs May has revamped her office. On her return from holiday she also seems to have shut up – at least for the time being – her squabbling Ministers at odds over Brexit.

But as she prepares again to set out her vision of Britain as an independent, sovereign nation she will have to convince her party on three points:

1. She is a real Conservative who wants everyone who will work to prosper through a government sound on finance, economic growth, a real Brexit, defence of the realm and social responsibility.

2. She will listen to colleagues and MPs and consult them on policy and its implementation.

3. She is utterly firm of purpose and competent, though congenitally the original Ice Maiden.

She might also point out that the next election could be five years away. This is no time to panic and certainly not the 
time to let in the Opposition forces of destruction.