Brian Monteith: May should join the ranks of pontificating ex-PMs

What is it about past prime ministers that they feel they have to come back '“ ­usually after a humiliating rejection '“ to tell us what's best for us? Do they not realise that if we thought they knew what was good for us they might have stayed in ­Downing Street longer?
Gordon Brown has come out in favour of a second EU referendum. Picture: AFP/GettyGordon Brown has come out in favour of a second EU referendum. Picture: AFP/Getty
Gordon Brown has come out in favour of a second EU referendum. Picture: AFP/Getty

I am prompted to get on my high horse about ex-prime ministers after this week’s intervention by Gordon – hallowed be thy name – Brown. It follows that great tradition of believing they are still important practised, in my lifetime, by Harold Macmillan, Ted Heath, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and, of course, David Cameron. The others generally kept their counsel.

Gordon Brown thinks a second EU referendum could be a good idea. If he could bottle and sell his words as aftershave it would be branded Hypocrisy. It was Gordon Brown who, having promised to give us a ­referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (which created the constitution that would give it a foreign policy role and army) then failed to do so when the fear of losing got the better of him.

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Now we have taken our future into our own hands and suddenly he thinks a referendum is a good idea again. Self-awareness ain’t Gordon Brown’s strong point.

A week before, we had David Cameron saying he felt he still had something to offer and would like to come back into politics. Noooooo thank you!

Again, self-awareness has abandoned him. It’s true Cameron was more skilful and emollient than Theresa May is proving to be but that’s a pretty low bar. It was Cameron who nearly lost us the United Kingdom by agreeing to hold a referendum that excluded thousands of Scots that normally had a vote, let the SNP draft the question and set the lengthy two-year timing. It was Cameron that promised to reform the EU and failed and in having a referendum was, in my book criminally negligent, by making no preparations in the event of a Leave vote – and then walked off the stage after telling us he would stick around to see it through.

The Brexit rollercoaster is not all Theresa May’s fault.

Then there’s John Major and Tony Blair, who have become a Cannon and Ball, a double act without the humour. Major denied us a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty (notice a pattern here?) – directly leading to the ­formation of UKIP and the slow march to eventually leaving the EU. As for Blair is there a world problem that for a price he cannot solve? Then again, he should know a thing or two, having created so many in his time.

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This problem of former leaders wishing to keep coming back to have another suck on the straw of their power drink is not restricted to prime ministers – we now have ex-first ministers too – and they can also like the sound of their own voice. Has Henry McLeish ever gone away? Has Alex Salmond retreated to anonymity?

Some of my more critical readers might say, but wait a minute ­Monteith, you’ve not exactly disappeared after retiring from Holyrood, you punt your opinions every week from here, yon and hither. And they would be right, of course, but I can at least in my defence say I was already writing for newspapers and magazines before I went into politics – all I’ve done is revert to type.

Will Theresa May follow suit and tell us what to do once she becomes another ex-prime minister? I don’t know, but it’s almost certainly going to be after a humiliating defeat at the hands of one of her own team or that man Corbyn. Whichever it is, I’d be happy to have her pontificating as an ex-prime minister from next week if it meant we could have a change this weekend.