If the House of Commons were a football pitch, Theresa May would be moments away from being stretchered off, with the substitutes already desperate to cross the white line to replace her. Whether the Prime Minister bows out on her own accord or waits to be booted by her colleagues, she will be gone soon and the search for her successor will be underway. Whoever that is – they have the potential to save the Tory party from significant electoral trouble.
All is not lost. William Pitt the Younger, who’s statue stands metres away from the House of Commons, is revered as one of the United Kingdom’s most iconic leaders. This was on the back of Lord North’s catastrophic government that lost us the American colonies. If the new leader remembers this story of hope, they may change the electoral fate of the Conservatives for decades.
William Pitt the Younger avoided being blamed for the loss of America by being disassociated from the embarrassing state of affairs initially. He was only fourteen when Lord North’s army surrendered in the state of New York. Then, upon becoming MP at 23, he dedicated several brutal speeches to the decisions of the Prime Minister. He called the War of Independence, ‘accursed, wicked, barbarous, cruel, unnatural, unjust and diabolical’. He went on to become known as the ‘pilot that weathered the storm’, having defeated Napoleon and proved the strength of the Tory ideology. There are two key lessons for Theresa May’s successor within his story.
The first: in order to steer a credible Party finalising Brexit, you must’ve been nowhere near the mess of negotiations initially. John Bercow has now announced that Theresa May cannot bring her deal back for a vote in the Commons: her deal is well and truly dead. Association with such a failure would be toxic to any prospective candidate - even if she somehow miraculously manages to secure changes significant enough to bring the deal back to the House.
The second necessity: the new leader must condemn the failures of their Party. They must promise the general public and the Commons that they, too, are disappointed with the outcome of the negotiations. Not with as much fortitude as William Pitt, but with enough censure to recreate an image of a new, reinvigorated Tory party. If only Alistair Campbell had a Brexit-loving twin that would write such a speech.
Criticising the conduct of previous negotiations would ruffle a few feathers and allow Jeremy Corbyn a few sound-bite digs, but overall, it would make a clear distinction between the weak conduct of the Theresa May government and the new powerful one charging Britain into post-Brexit life.
The young MP for Esher and Walton, Dominic Raab, passes the qualifiers established by Pitt. The former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, is a largely unknown figure. Since his election as MP in 2010, he assumed peripheral roles as Under-Secretary of State for Civil Liberties then Minister of State for Justice and Housing departments.
He received significant media attention when he was called upon to handle Brexit in 2018, but after his resignation, he escaped without any blame. One of his supporters told the Daily Telegraph, Raab is the ‘new face of a new generation; someone who has not been tarnished’. If the Brexiteer was to assume power before the year is up, he will be the thirteenth youngest Prime Minister since records began, aged 45. He could be the right face for a new Tory trajectory.
Esther McVey, Boris Johnson
These resigned Cabinet ministers could also potentially re-brand the Tories. As a ruthless critic of May and Cameron’s governments, Johnson may be able to shake his Bullingdon Club reputation. Most recently, he spoke of the Cabinet’s ‘diet of capitulation’ and the need to ‘discover some willingness to resist’. McVey’s resignation letter was dubbed as ‘savage’ by the Evening Standard. She told the Prime Minister that she ‘could not look [her] constituents in the eye’, if she were to defend her deal. Their disassociation from the hesitant government may bode well, in spite of their respective gaffes as Ministers.
Under Pitt’s example, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Savid Javid, and any Cabinet member for that matter, will be unable to save the Tories. Condemning the government they were once a member of would be impossible. This isn’t to say they can’t or won’t come to power. Savid Javid particularly has a strong base of support amongst his colleagues and in the wider membership. Jeremy Hunt called the Prime Minister’s deal ‘a turkey trap’, and has been praised in some quarters since becoming Foreign Secretary.
Michael Gove however, is an old favourite to become leader, but may be viewed as a generally too well-known controversial figure for steer the Tories to calmer waters. As likely as it is, if any of these Tories come to power, they are risking their Party’s reputation irrevocably. It’s time to recover now – and electing the same-old would be a mistake.
Of course, this is only theory. But, history tends to hold very important value in politics. Whoever Theresa May’s successor is, they’ll do well to admire the memory of Pitt the Younger, who restored faith in the Tories on the back of a disastrous government.
Of course, this all depends on the final deal – whatever that comes to be – and the economic penalties the general public face as a result. The unforgiving British electorate will judge any future leader accordingly. But undeniably, the Conservative Party will need resuscitation once Theresa May departs. Otherwise, the Party will be gasping for a strong majority for years to come, drowning in the memory of the failed Brexit government