Editor’s Note: John McTernan is head of political practice at PSB, a strategic research consultancy. He was a speechwriter to ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and was communications director to former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
There is a time in the life of every football team when the most loyal of fans start to call for the sacking of a disastrous management or the end of a destructive owner’s control.
Here in the UK, that time has now come for the current minority Conservative government. Anyone who truly loves the Conservative Party – which has done so much good for our country over the years – should be outside the gates of 10 Downing Street now calling for Theresa May and her government to go.
Despite being a lifetime Labour Party supporter, it gives me no joy to write these words. As a Democrat I well understand that governments can do things that I do not agree with – even economically questionable things, like the self-imposed recession of the early 1980s or Brexit today – with absolute legitimacy. Where I draw the line is when the UK is made a laughing stock around the world.
Just take the last few days. We have Priti Patel, the now-former Secretary of State for International Development, who resigned today over news that she held secret meetings with the Netanyahu government while she was on holiday in Israel. These meetings, which she has since apologized for, were apparently kept from both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister’s office – though here, characteristically, there is some doubt.
“Who knew what when” has traditionally been the greatest question to ask in any political scandal, and it has unravelled countless careers. But we are way beyond that here. It truly doesn’t matter what Theresa May knew about Priti Patel’s freelance foreign policy or when she knew it. The Prime Minister and her office no longer have any relevance, except as a symbol of an incredible combination of ignorance and incompetence.
The evidence is everywhere. A 20-point poll lead and a majority thrown away in an election that wasn’t even needed. Her initial failure to meet with the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy made the Queen look like Princess Diana. A conference set that dismantled itself as the Prime Minister’s voice failed. The failure to sack a minister who allegedly called a staff member “sugar tits.”
I could go on and on – which is the point. Humorist Tom Lehrer declared satire dead when Henry Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize. We are at that point with the current government. The only answer to the question, “is this the worst week ever?” is the response, “until next week.”
The fish, as the Russians say, rots from the head. Though I prefer Gertrude Stein’s tart insult, “there is no there there”.
Theresa May, and as a consequence her government, stand for nothing – which is why they put up with anything. It wasn’t even a surprise when there was no Cabinet meeting this week, just a knowing shrug all round Westminster. How could they meet? They don’t agree on anything.
The May government has lost all dignity. It’s time for them to be put out of their misery.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with news of Priti Patel’s resignation.