Tom Richmond: Theresa May has been saved – but can she save the country?

The Yorkshire Post's weekly cartoon by Graeme Bandeira.
The Yorkshire Post's weekly cartoon by Graeme Bandeira.
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FOR the first – and last – time, I found myself agreeing with Chris Grayling when he said: “Now is not the time to change the party leader.” I nearly died of shock.

Yet the Transport Secretary, and others, are mistaken if they think it is still ‘‘business as usual’’ after a weakened Theresa May won Wednesday night’s confidence vote over her more self-indulgent colleagues.

Can Theresa May still save her government?

Can Theresa May still save her government?

It’s not. Though Mrs May is supposedly spared another such vote for 12 months, the outcome does not alter the Parliamentary logjam over the enactment of Brexit.

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And it has not altered the fact that the Tory leader is virtually powerless to advance domestic reforms, and her social reform agenda, because her party is in such turmoil.

Even though she said on the steps of 10 Downing Street on Wednesday morning when the leadership vote was called that the Government must work for the whole country, a message she repeated when the result was confirmed, the country has been rudderless for months.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling inspects progress on Crossrail.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling inspects progress on Crossrail.

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What happened when the Brexit debate and vote was pulled? MPs were left discussing the Ivory Bill – really? – and cutting short a debate on fuel poverty because Ministers are at such sixes and sevens.

Now Mrs May has confirmed, publicly, that she will step down before the next election, the malaise will intensify as Ministers become focused on the future leadership contest – and their own ambitions.

I hope Tory MPs and activists see through this and, when the time comes, judge candidates on their current actions and decisions, but I also hope Mrs May takes one last chance to save her government.

That means Mrs May – and a wider team of Cabinet colleagues, senior statesmen and business leaders – taking charge of Brexit while a separate group, possibly headed by her de facto deputy David Lidington, push forward domestic reforms, and issues like social care, that remain on hold. It worked in the war when Sir Winston Churchill took command of military matters while Clement Attlee looked after the home front. And it needs to happen now if the NHS, councils, schools, police and so on are to get the support that they need.

All I ask Mrs May, on behalf of readers, is that Mr Grayling is not left in charge of the trains – or the train set.

DO you remember the TV comedy Yes Minister when Jim Hacker learned about a brand new hospital with a staff of 500 administrators, but no doctors, nurses or patients – and his exchange with his civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby?

Hacker: Humphrey I’m appalled!

Sir Humphrey: So am I, minister!

Hacker: The incompetence of it all. The stupidity!

Sir Humphrey: I agree. I can’t think what came over you!

It came to mind when it was announced that the bailout of Crossrail in London could top £2bn – and the state-of-the-art railway, due to open this month at an initial cost of £14.8bn, will not be up and running until 2020.

After all, the lavish station at Canary Wharf – complete with its own roof garden which recently featured on TV’s The Apprentice – was actually completed in 2015.

Given this is five years before the first trains will now stop, no wonder rail passengers are so angry over the state of stations and trains here. They don’t want roof gardens – they just want to get to and from work.

TALKING of Yes Minister scripts, the revamped repayment scheme for rail passengers isn’t going well according to the email that reader Jo Clarkson received from operator Northern after trip from York to Bramley became so delayed that she had to take the bus.

Northern’s customer services team wrote to her and said: “We have reviewed the journey that you claimed for and have decided that Northern is not responsible for your delay. We’ve passed your claim on to Northern, as we believe they’re responsible. Please direct all future correspondence to Northern.”

Very helpful. Not.

THE irony. Forty years ago this week, the Tories tabled a Parliamentary vote of no confidence in James Callaghan’s government – and lost – because the intentions of Northern Ireland’s Unionists had been misjudged (some things never change). Margaret Thatcher would, however, have more success in 1979.

Yet it might explain Jeremy Corbyn’s hesitancy as Theresa May’s administration implodes. In his diaries Bernard Donoughue, Callaghan’s then political secretary, noted: “The PM said that Thatcher had failed to realise that these were showbiz occasions and people expected ‘a performance’.”

THERESA May’s chief whip, Julian Smith, has also lost the plot. By telling dissidents that they are ruining their chances of future promotion, the 
Skipton and Ripon MP forgets that most have already resigned from the Government – or fallen by the wayside. He, too, needs to be replaced if the Government is to build any bridges with the more reasonable backbenchers who have gone rogue.

TORY MP John Hayes, an anonymous former minister, was recently given a knighthood in the hope that he would back the Government over Brexit. Given that the vote was pulled, natural justice suggests this honour should be rescinded too. It won’t be.

THERESA May should take up cricket when she leaves office. Judging by recent form, no one will be able to get her out – just like her hero Geoffrey Boycott.

tom.richmond@jpimedia.co.uk