The prime minister, the foreign secretary and the chancellor could all go at any moment. Yet the British press—and public—seem more bored than concernedby Tom Clark / October 20, 2017 / Leave a comment
I’m not sure if it is because times are too serious, or too frivolous, but political infighting just isn’t making waves like it used to.
The bitter infighting between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair was scorched into the memory by breathless news reports about how the government had been “rocked.” But who can now recall what the feuding Downing Street neighbours were really arguing about, except who got to live at which number?
If your memory stretches back to the 1980s, you might still be able to recall days of frenetic reporting about—younger readers, I jest not—the way a decision was reached on the procurement of helicopters. The so-called “Westland affair “cost Michael Heseltine and Leon Brittan their Cabinet jobs, and fuelled sudden speculation about whether Margaret Thatcher, then at the very zenith of her powers, could survive.
A few years later, jaws dropped when Thatcher and her cheerleaders in the Daily Mail turned against then chancellor, Nigel Lawson, over the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. He went—and then within a year the repercussions had done for the Iron Lady herself.
The current episode of rats-in-a-sack syndrome features some of the very same figures—grandees including Lawson and Heseltine, for example—as well as virtually all the current Cabinet. The most embroiled individuals are the most senior of the lot: the prime minister, the foreign secretary and the chancellor. Questions are asked daily about whether each of them—or indeed any of them—can go on.
And the subject of the fighting is far, far graver than anything from the Blair/Brown era or the Thatcher years. It concerns—in the independent judgment of two thoughtful and prominent Tories that I have spoken to in the last week—the fundamental strategic dilemma facing the country.
Forget the exact details of hard and soft Brexits, customs unions and “no deal” posturing. The root dilemma, my two contacts agreed in separate conversations, is whether the UK is going to continue to remain fundamentally aligned with Europe or not. The Cabinet is divided, and furthermore—the two also agreed—the prime minister is simply too weak to force a decision.
By the standards of those 1980s spats about helicopters, or the Blair/Brown soap opera that was once known as the TeeBeeGeeBees, today’s disagreements at the top are fundamental. They are also urgent:…