Tom Richmond: Theresa May is set to win big – but at a cost to her reputation

Theresa May, calling a bolt from the blue general election.
Theresa May, calling a bolt from the blue general election.
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IT’S (very) safe to assume Theresa May will be returned as Prime Minister on June 8 – the question is whether sne enjoys a two or three figure majority.

Yet, irrespective of the final outcome, I believe the reputation of the Prime Minister will be greatly diminished.

The reason is this. She became Tory leader because of her straight-forwardness and the fact that she, as a vicar’s daughter, simply wanted to get on with the job and serve her country.

In the speech launching her leadership campaign, she could not have been clearer: “There should be no general election until 2020. There should be a normal Autumn Statement, held in the normal way at the normal time, and no emergency Budget.”

And that’s why the public warmed to the then Home Secretary. They trusted her to deliver Brexit while uniting the country, healing its differences and picking up the pieces after David Cameron’s premiership ended in personal humiliation.

They thought they could take her at her word and there was nothing false about her public appearances, most recently when she was a marshal at a charity run in her constituency, days before stunning the nation with a snap election.

Yet, by looking to exploit Labour’s unelectability for party political advantage rather than building a wider consensus in Parliament for her Brexit blueprint, I think she will find it harder to unite the country after her bolt from the blue election on June 8 as more people start to doubt, and question, Mrs May’s sincerity and motives.

Having called an unnecessary election – Parliament did not thwart Mrs May over the triggering of Article 50 – she should be making a positive case for people all over the country to vote Conservative.

However, at the end of a tumultuous week, it appears the Tories are virtually certain they will be returned to office because they’re the least worst option.

It’s why the PM is shunning head-to-head TV debates –the candidates vying to lead the country should submit themselves to at least one setpiece event – and refused to answer questions after her first campaign rally in Bolton. At PMQs, she provided more insight on Labour’s manifesto than her own plans, however meritorious.

Even more worrying is Mrs May’s endorsement – following a barbed intervention by Labour veteran Dennis Skinner in the Commons – of those Tory MPs elected in 2015 whose election expenses are now the subject of a criminal investigation in the wake of investigations undertaken by Channel Four’s redoubtable Michael Crick.

Those concerned are said to number 20 and a decision to prosecute is imminent, perhaps by the end of May. In order to avoid a series of a knife-edge by-elections, is this the real reason why the Tory leader has cut and run? She hopes to render these investigations redundant.

Call me a cynic, but it’s now less easy to give Theresa May the benefit of the doubt. At a stroke, she’s proved she is no better, or more honest, than any other politician.

THERESA May does not appear to have factored one stumbling block into her electoral calculations – the House of Lords.

Even though her manifesto will have added legitimacy if she’s elected, the Tories will still be a minority party in the Upper House.

Visiting The Yorkshire Post’s offices last week, Commons leader David Lidington told me that Lords reform was off the agenda because of Brexit.

He also said Ministers would have to get domestic legislation right from the outset because of the likely Parliamentary logjam created by Britain’s exit from the EU. I’ll believe that when it happens.

However, when asked about the likelihood of an early election, he 
said it was a non-starter because there was no appetite from the public for a poll and that the apparent Lib Dem resurgence could hit the Tories in the South West.

Even without the benefit of hindsight, this response suggests Mr Lidington was among those kept in the dark about Mrs May’s self-indulgence.

But will the Tories reform the Lords? A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer will suffice.

A POLL by the influential ConservativeHome website of Tory activists reveals Justice Secretary Liz Truss (of flooding fame) to be the least popular Cabinet member with an approval rating of –22.2 per cent. The phrase ‘I told you so’ comes to mind. This has to be one career which is sunk without trace on June 8. Here’s hoping.

I HOPE you enjoy the interview in today’s Magazine with Yorkshire’s very own ‘lady in red’ Betty Boothroyd. Twenty-five years after she became Britain’s first Speaker, she was every bit as formidable and forthright as I envisaged.

I’ll never forget her no-nonsense chiding of The Yorkshire Post’s photographer James Hardisty – she told him she could only smile for so long before it became false.

Passionate about Lords reform – she says 400 of the brightest and best talents should be appointed to the Upper House to scrutinise legislation – her rise to ‘national treasure’ status remains inspirational.

From humble origins in Dewsbury, she never gave up when she set her heart on becoming a MP – she tried and tried again until being elected in West Bromwich – before becoming the first ever Speaker to be elected from the Opposition benches because of the respect she commanded.

And sitting in the Lords tea room, after the interview, that respect was self-evident as those present acknowledged her presence, a determined woman who reached great office on merit alone.

If only there were more people like Betty Boothroyd in politics.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk