He's seen three PMs fall over Europe—and won't say if he'll soon see a fourthby Sam Macrory / October 12, 2016 / Leave a comment
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“If you have a grounding based on Shakespeare, you never come across anything new,” is Michael Heseltine’s verdict on the shake-up of British politics triggered by the EU referendum. “Shakespeare knew it all, articulated it all, laughed at it all, exposed it all. Keep around in politics and the Shakespearean plot comes back and back…”
While the referendum brought the curtain down on the political careers of David Cameron and George Osborne, Heseltine is playing yet another part. I met the former deputy prime minister in his small corner office at the Department for Communities and Local Government, the base from which he advises the government on what he calls its “unstoppable” devolution agenda. Though 83, Heseltine, with his signature swept back hair now a little greyer, works with the energy of a man far younger.
Macmillan was Prime Minister when Heseltine first stood for Parliament in 1959, so he has seen plenty of occupants of No. 10 come and go. But he regrets Cameron’s departure, noting it is “very sad that he will not be able to escape from the referendum as the major determining factor of his premiership.” While Cameron has already quit parliament, Osborne—who Heseltine praised as “the most strategic chancellor I ever saw”—remains. Could he, as Heseltine did four years after quitting the Thatcher Cabinet in 1986, make a comeback? “I see absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t. He is an able politician, he has a formidable track record. If he so wants, it’s up to him.”
It is now 50 years since Heseltine was first elected as an MP, but the uncertainty of Brexit is a new and, for him, uncomfortable experience. He passionately defended Britain’s place in the EU, and before the referendum he labelled the mechanics of Brexit as frightening. And now? “It is no more scary than it was before. And it was very scary before.” He returns, more than once, to the same question: “What is Brexit? No-one has any idea where that is going to end up.” The heavy lifting is being carried out by Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and David Davis, the Secretary of…