Bernard Ingham: Theresa May’s enemies are close at hand and without mercy

Theresa May and her Cabinet met in Newcastle on Monday.
Theresa May and her Cabinet met in Newcastle on Monday.
Have your say

WINSTON Churchill once dispensed sage advice to future leaders of the Tory party. He told a new, excited young MP who sighted “the enemy” opposite him: “The Opposition occupies the benches in front of you but the enemy sits behind you.”

So what’s new? Too often I told Margaret Thatcher that her Parliamentary party was her worst enemy. And if Theresa May has candid advisers rather than yes-men, they must have been telling her the same tale for months.

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief in No 10 yesterday when they got the PM safely into the long summer recess.

I do hope they are not living in a fool’s paradise. After all, nearly 175 years ago, Benjamin Disraeli said: “A Conservative Government is an organised hypocrisy.”

There is no telling yet where that hypocrisy will land Mrs May. This is partly the price she is paying for having Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Opposition.

Neither Tory Brexiteers nor Remainers can quite bring themselves to believe that they could open the celebrated black door of No 10 to Corbyn and his Momentum mob. How else do you explain their behaviour?

It is time they heeded DisraeIi again: “No Government can long be secure without a formidable Opposition.”

It may be argued that the PM is as safe as houses when she is up against the weakest, least credible and exceedingly dangerous official Opposition for years.

But I doubt whether Mr and Mrs May will have a carefree holiday hiking the days away in the fresh, mountain air.

She is no more safe now than she was a week ago when she was rescued in a Parliamentary vote from her own dirty dozen rebels by four immensely principled Labour MPs, one ex-Labour member sitting as an Independent and the curiously absent leader and former leader of the Liberal Democrats.

It looks as if the EU is not as Machiavellian as I thought because it has rejected at least parts of the Government’s negotiating White Paper. But that merely blasts the ball back on to our side of the net.

All it does is give a little breathing space – but not much since, as the EU bureaucracy constantly reminds us, the clock is ticking inexorably towards our formal departure from the EU on March 29 next year. This means that there is no easy way of putting the PM’s plight in the relative calm of a recess after the usual July Parliamentary storms.

She is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t persevere with her blessed White Paper or tells the EU to get stuffed while publishing guidance to industry on preparing for a Brexit without a deal.

Even though Dominic Raab, the new Brexit Secretary, is warning Brussels that its £39bn divorce fee is in peril, I doubt whether the PM is now safe until the autumn.

As Disraeli also put it: “There is no act of treachery or meanness of which a political party is not capable.” And no British party is as ruthless as the Tories with their leader.

Just look what they did to Margaret Thatcher after winning three elections and then the ritual slaughter of three leaders at the turn of the century – William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard.

This means that the British public’s focus turns as never before during Brexit on the Tory Parliamentary Party as it threatens to require via the backbench 1922 Committee a vote of confidence in the PM or alternatively another referendum on Brexit or whatever new device for avoiding our EU departure Remainers can dream up.

The electorate is fed up with all this posturing. Surely, these damned Tories know the people don’t like split Governments? Already Labour – yes Corbyn’s mob, even though divided, too – are five points ahead in the polls.

Where did Remainers put their responsibility? Have they no thought for the country when Project Fear has consistently been confounded about the effect of Brexit? Do they care nought for our democracy and the clear instruction from the electorate in 2016 to shake the dust of Brussels off our nation’s feet?

Not least, do they want for ever to bear the ignominy of installing the Marxist, terrorist-hugging – and alleged anti-Semite according to some of his own members – Corbyn as Mrs May’s replacement?

In short, the ball is in the Tory party’s court as much as it is in Theresa May’s. As the governing party, are they playing to win or lose? Search me.