Parliament recently introduced a bill to outlaw the use of wild animals in circuses.
Parading defenceless creatures in front of an audience to be bayed and laughed at is cruel and demeaning. No place for it in today’s civilised society.
But while MPs go all gooey over pandas, horses and bunny rabbits, they have decided the Prime Minister deserves no such clemency.
At 6pm last night, it looked as though the Cabinet was about to tell her it was time to go. False alarm. She would be hunkering down in No 10 for at least one more night.
Parliament recently introduced a bill to outlaw the use of wild animals in circuses, writes Henry Deedes
Parading defenceless creatures in front of an audience to be bayed and laughed at is cruel and demeaning. No place for it in today’s civilised society, writes Henry Deedes
But considering her experience in the Commons earlier, few would have blamed her for handing over the keys. For more than two hours, the PM was subjected to the sort of humiliation which would have had weaker souls reaching for the smelling salts.
First, during PMQs, then while delivering her statement on her fourth (and valedictory) Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
At times, the Labour benches resembled a toga-clad mob inside Rome’s Colosseum. They snarled, they cackled, they jabbed their fingers. It was wince-inducing stuff.
Mrs May, dignified and business-like in a funereal black suit and high heels, somehow absorbed it all, like a vicarage tea sponge cake.
Behind her, meanwhile, the Government benches echoed to the sound of stony indifference. Support was scant. Empty spaces everywhere.
Behind her, meanwhile, the Government benches echoed to the sound of stony indifference. Support was scant. Empty spaces everywhere, writes Henry Deedes
Those backbenchers who stayed to hear her out thumbed their phones, plotting their next career move, writes Henry Deedes
Those backbenchers who stayed to hear her out thumbed their phones, plotting their next career move. No sooner had she finished her speech, laying the finer points of the bill, than verbal missiles began raining in from all angles.
‘You’ve come to the end of the road,’ was the verdict of gum-chewing former footballer Liz Kendall (Lab, Leicester West).
Liz Saville Roberts (Plaid Cymru, Dwyfor Meirionnydd) suggested the PM’s authority was ‘slipping from her grasp with every passing hour.’
Tim Farron (Lib Dem,Westmorland and Lonsdale) claimed he’d witnessed Mrs May getting a friendlier reception in a working men’s club in Durham than from her own benches.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, North East Somerset) asked whether the Prime Minister really believed in what she was doing or whether she was simply ‘going through the motions.’
Jeremy Corbyn’s speech, incidentally, had been joltingly bad. Jumbled, hesitant, incoherent. I’m not sure how much he actually believes of what he is saying, writes Henry Deedes
He described her failing strategy as ‘folderol’ – a word dating back to 1820, meaning ‘hogwash’.
In front of him, Lee Rowley (Con, North East Derbyshire) sat slumped, scanning the chamber with a pained face as if to say ‘Why is she doing this to herself?’
Jeremy Corbyn’s speech, incidentally, had been joltingly bad. Jumbled, hesitant, incoherent. I’m not sure how much he actually believes of what he is saying. Recently I’ve been watching Sky’s brilliant drama Chernobyl, which depicts most Soviet apparatchiks as lifeless incompetents. Amazing how similar they are to Corbyn.
Briefly, there were some honey-voiced words of support from Charles Walker (Con, Broxbourne), hoping for a mention in her Resignation Honours List, perhaps. Similarly, Vicky Ford (Con, Chelmsford) observed that MPs needed to ‘stop saying No to everything on the table, just because it is not our favourite dish.’
Perhaps the most measured intervention came from Caroline Flint (Lab, Don Valley) who suggested members ‘take a breath’ and view what the bill says when it is published tomorrow. As doughty Ms Flint sat down, both sides of the Commons fell eerily quiet as though she’d made them feel guilty and given them all something to think about.
PMQs earlier had been equally agonising. Brexit-supporting ministers Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox, Liz Truss and Geoffrey Cox didn’t even bother showing up.
It became clear later why Ms Leadsom wasn’t there: she was sharpening her knife ahead of her tea-time Cabinet resignation.
Boris Johnson sat in the furthest corner, within whispering distance from 1922 Committee chief Sir Graham Brady. He didn’t stay long. Palms to grease, text messages to send, I don’t doubt.
Most the heat came from Conservative MPs on the subject of Northern Ireland, since the PM is reported to have blocked ministers from proposing a law that would prevent Army veterans from facing murder charges.
Mark Francois (Con, Rayleigh and Wickford) accused the PM of ‘pandering to Sinn Fein and the IRA while throwing veterans to the wolves.’
Johnny Mercer (Con, Plymouth Moor View) said the Government was showing ‘equivalence between those who got up in the morning to go and murder women, children and civilians, and those who donned a uniform to go and protect the Crown.’
Mrs May offered a limp response. ‘You’re not listening!’ Francois bellowed, face pucer than an ice lolly. ‘She. Doesn’t. Listen.’
I fear that might just be her political epitaph.
From hard Brexiteers to Remainers, the race for No 10
Boris Johnson 5/2
Age: 54. Former Foreign Secretary. His support for Brexit was vital to Leave’s win.
Background: Known for being identified by just one name, Boris, for his show-off Classics references and for chaotic private life.
EXPERIENCE: Twice voted London mayor.
STRENGTH: Starry, charismatic and clever crowd-pleaser.
WEAKNESS: Bumbling foreign secretary. May struggle to win MPs’ support. A ‘Stop Boris’ campaign is likely.
VERDICT: Party grassroots love him
Dominic Raab 5/1
Age: 46. Former Brexit Secretary. Diehard Brexiteer.
Background: Son of a Czech-born Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in 1938 and died of cancer when Raab was 12.
EXPERIENCE: Lasted only four months as Brexit Secretary. Voted against May in leadership confidence vote.
STRENGTH: Skilled debater who honed his skills as an adversarial lawyer with blue chip legal firm Linklaters.
WEAKNESS: Seen as too clever by half and lacking people skills.
VERDICT: In second place in ConservativeHome’s leadership league table.
Matt Hancock 16/1
Age: 40. Health Secretary. Arch Remainer.
Background: Father bought their council house. Ran his own computer software business before becoming Chancellor George Osborne’s chief of staff.
EXPERIENCE: Cabinet minister for only 18 months. Seen as a ‘coming man’.
STRENGTH: One of life’s Tiggers with ambition and enthusiasm to match his brainpower.
WEAKNESS: Never knowingly modest, he once foolishly likened himself to Churchill, Pitt and Disraeli.
VERDICT: Little known among Conservative Party members.
Amber Rudd 33/1
Age: 55. Work and Pensions Secretary. Remain cheerleader.
Background: Daughter of a Labour-supporting stockbroker and Tory-leaning JP.
EXPERIENCE: Became Home Secretary after just six years as an MP. Resigned over the Windrush scandal after inadvertently misleading MPs.
STRENGTH: Tough operator who was restored to Cabinet within six months.
WEAKNESS: Holds seat with majority of only 346. Headmisstressy manner but an accomplished performer.
VERDICT: Ninth in leadership league table.
Esther McVey 50/1
Age: 51. Former Welfare Secretary. An ardent Brexiteer.
Background: Spent the first two years of her life in foster care. Was a breakfast TV presenter before becoming a Tory MP on Merseyside.
EXPERIENCE: As welfare minister was viciously targeted by Labour.
STRENGTH: Tough and telegenic. Won plaudits with members for resigning from Cabinet over Brexit deal.
WEAKNESS: Some say she doesn’t have the intellectual fire power for top job.
VERDICT: Ranked 14th in league table.
Penny Mordaunt 20/1
Age: 46. International Development Secretary. Arch Brexiteer.
Background: Her mother died when she was a teenager. Cared for younger brother. EXPERIENCE: Was a magician’s assistant. Appeared in the reality TV show Splash!
STRENGTH: Only female MP to be a Royal Naval Reservist. Attended Lady Thatcher’s funeral in uniform.
WEAKNESS: Inexperienced, having been in Cabinet for less than two years. Has never run a major Whitehall department.
VERDICT: Edged up to 11th in ConservativeHome league table.
Andrea Leadsom 16/1
Age: 55. Leader of the Commons. Ardent Brexiteer.
Background: A former City trader. Mother of three.
EXPERIENCE: Struggled in her first Cabinet post, as Environment Secretary.
STRENGTH: Blossomed as Leader of the Commons, winning plaudits for taking on Speaker John Bercow.
WEAKNESS: Stood for leader in 2016 but made ill-considered comment comparing her experience as a mother to the childless Mrs May.
VERDICT: Has soared to the top of the ConservativeHome table of competent ministers.
Michael Gove 10/1
Age: 51. Environment Secretary. High priest of Brexiteers.
Background: Adopted son of a Scottish fish merchant.
EXPERIENCE: Figurehead for Leave during referendum campaign. Cabinet heavyweight who’s served as Education Secretary and Justice Secretary.
STRENGTH: Brilliant debater with razor sharp intellect.
WEAKNESS: Still suspected of having a disloyal gene after knifing Boris Johnson in last leadership contest.
VERDICT: Popular with the Tory members, who, crucially, will vote for the new leader.
Liz Truss 50/1
Age: 43 Chief Secretary to Treasury. Brexiteer.
Background: Raised by Left-wing parents and as a child was marched through the streets on anti-Thatcher protest shouting: ‘Maggie out!’
EXPERIENCE: Joint-author in 2012 of a controversial booklet, Britannia Unchained, which alleged ‘the British are among the worst idlers in the world’.
STRENGTH: A genuine free-marketeer.
WEAKNESS: Poor public speaker with a mixed ministerial record.
VERDICT: Only 15th in ConservativeHome leaders league table.
Sajid Javid 16/1
Age: 49. Home Secretary. Remainer who changed to Brexit after the referendum.
Background: Son of a bus driver who came to Britain from Pakistan with £1 in his pocket. Was head of credit trading at Deutsche Bank.
EXPERIENCE: Previously Culture and Business secretary, cracked down on union rights.
STRENGTH: An extraordinary rags-to-riches back story that we will hear more of during the leadership campaign.
WEAKNESS: Widely seen as a wooden and a poor speaker.
VERDICT: In 4th place in ConservativeHome league table.
Jeremy Hunt 10/1
Age: 52. Foreign Secretary
Background: Eldest son of Admiral Sir Nicholas Hunt. Married to a Chinese wife and he speaks Mandarin.
Before politics, set up an educational publisher which was sold for £30million in 2017.
EXPERIENCE: Longest-serving health secretary in history.
STRENGTH: Among the most experienced ministers in the field who, unusually, has made few political enemies.
WEAKNESS: Some, though, regard him as a ‘bit of a drip’.
Verdict: Seen by many as man who could best unite party on Brexit.