With Parliament in recess for a few days, this week should have been an opportunity for a weary Theresa May to step back, take stock and get a grip.
But outside of her Downing Street bunker a week of soap opera politics unfolded, rapidly shifting from Coronation Street, through EastEnders, before finally terminating in drama worthy of a Hollyoaks late night special with 22,000 tuning in to follow the progress of Priti Patel’s flight to redundancy.
Each day Theresa May would confront an unfaithful Priti Patel, and each day Patel would concoct a new story. Her trip to Israel was a “family holiday” with a few meetings arranged by Patel herself. Actually, she forgot to mention it involved meetings with a dozen Israeli officials and that she accompanied by a well-known lobbyist. Actually, she meant to add that she met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and offered British aid cash for the Israeli army.
I’m not sure about you, but that’s not like any family holiday I’ve ever had.
Further revelations about what No 10 knew or didn’t know at each stage of this farce raises the question of whether they were an innocent victim of Priti Patel’s fabrications or whether they helped cover for her. What is obvious is that Theresa May was desperate to forgive and forget rather than suffer another damaging resignation.
It was only when keeping Patel risked a full Cabinet breakdown that May pulled her out of important negotiations in Africa and flew her halfway across the world to receive her notice.
Now, after the week she’s had you would think honesty and loyalty would be Theresa May’s top criteria for a new Secretary of State for International Development.
Instead she’s promoted Penny Mordaunt, an MP that has been slammed for making misleading statements. David Cameron called her claim that Turkey could join the EU “absolutely wrong” and her warnings that Britain could be forced to join an EU army “fanciful”. And let’s not forget that she posed in front of the infamous Vote Leave bus promising an extra £350million for the NHS with none other than Priti Patel.
She was no fan of Theresa May either. Mordaunt was Andrea Leadsom’s strongest supporter in last year’s leadership contest, warning in an article for ConservativeHome that the Conservatives needed “fresh leadership”, “someone who campaigned for us to leave”, and “someone giving confidence in our economy, not talking it down”.
The soap writers also developed a sub-plot starring recurring character David Davis and his conflicting claims that his Department’s Brexit reports both exist and don’t exist. Should we expect more drama in next week’s episodes with Davis in a leading role? It seems certain that another episode of this Downing Street soap opera is just around the corner.
All this would be laughable if the Tories weren’t actually hurting people’s lives. Boris Johnson made a non-apology for his huge mistake that could keep a British mother locked up in Iran for another five years. He had given a misleading statement that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been “simply teaching people journalism”, prompting fears that it would be used to justify her sentence for spying.
This is not a soap opera. All these events are having a very real and detrimental impact on the country. Remarkably the EU are now reported to be ‘preparing for the fall of Theresa May’s government’, while the weak and divided Tory Government stand completely unequipped to deal with the crisis in living standards, through which millions of ordinary people continue to suffer.
This is simply not good enough. The Tories must step aside and let Labour govern for the many not the few.
Jon Trickett is the Labour MP for Hemsworth and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office
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