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Theresa May’s caution about appearing weak has made her even weaker

29 January 2018

5:34 PM

29 January 2018

5:34 PM

Can Theresa May really solve the latest crisis affecting her leadership? Previously, her survival owed a great deal to Conservative backbenchers, who vowed to protect her against a badly-behaved Cabinet, but everyone is restless now. So what can she do?

The Prime Minister isn’t going to have a personality transplant, but this doesn’t mean that she is destined to continue doing absolutely nothing. She may never be able to conjure up small talk with her own MPs, but she has in the past shown that she can make bold decisions (the snap election was, admittedly, a bad example of this) and have a reforming zeal. The absence of any activity or vision for the domestic agenda is what has agitated Tory MPs quite so much in recent weeks. Indeed, I understand that some have grown so frustrated by the lack of thinking, let alone decision-making, on anything important, that they are starting to set up their own shadowy policymaking groups in order to try to present this Prime Minister or the next with something clear that they can get on with. These aren’t hostile groups – they contain some of her closest allies and supporters and are designed to come up with something that May might be able to use – but they do show quite how difficult it is to get anything going in Downing Street at the moment.

An obvious start would be to announce more money or a Royal Commission for the NHS. If the Prime Minister tarries too long on this matter, she will appear only to have yielded to pressure from the Opposition and Boris Johnson, rather than announced anything as a result of her own initiative and priorities. Currently, she seems fixated upon announcing that tech companies need to do more to root out extremism, which is meaningless and requires very little government action, thus avoiding any awkward rebellions in the House of Commons. The NHS, however, wouldn’t need to fall into the category of awkward rebellions in the Commons, given how much pressure there is for more money and reform.

But even on trickier topics, what’s wrong with trying a few policies and ending up with rebellions in the Commons? May and her advisers are so nervous about avoiding any defeats which make them appear weak that they have actually weakened themselves in a different way: by appearing not to know what they want to do at all.

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