Brian Monteith: It's been a bad week at the office for Theresa May
It is only Wednesday and already it has not been a good week for Conservative Party bosses.
It got off to a bad start for the Prime Minister when Boris Johnson pointed out what many of us feel – irrespective of our party allegiance or whether or not we voted Remain or Leave – that we will be handing over to the EU “£40bn for two-thirds of diddly squat” and that the real scandal surrounding Brexit “is not that we have failed, but that we have not tried”.
The response from Downing Street was to double down on defending the PM’s Chequers concoction and suggest Boris Johnson has no alternative – when it is well known Plan B, soon to be known as Plan Boris, will be revealed in the coming weeks. When that happens expect Theresa May to be embarrassed yet again.
No sooner had that skirmish began to subside when the official membership figures of political parties were announced – putting the SNP ahead of the Conservatives across the whole of the UK for the first time in history. An amazing feat and highly embarrassing to Theresa May. The truth is, Conservative members are simply not renewing their memberships, so unhappy are they, I wager, with her Chequers plan and her submissive negotiating stance that led to it.
This comes at the same time as many former Conservative members who are seeking to join are being turned away because it is suspected they have come from UKIP and are hoping to have a vote for a new party leader in the future. Party managers are now looking very stupid and highly partisan. There are Tory MPs in the Commons that are ex-UKIP, such as Craig McKinlay representing South Thanet, and others such as Cabinet minister Chris Grayling and former minister Anna Soubry who were both reported as joining the SDP in the 80s.
The Tory Party is a broad church and should be welcoming people back from UKIP just as it should be recruiting disaffected Labour members who are fed up with Jeremy Corbyn taking Labour to the left. Instead the party bosses are intent on making it a citadel to Theresa May – good luck with that!
Then yesterday I had the pleasure of publishing a poll for the Brexit campaign Global Britain that showed widespread opposition towards the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan.
It was a massive British-wide poll of 22,000 voters, 500 each in the top 44 Conservative marginals. The results were, again, not good news for the Prime Minister. The polling showed 45 per cent of voters believe Brexit is the most important issue facing the country with the NHS coming way behind at only 17 per cent – but 73 per cent are unhappy with the Government’s handling of the negotiations. Maybe no surprise there, but 45 per cent of voters believe the Chequers deal will have a negative effect on them and their families and 51 per cent think it will be bad for the country.
This results in 48 per cent of voters being opposed to the Chequers deal – and 46 per cent believing it is not reflective of a true Brexit. The voters have sussed Brexit will undoubtedly not mean Brexit and that is seen as a breach of trust that will damage all Conservative MPs, whether they voted Leave or Remain or support Chequers or not.
It will be argued that Scotland is different when it comes to Brexit, and that may be so, but not in the Scottish seats that the Conservatives won only last year. The marginals of Ayr, Gordon and Stirling were included in the polling and all three showed that voters are highly likely to throw the Tory MPs out – all because they dislike the Chequers plan so much.
Theresa May does not have to make her Chequers plan a leadership issue – she needs to withdraw it and start again. Only then will the events embarrassing her melt away and any leadership challenge with it.