Every year, I get heavily involved in the party conference season, speaking at fringe meetings, gossiping with MPs and ministers and generally indulging my appetite for political intrigue.
Then, having made my annual visit to the ‘Westminster bubble’ – albeit away from Westminster – I feel an overwhelming urge to restate what I see as a universal truth.
“If I lose just six seats, Jeremy Corbyn will be sitting down to negotiate with the presidents, prime ministers and chancellors of Europe”. So said Theresa May, just ahead of Thursday’s election, in a bid to encourage the Conservative faithful to turn and vote.
Well, May lost more than six seats and Corbyn could soon be running Britain. Whatever the outcome – be it a workable “confidence and supply” deal with the Democratic Unionists” or some Tory backroom blood-letting – there will surely be another election soon.
“We reject the cult of selfish individualism,” declared last week’s Conservative manifesto. “We see rigid dogma and ideology not just as needless but dangerous”. Theresa May styles herself as a “strong and stable” female Prime Minister. Yet during this manifesto launch, she downplayed comparisons with Margaret Thatcher.
“There is no such thing as society,” is one of the best-known aphorisms of the 1980s. “You turn if you want to – the lady is not for turning,” is another of Thatcher’s most quoted quips. The statements at the start of this column – presented as May’s “philosophy” – seem designed to rebut two of Thatcher’s trademark phrases.
“Events over the last few days have shown some in Brussels don’t want these talks to succeed, don’t want Britain to prosper”. That was Theresa May’s understated response to the merde tipped on her by Jean-Claude Juncker.
The President of the European Commission attended a private Downing Street dinner and acted courteously all evening. His henchman then told a German newspaper the UK Prime Minister is “deluded” for suggesting any “exit payment” should be linked to a mutually beneficial UK-EU free-trade agreement. That’s annoying. The Commission then demanded the UK pays €100bn to leave the EU, up from the earlier €60bn estimate, while accusing May of “living in another galaxy”. That’s annoying too.
Britain will be among the fastest-growing economies in the industrialized world this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. With the UK set to expand by 2pc in 2017, outstripping Germany, France, Japan and second only to the United States, the IMF last week became the latest in a long line of official forecasters to ditch predictions of British economic woe after last summer’s Brexit vote.
It wasn’t the IMF, though, that caused the pound to rally last week – even if its UK growth forecast was sharply increased from 1.5pc, with Britain getting the biggest upgrade of any major economy. Sterling surged by 4pc against the dollar last Tuesday, hitting a six-and-half month high, because of a snap election.
Brexit is “a historic mistake” and the costs of the leaving the European Union will be “substantial” and “very unpalatable”, said Former Prime Minister Sir John Major last week. “Come off it sunshine!” was Boris Johnson’s reply.
“It’s most important, as we set out on this journey, to be positive about the outcome,” said Britain’s mop-haired Foreign Secretary. The UK has a “fantastic future” outside the EU, Johnson argued, telling Major to stop “moaning and droning”.
“The family ties and bonds of affection that unite our two countries mean there will always be a special relationship between us,” declared Theresa May.
The British Prime Minister could have been talking about America, during this weekend’s trip to Washington, the first foreign leader to visit President Trump.
But she was actually referring to the Republic of Ireland – words so warm as to be, until relatively recently, unthinkable from a Conservative party leader.
My Christmas holiday wasn’t entirely spent eating turkey sandwiches and watching television. A sizeable chunk was devoted, instead, to reading European Union Treaties, typing furiously at my keyboard.
The result is “Clean Brexit” – a paper I’ve written with the highly-regarded City economist Gerard Lyons, copies of which are doing the rounds at Westminster.
“A week is a long time in politics,” Harold Wilson once said. Never have these words rang more true. This was surely a contender for the most eventful week in the UK’s peacetime history.
I’m pleased we have a new Prime Minister. Last weekend, the Tory leadership contest looked like extending to September – a delay avoided after Andrea Leadsom conceded. August can be a wicked month on financial markets and, given systemic strains across the Eurozone, and jitters on UK markets too, next month could be turbulent.