The former deputy PM says there will be another election in two yearsby Jay Elwes / September 29, 2017 / Leave a comment
Michael Heseltine’s office in the West End of London is an unassuming place. The walls are blank, the carpet worn and aside from a desk and a computer, there is little else. The view from the window is of fire escapes and balconies.
Heseltine is 84, and when he stands, surprisingly tall. Despite his age, the eyes are bright and when he talks, he is by turns genial and combative. As we shook hands, I told him that I wanted to talk about Europe. “I guessed you would,” he said.
What’s going to happen? I asked. How is Brexit going to end? There was a long pause, the first of several, as he stared ahead in thought. “The most likely scenario now,” he said eventually, “is a period of protracted uncertainty about whether Brexit will happen.”
“I think there will be another election in two years’ time and, as yet, I see no preparedness by the Conservative party to face that fact and to seek a consensus view which can unite the party.”
It’s all delivered in Heseltine’s familiar drawl, the r’s still fractionally softer than they might be, the rhythm of speech carefully measured, each word chosen with care. Which is to say that he’s still a politician—albeit one abandoned by the party for which he has worked since the 1950s, as everything from election volunteer to Deputy Prime Minister, a position he held under John Major. He was regarded as a contender for the top job, but his pro-European views stymied his chances.
Brexit has not been kind to Heseltine’s wing of the Conservative party: that centrist one-nation part that has been trampled by the Tory nationalists, made wild by their Brexit success. The ascendancy of this element within the party, in his view, brings with it the threat of political catastrophe.
“I see no emergence of a leader prepared to say the sort of things that might give us a chance of preventing the disaster of a Corbyn victory,” he said. “We need someone to sing a more acceptable and more relevant tune. As yet, that person hasn’t emerged.”
Following our meeting, Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary wrote an essay for the Telegraph, in which he set out his vision for a post-Brexit Britain, a piece widely seen as a Eurosceptic pitch for the Conservative leaderhip. I contacted Heseltine’s office to ask whether he felt Johnson might be a suitable candidate. He replied by email, saying: “I have said we need to change the song not just the singer. As yet I have heard no one prepared to do this.” He also commented on Theresa May’s Brexit speech: “It seems evident that the Florence speech nether unified the Cabinet or unlocked the negotiations,” he said.