After years of being disregarded as a drone, robotically executing the commands of others, is Theresa May upgrading herself to a stealth bomber?
Her stock soars high above that of the Prime Minister to whom she has been rigidly loyal (until now), and while the leadership challenge gossip has been bubbling away, she has evaded the radar. Whether or not she has the ruthlessness to deliver her payload should David Cameron’s position dramatically weaken, this is one tough muthah – as her efforts to smash the poisonous Police Federation prove – who begins to look formidably well armed.
At the very least, she is clearly positioning herself for a post-election run assuming the Tories fail to win a majority in 2015. It is an assumption she plainly shares with anyone else in a jacket that does up at the front. Picking fights with the judiciary is a common reflex of troubled governments, but Mrs May’s pledge of a manifesto commitment to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights goes beyond the usual knee jerk to establish three things.
First, since she knows that withdrawal is inconceivable on many grounds, not least the ensuing pariah statehood identified by the Attorney General, she anticipates election defeat removing any need to renege on such nonsense. Second, the aggressive absurdity of her promise is so startlingly out of character that it illuminates her growing appetite for the top job. And third, she is a cute operator, bargaining any credibility with the centre and centre left, which is of no use to her at all, for orgasmic coverage in the right-wing media, which could be of immense use to her before long.
“A Great Day For British Justice” was the headline in the paper that broke the story. “It marks a triumph for the Mail on Sunday’s campaign against the ludicrous abuses of justice carried out in the name of human rights,” exclaimed a report filed from that entrancing fantasy land where flimsy kites flown by power-hungry politicians magically mutate into legislation.
This is not the first Mail campaign she has brought to triumphant fruition. In October, she delighted everybody when she told those bully-boy Americans to leave Gary McKinnon alone, on the mildly ironic grounds that “the decision to extradite would be incompatible with his human rights”. But it is the first time she has done so in contravention of No 10’s wishes. If the PM approves of this announcement, he is disguising the fact brilliantly.
While the received wisdom holds that David Cameron is secure, even after Eastleigh, it is built primarily on the porous limestone of the lack of any viable replacement. But if all the cards fall wrongly over the coming months, the emergence of such a figure could see him sucked down into a sinkhole like that poor chap in Florida.
Imagine that George Osborne’s Budget is a flop (it’s easy if you try), that the inevitable euro elections calamity in May is closley followed by the dreaded triple dip, and that another by-election pops along to magnify the menace of Ukip. Then factor in that with all these other Cabinet right-wingers demanding tax cuts, that prosthetic limbs be replaced by rockets and guns, and so on, and Mr Cameron seems to be losing the dressing room already. If this indiscipline intensifies and adds to his other woes, it will dawn on a fractious party which loathes his metrosexual tendencies that this autumn represents the precise point in the electoral cycle at which they ousted Mrs Thatcher. Some 18 months later, John Major pulled off one of the greatest upsets in election history.
Like Major, and despite the upmarket escort footwear, Mrs May is bland, little known, and crucially has no enemies. Given the lack of credible rivals – Michael Gove would disown his ambition in his own blood; William Hague really doesn’t want it; memories of Jeremy Hunt’s holiday cottage in Lower Murdoch’s Bowel have yet to fade; Osborne is, well, Osborne – she would surely reach the final two as voted by MPs. Whether the party members who pick the winner would forgive her “nasty party” lecture of 2002 is uncertain. But being a Home Secretary who dreams of uniting Jordanian nationals with the electrodes of their homeland, my guess is that they would.
There is something weirdly appealing about Mrs May as she coyly transitions from tortoise to hare. A self-confessed school swot and “goody two-shoes” (hence perhaps those over-compensatory baddy two shoes), she has a Thatcherian mastery of detail without the didacticism to match. From the ankles up, this vicar’s daughter looks like a stalwart of the local Women’s Institute – no doubt she loves to belt out “Jerusalem” when the hymnal numbers fall her way on the weekly trip to church – though she’d be far too prim to get them out for the calendar lads like the haddocks in the film. I bet she bakes a flawless scone, and that is no more a talent to be disparaged than this is a woman to be underestimated. Being the first Home Secretary to improve their standing in the post since Roy Jenkins almost half a century ago is a colossal achievement.
While the press has focused lately on the claims of Adam Afriyie, the“British Obama”, quietly and without fuss the “British Merkel” (Angela is another cleric’s daughter whose notion of leisure is walking in the Tyrol) has gone about her business. If the fall in inward migration figures boosted her credentials with the right, this unwanted and highly instructive showboating over human rights has launched them towards the stratosphere.
The time-honoured “pendulum rule” of British politics, which I have just made up, dictates that a new leader’s qualities must counter-balance the predecessor’s, and the advantages of an unpatrician, grammar school upbringing speak for themselves. She may be a cold fish without a millionth of Boris Johnson’s mass appeal. But so long as he honours his promise not to return to Westminster before the election (no gimme, admittedly, on the Boris form book), he is an irrelevance.
May will never honour her promise to leave the Convention, and has no intention of doing so. Her point was to court the right in the Commons, country and media, and she made it very well. If the ship is sinking so fast that Cameron falls by another’s hand within the next year, you would be rash to bet against the only words on desperate Tory lips being May Day, May Day.