Every wrinkle, every nuance, every stumble by politicians high and low is picked over, dissected and projectile vomited at the public by an obsessive press. Well, whilst I hope not to add to readers’ ennui, I do have a couple of insights into the current situation.
Now, I was the first Conservative MP to sign a letter of no confidence in respect of David Cameron. As you can imagine, this led to a number of conversations with the chairman of the 1922 Committee, other disaffected MPs – and the chief whip! Ultimately, my letter was overtaken by events, but it did give me a pretty good insight into a nasty but necessary procedure.
Then, during my time as a Shadow Minister, I had the pleasure of working with David Davis and his then chief of staff Dominic Raab. The latter had a vital role as the main staff officer to the Shadow Home Secretary in a period which was dominated by Islamist terrorism, the then Labour government’s response and the Opposition’s ripostes.
The larger issue came to a head over whether Britons should or should not have identity cards and David – perfectly properly – was being pulled in opposing directions by the members of his team.
These people were all seasoned, experienced and articulate; they had all been tested under fire when they stood for election – some of them several times; they all had the kudos of their incumbency and their years. Dominic Raab, though, was neither elected nor grey-haired but, by golly, he was good.
With degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge, and practical experience of the workings of international law, due to time on the West Bank and at the Hague, he was well qualified, but he was cool, balanced and incisive too. In debate he wasn’t cowed, he stood his ground and, whilst we never discussed it, it was clear that he wanted to be an MP. It was also clear to me that he was a star in the making.
He wore his ambition and ability lightly, though. I used to box and Dominic’s sport was kick boxing, which gave us so much else to discuss beyond politics. One of my fondest memories was when I invited him to the final of the World Kick Boxing Championship which was held in Newark. There were times when I thought he was going to leap into the ring with the contestants – and I reckon he would have given both of them a run for their money!
So it came as no surprise when he picked up a safe seat, was given the Spectator’s ‘Newcomer of The Year Award’ in 2011 and rose rapidly to take over the Brexit brief from his former boss.
Like David Davis, Dominic was a determined and principled leaver and he flounced out of office when Mrs May’s deal was announced.
Well, that’s what he was accused of by several of our most otiose journalists. Dominic simply couldn’t flounce. If he were effete, rash or temperamental, he might – but he isn’t. He resigned in a modest, proper way because he did not believe that he could give his loyalty to the Prime Minister and her plan any longer.
Shortly after Mrs May’s appointment, The Yorkshire Post’s comment editor asked me who I thought the next Prime Minister would be: I said Raab. Now, much depends on the manner of the current incumbent’s departure and whether David Davis swings behind his protégé or takes a tilt himself but, mark my words, Dominic Raab’s the coming man.
But that leaves us with the question of the wretched letters of no confidence. If Davis and Raab have resigned their crucial posts, why have they not written such letters? Well, if they have been Cabinet members, given their loyalty, been bound by collective responsibility and enjoyed the special confidence of the PM, a letter is especially damaging: it’s a personal attack and that also reflects badly on the author.
It’s different for a back bencher or junior Minister who have never given or received such trust. An ex-Cabinet Minister who entertains ambitions for the top job cannot do this and escape suggestions of treachery: that’s why Boris Johnson won’t say if he has written one.
And think of the tactics. If the total number of letters reached 48 or more and Theresa May survived a vote of no confidence in the next few days, there could be no more challenges for 12 months under party rules. No, if I were she, I would be sleeping as easy as I could at the moment but dreading two, imminent problems.
The first is the breakdown of her agreement with the DUP. Without their votes she cannot govern. The second is a defeat when the Brexit agreement comes to the Commons. Then, battered and beaten, Mrs May would be terribly vulnerable to another wave of letters. But, whilst I believe that Dominic Raab will ultimately profit from the Prime Minister’s exit, I know that he will be revolted by its brutality.
Patrick Mercer OBE is a former Conservative MP. He also served as a soldier.