Tom Richmond: Three tests Theresa May’s successor as PM must pass

The race to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister will begin soon. PIcture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
The race to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister will begin soon. PIcture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
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IT speaks volumes about the state of political disarray this spring that Brexit has supplanted the weather as the national obsession.

Even people with little, or no interest, in affairs of state have started expressing their dismay to both acquaintances – and strangers.

And this, in fact, poses a particular problem for the Tory party who, at this seismic and seminal moment, are searching for a new leader (and Prime Minister).

Like Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May is the sixth Tory premier whose demise can be attributed to a large part to European policy.

From the moment President Charles de Gaulle rebuffed Macmillan’s early entreaties to join the then EEC, the issue has become more toxic for the Conservatives, culminating with Mrs May’s latest Brexit battles in the very week that Britain was supposed to be leaving the European Union. Yet Mrs May’s successor will not only have to show that they have the right skills set for Brexit – but a positive vision which has the potential to unite the country.

And while candidates will be duty-bound to set out their plans for the UK’s future relations with the EU in great detail – a vacuous ‘Brexit means Brexit’ soundbite will definitely not suffice this time – I’m challenging them to go further to learn from some of the May government’s more fundamental errors.

First, they need to set out how they intend to run 10 Downing Street, work with Northern Ireland’s DUP who have made Mrs May a hostage to fortune and build better relations with Opposition parties. After all, a new premier doesn’t change the Parliamentary arithmetic – and candidates should be up front about the identities of the key advisers that they intend to appoint.

These people will be wielding considerable power and influence – are they, too, up to the job?

Second, candidates should make clear, at the outset, who they intend to appoint to key roles like Chancellor, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary – and the Brexit posts. It is not just a new premier being elected, but a new collegiate team to run the country. This shouldn’t be shrouded in secrecy because of promises made in the campaign to garner support.

Finally, they need to remember that Brexit is not the be-all and end-all – in many respects social mobility, and social care, are of even greater magnitude and importance to the country’s future. What is the policy plan?

Just three tests for starters – more will follow.

They will, nevertheless, provide an early guide to the suitability of those who think they can do a better job than Theresa May and also not be brought down by Europe.

EVEN though Brexit diplomacy has not been a strength, the Prime Minister has always represented this country with dignity.

This is one reason why Tory MPs will, I suspect, ensure that Boris Johnson, the shuffling and shambolic former Foreign Secretary who still resembles a scarecrow following his recent makeover, is not one of the two candidates put to party activists.

He is too divisive. And he’s too disloyal. At the start of the week, this one-man diplomatic disaster described the May government’s inability to implement Brexit as “one of the most protoplasmic displays of invertebracy since the Precambrian epoch”. Please translate Boris.

He then promised “Mars bars” and “drinking water” once Brexit was completed – was their supply really in doubt? – and then he confirmed his intention to support Mrs May’s deal after her “back me and then sack me” ultimatum.

What rank hypocrisy and opportunism ahead of a Tory leadership conduct - and not the conduct of a supposed statesman.

Anyone would be better than Mr Johnson (with the possible exception of Chris Grayling).

THIS week has been all about the end of May – literally.

Yet, while the Prime Minister’s intention to step aside sooner rather than later was well-known, the timing is still up in the air.

However my instinct, for some weeks now, is that the Prime Minister wants to stay in post until the end of May (no pun intended) at the earliest.

Why? That is when her premiership will surpass the two years and 319 days that Gordon Brown survived / endured (delete as appropriate).

And it would mean she would not suffer the ignominy of being the shortest-serving premier of recent times.

I’M still at a loss to explain how Sir Oliver Letwin has been left pulling the Brexit strings in Parliament.

As a precocious young Tory policy apparatchik, he famously advised Margaret Thatcher to press ahead with the poll tax – and go against the judgements of the Chancellor and Home Secretary – and “use the Scots as a trailblazer for the real thing”. That worked well, didn’t it?

He was forced into hiding in the 2001 election after making up Tory tax policy on the hoof.

And this Tory MP – who once said that he would rather “beg” than send his children to the local comp – then wrote the party’s 2010 manifesto which saw David Cameron fail to win an anticipated majority.

Sir Oliver’s influence beggars belief.

SOME good news to end with. My trains were on time this week. I can only assume the Transport Secretary is away on holiday...

tom.richmond@jpimedia.co.uk