Westminster Watch

Written By: Ian Hernon
Published: July 29, 2017 Last modified: July 29, 2017

With MPs away for the summer recess, it is time to look back at the many achievements of Theresa May’s government. They make her “strong and stable” mantra look like the best stand-up joke ever. Strong? At least 20 policy U-turns under her belt. Stable? A Cabinet in disarray and a party growing more mutinous by the day.

Out went the hated dementia tax within days of it being announced, followed by the manifesto commitment to drop the state pension ‘triple lock’ after signing a deal with the DUP. Out, too, went Conservative plans to means test winter fuel pay-outs, moves to drop the state pension ‘triple lock’, a planned parliamentary vote on the fox hunting ban, and plans to expand grammar schools. They were all missing from the Queen’s Speech.

Mrs May had pledged a price cap on energy bills for 17 million families during the general election campaign, but that policy was also missing from the Queen’s Speech. Instead, the business secretary, Greg Clark, wrote to the energy regulator asking it to safeguard “customers on the poorest value tariffs”.

Mrs May was reportedly planning to make the case to leave the European Convention on Human Rights a central aspect of her 2020 election campaign before she called a snap contest. She then confirmed the UK will remain signatories for the next Parliament. The Education Secretary conveniently found an extra £1.3 billion for school funding … but only after a dramatically effective online campaign orchestrated by head teachers. Controversial plans set out in the Conservative manifesto to axe free school lunches and replace them with breakfasts for families on low incomes were also axed in what increasingly appeared to be a bonfire of inanities.

It was reported last August that Mrs May had decided to ditch the Northern Powerhouse from her plans for an industrial strategy. She later back-tracked and made clear she was fully behind it. She also reversed her stance towards EU citizens living in Britain, after her rivals accused her of treating them as “bargaining chips” in Brexit negotiations. She appeared to suggest foreign-born doctors will not be welcome in the UK beyond 2025, but then backed down.

Amber Rudd announced at the Conservative party conference that firms should “be clear about the proportion of their workforce which is international”. The PM was again forced into reverse gear after the scheme was slammed by businesses and the public. Mrs May finally agreed to publish a White Paper on Brexit only after being threatened with a rebellion by Conservative MPs.

Plans to electrify the Great Western Railway line between Cardiff and Swansea have been scrapped, while the Department of Transport dished out contracts to foreign companies to build HS2. Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood tweeted: “Wales gets 1% of rail investment despite making up 6% of the UK network. And now this.”

The PM paused the deal around Hinkley Point – but then unpaused it with almost nothing changed. Plans to implement £170m of cuts and close thousands of local pharmacies were shelved after one million people signed a petition calling on the Government to think again.
During her campaign to be leader and at the Conservative Party conference, Mrs May announced plans to force companies to appoint workers to their boards. She then confirmed the policy had been dropped, following lobbying from businesses.

Downing Street shamefully shelved a scheme to take in unaccompanied refugee children from Calais.

Earlier, a budget plan to hike National Insurance for self-employed workers was dropped after they were criticised for breaking the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto pledge. Mrs May repeatedly said she wouldn’t hold an election, arguing that it would risk the stability of the country. She then called a snap election when the polls were in her favour. Well, that worked, didn’t it?

The Government appeared to U-turn after Downing Street suggested it was ready to abandon the one per cent cap on public sector pay rises, only to insist hours later that the cap remained in place. The millionaire chancer – sorry, I meant chancellor – Philip Hammond told his fellow
Cabinet members that public sector workers were “overpaid” and that tech- ­nology has moved on to the extent that even women could drive trains. His office later denied he’d ever said it, accusing ministerial leakers of lying. Who do you believe? The Cabinet and the party are split over an issue which, perhaps most of all, robbed the government of a clear election win.

Jeremy Corbyn was right in his analysis: “A year ago Theresa May stood on the steps of Downing Street, saying she wanted a country that works for everyone. One year on, most people are worse off, with vital public services cut to the bone, falling wages and stagnating living standards, soaring classroom sizes and a million more on NHS waiting lists under the Tories.

She now heads a zombie government, with no ideas, no answers and no leadership. This is a government in name only, having to ask other parties to “clarify and improve” its policies and delaying most Parliamentary business until the autumn. The Conservatives have no plan for Britain.”

An increasing number of Tory MPs at every level do not demure from that analysis and, although the Tory whips have been trying to portray the government benches as an oasis of sweetness and light, the plotting to oust her will continue over the summer.

The scramble for succession and ferocious back-biting going on between Boris Johnson, David Davis, Philip Hammond and others will not simply evaporate. The cancer of internal dissent will not be healed for a political generation. And there will be no sudden breakthrough in the sham­bolic Brexit negotiations.

Backbench MPs and ministers will be taking soundings in their constituencies and if they prove unremittingly negative, the September Tory conference in Manchester could prove a bloodbath.
As she power walks in the Swiss mountain air, Mrs May knows all too well that her hold on
actual power remains fragile

About Ian Hernon

Ian Hernon is Deputy Editor of Tribune