Bernard Ingham: Now tell the defeatists to go take a hike, Mrs May

Theresa May on her Swiss walking holiday with her husband Philip.
Theresa May on her Swiss walking holiday with her husband Philip.
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ISN’T it funny how history repeats itself?

On her return from healthy hiking in Switzerland, where Margaret Thatcher seethed on holiday over lost reforming time, our new woman Prime Minister, Theresa May, will discover she faces exactly the same national disease that confronted Thatcher nearly 40 years ago. They call it defeatism.

This is not the defeatism that comes with managing national decline, accelerated by the unions’ abuse of power. Now it is a curious belief that the UK cannot make its way in the world without being tied to the European Union’s apron strings.

That view is not held by the mass of the people who voted for Brexit. But a substantial minority of the population, including much of the Establishment, thought we should hold on to nurse for fear of something worse – and no doubt still do.

Even Prime Minister May thought on balance we would be better in the EU, but she did not make a song and dance about it. In other words, she has a mild dose of the disease from which she has to cure the UK.

Her term of office will be judged by her success in establishing an independent, self-governing, prosperous, go-ahead country – and bearing in mind her social concerns – a more equal land of opportunity.

She has more than a fighting chance. Let’s face it, the Labour Party will not be felt fit for government until it kills off Jeremy Corbyn and his barmy Trot army. And that seems likely to take years.

May has started as I hope she means to go on. She has exhibited a ruthless streak. First, she brought the careers of the likes of George Osborne and Michael Gove to a shuddering halt in her first Cabinet-making. Then she put three Brexiteers – Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox – in charge of extricating us from the grip of the Brussels’ octopus.

Now, having told the three to share the delights of Chevening, the country house in Kent formerly for the exclusive leisure use of the Foreign Secretary, she has shown she is not impressed with their squabbling over responsibilities and told them to get on with the task in hand.

So far, so good. It is comforting to have another woman in No 10 who knows who is boss and is not a publicity hound.

But two months after the referendum, it is the economy that has confounded all those associated with Project Fear and once again left much of the economists’ profession, including the Bank of England, up a gum tree.

A Lloyds’ Bank poll found investor confidence at its highest level in July. An Ipsos/Mori survey reports the public more upbeat about the economy. Even City slickers think things are looking up.

Retail sales were up 1.4 per cent in July – seven times more than predicted by economists – and unemployment fell to an eight year low of 1.64m at the end of June. Employment is at a record high.

Twenty-seven nations are reported to want to do trade deals with us. Heathrow and Gatwick had their busiest ever July.

And house prices rose in areas where people voted to leave the EU. This suggests that the Remainers’ essential defeatism is holding them back. They ought to snap out of it. Europhilia is blinding them to the opportunities before us.

Our post-Brexit haul of medals at the Rio Olympics, second only to that of the USA, has given the country another lift. It has also left Brussels green with envy and trying to hide our performance in a European table that lumps together all 27 member-states’ performance.

It leaves the USA a very poor second and the EU with an inferiority complex – but still determined in spite of Brexit to create a federal United States of Europe, regardless of the national pride exhibited at the Euro soccer tournament (if you ignore England’s humiliation by Iceland) and now in Rio.

But back to Mrs May. Her next test is the Chancellor’s promised financial statement in the autumn. She will make a major mistake if she allows Philip Hammond to take his eye off the ball and loosen the economy instead of making the removal of the £70bn budget deficit the priority.

She should not worry about Labour’s mantra on continued Tory “austerity”. It carries no conviction whatsoever. This is not a poor country. Our lifestyle is not austere.

Moaning Remainers please note: you have to go south across the Channel to find what austerity is all about.