FRIENDS, Britons and countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Theresa May, not to praise her, even though she may be the noblest Briton of them all in her dogged attempts to get us out of the European Union on reasonable terms.
I fear that the good she has done will be interred with her political bones.
While we reflect on this tragedy (for which the many Tories, not the few, should take responsibility), the march of time requires us to look to her successor. Before we can usefully do that, we require a clear understanding of the properties required in any new PM.
In connection with the 40th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s arrival in No 10, I have been reflecting on the qualities of the Lioness. She brought five assets to effective government.
First, ideological security. She knew what she stood for and what Britain required after more than a decade of poor economic performance and union abuse of power. In the 1970s alone there were about 25,000 recorded strikes, costing 118m days’ work.
She had also mapped out how to do it and analysed the implications so that she did not panic when the going got tough.
Second, she brought moral courage to No 10. She dared to stand alone. It took extraordinary guts to overcome the defeatist inertia of an Establishment that had lost its confidence in Britain. “Oh”, they used to tell her. “You can’t do that, they (whoever they might be) won’t allow it.”
Sadly, defeatism lives on in Parliament with Remainers outnumbering Leavers.
Third, constancy. If you know what is needed for the country’s sake, then don’t dither. Get on with it and stick with it.
Fourth, an iron will. It took an enormous determination – and conviction – to persevere with policies that took unemployment to more than 3m before things improved after seven years.
Finally, she did not want to be loved. It is sufficient to be respected. What we need above all in these days of political correctness, terrorised by hyper-sensitive minorities, is a recognition of what is necessary, not what is necessarily popular.
To secure that respect we need the integrity that was bred into Mrs Thatcher. Mrs May is not a vicar’s daughter for nothing. But after the scandal of MPs’ expenses and now over their suspended credit cards, not to mention their cavalier approach to Brexit manifesto promises, our Parliamentarians urgently need an injection of duty.
The big question now for Tories is who lives up to these ideals. Who will – at last – make the case for prudent, responsible Conservatism to vanquish Jeremy Corbyn’s destructive Marxism and heal our fractured politics?
You may reasonably argue that this genius must be charismatic and fast on their feet. But charisma does not come with just a pretty face and the gift of the gab. It also reflects the very essence of an individual.
Mrs Thatcher would not be revered (or hated) so much if, like Ted Heath, she had been for turning.
The Tories need someone to lead us out of the EU with a clear idea of what is required to equip the UK for successful independence. Their responsibility is awesome because our salvation almost certainly does not lie within any other party.
My list of “must haves” in a new leader contains not just, as George Bush Snr put it, “the vision thing” but a hard, steely determination to create wealth for the greater good. That requires an uncompromising approach to paying our way, parental responsibility, educational reform, a properly managed NHS, a genuine marshalling of the community in the interests of the aged, infirm and vulnerable and a fierce and unrelenting attack on lawlessness.
We must also be able to deter aggression and win the respect of the whole wide world.
Essentially, what I seek is an individual who will infuse the UK with a new set of ethics – since ethics have virtually flown out of the window – and communal responsibility.
Speak now or for ever hold your peace if you can identify this necessary paragon of virtue among the likes of Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid, Penny Mordaunt, Elizabeth Truss, Dominic Raab, Amber Rudd, Matthew Hancock, Rory Stewart, Andrea Leadsom, Geoffrey Cox QC, Esther McVey, Priti Patel, Tobias Ellwood and James Cleverly or even Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Is Boris the best of the bunch? How about Angela Leadsom, Esther McVey and Rory Stewart as dark horses? Whoever takes the reins, the Tories need to strike lucky. Britain’s future depends on it.