The Tories have diminished the role of Prime Minister

by Kevin Meagher

I was born under Harold Wilson, started school under James Callaghan and left under Margaret Thatcher.

My 16-year-old daughter was born under Gordon Brown, started school under David Cameron, then Theresa May, then Boris Johnson, then Liz Truss and is set to leave under Rishi Sunak.

A stark 2:1 ratio in a single generation.

In the modern age, it seems PMs are like buses.

And this presumes Sunak will last until my daughter’s GCSEs in the summer.

He remains the potential victim of either an early general election defeat, or a last- minute putsch by his own backbenchers to replace him, in the hope of a final-second reprieve from the voters.

It’s not just that the Tories have broken the constitutional precedent that parties should only ever change their leader/ prime minister once in a parliament before seeking the reapproval of the voters, it’s that they have diminished the office entirely.

Look at their record.

Hubristic David Cameron called and then lost a referendum on our EU membership that was practically unlosable, destabilising British politics ever since.

Dumbfounded by Parliament and party, Theresa May was unable to divine a coherent way forward over the country’s decision to quit and was forced out by her own side.

Granted, the above examples are down to a mixture of arrogance and incompetence. And to be strictly fair, both Cameron and May did win a general election and the right be Premier.

Indeed, let me extend the courtesy and say that after succeeding Theresa May in July 2019, Boris Johnson also sought and won a mandate in the December general election, securing the biggest Tory majority since Thatcher’s third term in 1987.

So, three Tory PMs, with two of them inheriting their mandate from their predecessor.

So far, so constitutionally normal.

But it’s what happened subsequently that’s the problem.

Johnson’s casual and habitual mendacity dragged his Premiership into the gutter.

The Downing Street parties. The sheer disregard for basic propriety. The insufferable air of privilege.

His leaving office – chastised by Parliament for his lying – was a new low, but it never really generated the moral outrage that it ought to, because it was so symptomatic of the man.

Johnson’s replacement by Liz Truss was a predictable lurch into sheer madness.

Her 49-day rule, crashing the UK economy in the process, was terminated by a coalition of international financial institutions recoiling against her recklessness in ordering unfunded tax cuts and her own MPs coming to their senses and knifing her.

(Over time, the Oxford English Dictionary will change the definition of the word ‘truss.’ Rather than offering support it will come to mean withdrawing it).

Sunak, was, of course, initially defeated by Truss in the party selection battle to replace Johnson, but after her hiatus, he then inherited the job in a bloodless coronation.

Indeed, my pet theory is that if Truss had lasted a few more weeks –  outliving a supermarket lettuce – then Sunak, with a Stanford MBA and a hinterland in India and the US,  might have been off and away from Britain entirely.

And while Johnson and Truss have coarsened and cheapened the office of Prime Minister, I suppose we should be glad – certainly relieved – that Sunak is at the helm rather than either of them.

Not because of his miraculous leadership, but just, amid this confederacy of political lunatics, what he will not do.

So here we are, with our unelected PM – the second one of this parliament – left treading water, usurped this week by the reemergence of a defiant Liz Truss, flogging her new book and still blaming everyone else for her early demise.

While his predecessor-but-two, now trading under the imperious title of Lord Cameron, humiliates him by walking and talking like the international statesman Sunak demonstrably is not.

The Prime Minister (pro tem) is left presiding over his Rwandan deportation debacle, while the country sinks into the economic mire, with rising unemployment, food prices and interest rates still crippling household finances.

A diminished man in a diminished role leading a diminished government, currently lingering in second-to-last-place in the monthly ConservativeHome poll of Tory cabinet members, as voted for by their own members.

While facing down the barrel of electoral oblivion, with a poll yesterday putting Labour 26 points ahead, with a maximum of eleven months to go until an election.

There is a simple change an incoming Labour government can and should make in response to the turmoil of the past few years.

Pledge to restore the unwritten convention about governing parties changing prime ministers mid-term.

It should be once and once only.

It’s not going to win over millions of votes, but that’s not the point.

What it will offer is a useful indication that grown-ups who put the country ahead of personal and party advantage are back in control.

Restore some honour to high office and show how Labour will govern differently after the shamelessness of the past few years.

Goodness knows it’s a low bar to vault over.

Kevin Meagher is the associate editor of Labour Uncut

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One Response to “The Tories have diminished the role of Prime Minister”

  1. John P reid says:

    The referndum wasn’t Un losable there’s always been a Eurosceptic feel among the Working class in the shires whom have links to old labour it was a connection with middle class suburbia who wanted sovereignty as for destabilised no it didn’t it was those trying to stop if in 2017 partied that accepted brexit got 88% of the vote

    You’re also the same age as me
    Why I’d the last few years shameless
    Regarding Theresa May John McDonnel thought he could do to thd Tories in 2019 what they did to themselves over the EU in the mid90’s if ended up destroying labour uniting the Tories

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