31 Jan 2018

Leadership challenge threat hangs over May’s China trip

In China they boast that their system allows their leaders to think in terms of decades.

Their newly arrived guest of honour, Mrs May, is lucky to plan 24 hours in advance.

On the long flight over to China, Mrs May’s team were asked if the PM had internet contact to keep her in touch with whether there had been a challenge to her leadership during the flight. There were always means of getting information to the PM was the guidance.

The organised factions plotting her downfall after her Conference speech have been on armed truce. It’s more random forces that could threaten here now. The rules allowing for 48 MPs to write confidential letters demanding a vote of no confidence mean the party could tip suddenly and without coordination into a leadership challenge at any minute.

theresa may

That threat hangs over this trip and Theresa May was asked about it on the flight. She said she wouldn’t just walk if the 48 letters triggered a contest. She reheated the line she had to use on another foreign trip last August about not being a quitter.

The immediate post election flurry of activity aimed at replacing her resurfaced later in the summer,  then once again after the conference speech from hell and then yet again after the DUP threatened to oppose the Phase 1 Brexit deal in December. We now have another round of mutterings post the reshuffle that barely was. That’s 5 insurgencies of varying scale in 8 months.

Mrs May said on the plane that she didn’t question the party rules. She acknowledged that the government had to do better getting its message across and telling voters about their achievements.

But her disappointed market is closer to home than that: it includes ministers as well as Tory backbenchers.

Theresa May’s first stop was Wuhan, where Chairman Mao revived his own faltering leadership in 1966 with a very public swim showing his vitality .
His Party spin team rather went into overdrive suggesting an implausible personal best.

Mrs May met students studying English and was shown a model of her own home in Downing Street. She peered in, maybe wondering if someone else had taken up occupancy.

One member of the trade delegation seemed already weary of the experience. He bemoaned a Prime Minister who “isn’t really there.” He also pined for the George Osborne/David Cameron approach to China which Theresa May has disavowed. He said the Chinese were disappointed by her so far and were “studying her very carefully” on this trip.

We are currently at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing where she is about to hold talks with Premier Li after a ceremonial welcome.

Mrs May kicked off her trip saying she would be bringing up human rights and Hong Kong in her bilateral conversations. One who has worked closely with Theresa May told me that for her the China relationship is “really all about security.” Dealing with China,  the source said, “is one of those occasions where she struggles to shake off the Home Secretary experience.”

Theresa May, the source said, thinks David Cameron and George Osborne were “very misty eyed and slightly naive” where China was concerned – you get a flavour of Mr Osborne’s very different approach.

Tweets by @garygibbonblog

One reader comment

  1. H Statton says:

    Wonton Noodles and not wanting niggles. Given Theresa May’s political fragility, I’d settle for that. I can’t help thinking of the exhortations of Monty Python’s King Arthur: “Runaway! Runaway!”

    This whole episode is playing out like a game of ‘whack-a-mole’; as quickly as one problem is knocked on the head, up pops another. Rumours of leadership challenges have peaked and troughed like the waves of a brain-dead patient’s ventilator. May is discovering the true meaning of the sword of Damocles. Also, ministers rarely fall on their swords for the greater good – the country.

    The UK’s warnings of committing self-immolation in front of the EU unless it gets what it wants won’t cut it. Finally, we’ve registered that fact – the match has been extinguished. It’s only taken 19 months. Good job we can string this thing out and generate contingency plans at our leisure…

    After the sectoral analyses leaked, as they were bound to, these being desperate times, we have three options. The method of torture and ultimately, foreseeable demise of our economy includes:
    The Pear of Anguish – soft Brexit – a comprehensive free trade deal
    The Maiden of Nuremberg – moderate Brexit – single market access
    The Spanish Boot – hard Brexit – no deal at all

    If the hard Brexiteers are bellyaching about us plebs having no appreciation of chiaroscuro amid the full picture of Brexit economics, why not publish the unedited analyses and reveal the true nature of the beast? Was the thinking: protect them from themselves? Or: how the hell do we tell them? As Yanis Varoufakis puts it: “The Brexiteers are in the process of butchering, brutally, the sovereignty of the House of Commons.”

    Jacob Rees-Mogg appears pre-occupied with clothing, especially footwear; I’m beginning to wonder whether he’s a shoe fetishist. It’s almost Dickensian. I’m expecting to hear about chimney sweeps and orphanages next. Although, so far this week’s historical references have been limited to William Pitt the younger and 1066; but no full explanation of what the lobbying, European Research Group (ERG), is or does. It remains a nebulous back-street organisation – a political ‘cosa nostra’, Masonic Lodges, a Cabal operating clandestinely during the same year women loudly and politely are derailing the status quo, pressing for the exclusion of women.

    Watching parliamentary exchanges doesn’t sprinkle the glitter of schadenfreude anymore; it’s like watching MPs scrabbling around to kick a puppy. It has morphed from merely a lack of enthusiasm for May’s bargaining skills, into personal attack; from both sides of the house. All frustration, angst and scorn are poured over May like hot lead, for talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

    There is no doubt May has become the bête noire for all the ills of Brexit, she was always the primary target; recent carry-ons have allowed adversaries to innocently focus in for a potential kill. But, lots of harm has been self-inflicted.

    Is it not better to resign oneself to a brutal clubbing than subject oneself to the chronic, stinging, often cowardly cat-o’-nine-tails of the hard Brexiteers. Are we witnessing the drawback before a gathering tsunami? May has retained the position of an immovable object but the unstoppable force is amassing inordinately.

    One is helpless to withstand such an assault. Then what? What if the hard Brexiteers tried to usurp the throne…

    Beware, the ides, May – the local elections.

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