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Poor political leadership has the UK facing a cliff-edge as democracy fails

PUBLISHED: 19:00 22 March 2019 | UPDATED: 17:44 26 March 2019

Theresa May berates MPs for not supporting her deal - but offers no way for the public to influence the decision. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Theresa May berates MPs for not supporting her deal - but offers no way for the public to influence the decision. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

The real issue at the heart of the whole Brexit saga is that just as the nation was facing the greatest political and economic crisis in several generations, its political leaders are the worst anyone has ever seen.

As a result the country is still being driven towards a cliff edge that almost 90% of politicians and a similar proportion of business leaders recognise is going to be calamitous – and would make millions of people across the country much worse off if we did leave without a deal.

Despite the sticking plaster from the European summit I really cannot predict what will happen next month.

Theresa May is, quite simply, the worst prime minister I have ever seen in this country in my lifetime. The only post-war PM to rival her in incompetence and duplicity is Sir Anthony Eden with the Suez Crisis and he (just) pre-dates me!

She was elected to handle the Brexit negotiations and to deliver a deal that would get Britain out of the EU without crashing the economy.

She has failed spectacularly because it turns out she couldn’t care less about the national interest – all she was ever interested in was the future of the Conservative Party.

We saw that again at the weekend when the only people she was interested in talking to were the extreme-Brexiteers of the European Research Group (ERG).

She has failed spectacularly because it turns out she couldn’t care less about the national interest – all she was ever interested in was the future of the Conservative Party.

And she has been duplicitous time after time by saying one thing and doing another – over the 2017 general election, over her opposition to delaying the withdrawal, over her opposition to a “no deal” Brexit, and talking about a long delay and then taking it off the table.

That is because she is a political nonentity only interested in her narrow interests. In that sense she is the polar opposite to John Major in the 1990s who now looks like a political titan who put his country before his party, put down the foundations of the economic success of the late 1990s and 2000s by marginalising the extremists in his own party.

Mrs May could have found a consensus to come up with a deal to withdraw successfully from the EU if she had reached out at the start to opposition politicians to get a significant number of them on board.

And they were there to be persuaded. The Labour MPs from northern constituents like Caroline Flint, Hilary Benn and Lisa Nandy, could have been brought into the conversation. They wanted a deal that would protect jobs but would have allowed the country to fulfil the wishes of their constituents.

But Mrs May wasn’t interested in talking to them. They wore the wrong colour rosette. She was only interested in trying to persuade the extremists in her own party – and was too stupid to realise that people like Jacob Rees Mogg, Andrew Bridgen, and Bill Cash had their hatred of Europe far too deeply entrenched to budge an inch!

Looking back at the problems faced by Mr Major in the mid-90s with his Maastricht rebels (he had a different name for them) he effectively by-passed them by quietly working with reasonable Labour and LibDem MPs to get the necessary legislation through.

I know some Tories hate him for, as they see it, splitting the party and leading it to the 1997 electoral disaster – but he and Ken Clarke engineered an economic boom that lasted for more than a decade. He might have damaged the party, but his policies can now been seen as having been good for the country.

Of course the other disaster facing the Brexit process has been the dreadful leadership of the main opposition throughout.

Jeremy Corbyn and his top team are all as tribal as Mrs May. They are as reluctant to talk to other politicians as she is.

They are more interested in the future of the Labour Party – and their own particular branch of the Labour Party – than they are in the lives of ordinary people.

I appreciate it must have been irritating for Mr Corbyn to find Chukka Umunna there when he turned up for the party leaders’ meeting with Mrs May the other day, and I accept the meeting might have been a waste of time. But flouncing out as he did made him look very childish: “I won’t talk to you if you’re talking to Chukka!”

But back to Mrs May. Her speech in Downing Street really told us all we needed to know about her total lack of political intelligence.

She berated MPs for blocking her deal, apparently trying to appeal to the electorate over their heads. But she gave the electorate no method of changing their minds by ruling out a second referendum.

Does she really think the “Dr Nos” of the ERG will have their minds changed by letters from constituents? That just shows how out of touch she is with reality.

This country has been woefully ill-served by its leaders over the last three years. I just hope their successors prove themselves better at providing leadership.

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