THE TORY Party appears to be missing a fundamental point as Esther McVey – the former Work and Pensions Secretary – confirmed her intention to stand for the leadership six months after quitting the Cabinet in protest over Theresa May’s handling of Brexit.
The partner of Shipley MP Philip Davies, Ms McVey is another Eurosceptic who believes the appointment of a committed Brexiteer to succeed Mrs May will make it easier to finalise Britain’s exit from the EU.
Yet what Ms McVey – and her rivals – have failed to explain is how this will be possible when the new Tory leader will still have to contend with a hung parliament after the Conservatives lost their overall majority in 2017. A change of PM does not alter this arithmetic.
And while the campaign now under way for the European Parliament elections on May 23 is likely to exacerbate divisions at a time when the Conservative and Labour front benches have been taking part in very belated cross-party negotiations, the context is critical.
Even if Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party tops the poll, as most people expect, this will, again, not change the dynamics of the House of Commons, which has been effectively deadlocked for nearly two years now.
As such, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the significance of the measured intervention by Justice Secretary David Gauke – one of the few top Tories to have kept their counsel about any leadership ambitions until the vacancy is formally confirmed.
In warning colleagues not to take the party down the path of right-wing populism, he fears such an approach will make Britain “a more divided nation” – a warning that should be heeded at a time when MPs from all sides of the political debate should be explaining how they intend to unite the country, and reach out to others, from within the current constraints at Westminster.