Theresa May clings on to power, in the wake of a catastrophic general election campaign during which, instead of increasing her double digit opinion poll lead over Labour to give her the requested mandate to negotiate Brexit, she lost her majority. By Andy Cowper
“The Old Curiosity Shop” by Charles Dickens is as good a place as any to start this week’s “Cut”. Oscar Wilde’s beautiful line that “one must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell not to laugh” springs straight to mind as we consider PM Theresa May’s situation.
Mrs May is (as I predicted previously) Prime Minister.
She clings on to power, in the wake of a catastrophic general election campaign during which, instead of increasing her double digit opinion poll lead over Labour to give her the requested mandate to negotiate Brexit, she lost her majority.
Hubris is a very real thing.
Three letters summarise Mrs May’s central preoccupation right now, and they are not NHS. Instead, her focus is on the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), upon whose consistent and agreed support her chance of governing relies.
Mix and match
Mrs May reappointed Jeremy Hunt as heath secretary, which is probably the correct decision given the current circumstances. Mr Hunt knows the issues, and at least will not be bringing “new initiatives”. It is doubtful that we could survive many “new initiatives”.
Mr Hunt’s reappointment doesn’t avoid the urgent need for a “re-set” between the NHS and the new government (ideally, one accompanied by a few extra revenue quid), not to mention a credible route towards progress of capital.
Yet, Mrs May is now existentially insecure in her job, however little she wants to believe it is so. British politics 2015-17 has largely been about seeing what a coalition of chaos the Labour Party is. British politics in 2017 will largely be about seeing what a coalition of chaos the Conservative Party is.
A deep desire for a politics without complexity and without consequences has infected the unintelligent. Well, good luck with that: politics is complexity; politics is consequences.
The author of Alice In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, wrote in ”The Hunting Of The Snark” “what I tell you three times is true”. Songwriter Lou Reed’s classic ”Perfect Day” talks a lyrical turn for the dark just before it ends, with the thrice repeated mantra “you’re going to reap just what you sow”.
The snarking of the Hunt will undoubtedly remain. But the key issue is the fact that leadership matters a lot in the NHS.
Following Simon Stevens’ skilful schooling of Theresa May’s now departed SpAd dynastic duo Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy over the nonsense ”£10 billion extra NHS funding” claims, and their briefing the media that Mr Stevens was “insufficiently enthusiastic and attentive” (which sounded like a review of a blind date), The Sun King of Skipton House’s job security looks, to coin a phrase, “strong and stable”.
Stevens is a shrewd reader of politics, who will recognise an open door when he sees it.
Meanwhile, Mrs May and Mr Hunt can, if they so wish, seek refuge in the consolations of incumbency. This needn’t distract them for long, because right now, there aren’t any.
Andy Cowper is comment editor of HSJ