In 1980 the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, stood before the Conservative Party Conference. ‘To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catch phrase, the “U” turn’, she said, ‘I have only thing to say. You turn if you want to.’ As the audience hall erupted into applause, she paused for the signs of adulation to diminish. Once the din evaporated, she delivered the line that would come to define her premiership: ‘The lady’s not for turning’.
Theresa May would do well to remember this.
Despite the Bill granting the government permission to trigger Article 50 being approved by a clear mandate of 494 to 122, Mrs May cannot sleep easily. The Bill passing to the House of Lords is where the real fun is going to begin. It is here that Mrs May’s plans for our exit of the Union could become a hard reality. Alternatively, it is where everything could come tumbling down around her.
There is a real fear that the Lords could attempt to derail Brexit. Whilst it is unlikely that they would (or even could) disfigure the plans entirely, they could incessantly make modifications that will require the approval of the House of Commons (home of some disgruntled MPs who never got their amendments approved).
This political ping-pong could conceivably go on for several months, with Theresa May unable to do anything but look on aghast. But the lady must not be for turning. She knows what she wants, and she must stick to it. If the Lords start being disruptive she must immediately seek royal assent, and trigger a General Election.
Such a General Election would – in effect – be the second referendum that Tim Farron ceaselessly bleats about. Brexit would be the decisive factor with all talk of economic and social policy pushed to one side. Whilst being a good thing for Labour, who have a Shadow Chancellor whose only economic policy is gathering the fruits of the magic money tree, it will reopen old wounds just as the nation is beginning to stop seeing each other as ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’.
This would, of course, be a precarious position to be in. Mrs May would risk losing traditionally Conservative seats in Remain constituencies to the Lib Dems, and traditionally Labour seats in Leave constituencies could convert to UKIP. Almost certainly this would happen. The key word there, of course, is ‘almost’.
In a survey of 2000 Britons, Opinium have found that 39% of people think Theresa May is doing a good job. There is only one Prime Minister in the last twenty years who ever exceeded this percentage: Margaret Thatcher, who came in at 40%.
Naturally 2000 people isn’t quite a representative sample, though one gets an idea that this a pervasive trend. A lifelong Labour voter told me in conversation a few days ago that, as much as it pained them, they would vote for the Conservative Party if a General Election was held tomorrow. This is not the only time I have heard this.
It is very clear that Theresa May is doing something right, and it isn’t just the British people who think this. When she arrived in Malta for an EU summit, she was cheered by people who lined the streets. ‘We’re very pleased with the weather’, said a clearly somewhat bemused Prime Minister. And, it is abundantly clear, many of us are very pleased with her. After a rocky few weeks, where she seemed to take her foot off the accelerator, she is back in the driving seat. She should go full speed if necessary.