Above: Mrs May’s joint Chiefs of Staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill
The blame-game has started in the Conservative government and party after the humiliating loss of their parliamentary majority in Thursday’s General Election – and, for now, it seems that the Prime Minister’s co-Chiefs of Staff are going to be the scapegoats for the Conservative’s loss of majority. Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill (above) were the Prime Minister’s closest advisors during the election campaign but are now being accused of overseeing a “toxic” campaign and that they are even “destroying the party.” Calls are being made for the pair to be sacked and they are seemingly being lined up to be the fall-guys for the Conservatives poor showing at the election.
Sarah Wollaston, a Conservative MP, said on Twitter: “I cannot see how the inner circle of special advisers can continue in post. [It] needs to be far more inclusive in future.” She like many in the party feel that campaign lost its focus on issues that were strong for them, such as Brexit, and moved towards issues that were unfavourable to them and beneficial to the opposition campaigns, such as social care. Ms Wollaston tweeted more: “Overall I’m very concerned about consequences of a hung Parliament and what this means for the future and crucial negotiations with the EU.” Ms Wollaston was critical of the campaign’s focus and the direction it took:
“[Ms May’s support for] fox hunting and changes to social care were turning points in how people felt about the Prime Minister in highly personalised campaign.
“[I] hope we never again have such a negative campaign. The public just don’t want US-style attack politics.”
Above: Conservative MPs Nigel Evans and Sarah Wollaston
The Secretary of the 1922 committee of back-bench MPs, who are highly influential within the Tory party, had similar concerns as Sarah Wollaston as to the campaign’s focus:
“It was an amazing own goal. We didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we shot ourselves in the head.
“I don’t think you can underestimate the achievement of what we’ve just managed.
“Instead of talking about the things we thought we were going to be talking about – Brexit and the strong economy – we have ended up talking about social care, winter fuel payments, taking lunches off children and fox hunting.”
Katie Perrior (right), a former aide to the Prime Minister gave an interview to the BBC’s Today programme on Radio 4 in which she discussed the role of Ms Hill and Mr Timothy. Of the atmosphere at meetings in Downing Street she said “It was pretty dysfunctional.” Ms Perrior talked more about the meetings, which were run by the joint Chiefs of Staff:
“We would go into an 8:30 meeting everyday in Theresa May’s office and the atmosphere would be great if the chiefs of staff were not there and terrible if the chiefs of staff were there.”
She said that the pair would bully Cabinet ministers:
“I think that there was not enough respect shown for people that spent twenty years in office, or twenty years getting to the top seat in Government.
“I felt that sending people text messages, rude text messages, were unacceptable.”
Ms Perrior said that the Chiefs of Staff’s approach to campaigning was the problem:
“What the Prime Minister needs when you’re going through a difficult time like negotiating Brexit is diplomats, not streetfighters. They only really know one way to operate and that is to have enemies. I’m sure I’m one of them this morning.”
Former Conservative MP Stewart Jackson, who lost his Peterborough seat on Thursday, was unsurprisingly critical of the party’s election campaign, which he described on BBC Radio 5 Live as “shockingly bad […] lacking passion, it was bland, it lacked vision […] above everything else [it was] a real lost opportunity.” He continued:
“Our manifesto was all about what we’ll stop them having and what we’ll not give them and what’s good for them and that’s frankly electoral poison and a complete disaster […] there had not been appropriate consultation on it […] and when you have to explain that you’re not taking food from children’s mouths and taking homes from your core supporters, then you’re losing an election.”
A former advisor to Theresa May, Joey Jones, said that the Prime Minister was now “alone and friendless” in an interview with Sky News he said that it was “open season on Nick and Fi.” He described an interaction with Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, which he was was “symptomatic of Nick and Fi’s desire for total control.” The interaction took place on the day after Mrs May became Prime Minister:
“The next morning I got a text from her saying she wanted to talk through my role. I explained I was bringing the foreign secretary’s adviser, Will Walden, into the building to look at his schedule. The text came back: “Did you clear that with me?” I knew at that point this was not my scene. An hour or so later I walked out of the gate into a glorious St James’ Park and went home.
“But that text message was symptomatic of Nick and Fi’s desire for total control. I believe the dynamic they work to is simple: they decide, others execute. In effect, they were the brain of government, everybody else was the limbs. It is a brilliant model as long as the people making the decisions are infallible. It is a model that is intolerant of compromise or shades of grey. Under pressure, it looks like a model that is intolerant of reality – messy, pesky reality.”
Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy as the chief advisors to the Prime Minister on how to run her campaign perhaps deserve to be sacked for such a disastrous result, but they are clearly being used as scapegoats for the Conservative’s loss of their parliamentary majority. One Cabinet source told the Daily Telegraph: “A cabal at the top of the Tory Party has allowed a terrorist sympathiser to get within an inch of Downing Street. Things must change. The campaign has been a total disaster and it has come from the top. Fiona and Nick must go.” Another source, this time a Cabinet minister, said: “Politicians cannot choose which issues voters will go the polls on. A one issue election is called a referendum. We have to be able to to deal with the economic and fiscal policy issues too. You can’t tell voters this is what it’s about.”
Theresa May was asked about their futures at Downing Street yesterday, to which the Prime Minister replied: “Obviously there will be further ministerial posts and other personnel issues over other days.” It seems to me that Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy are going to be used to deflect blame away from the Prime Minister and the Tory Cabinet, and that Theresa May seems determined to press on as Prime Minister and with the Brexit negotiations as if nothing seismic had happened on Thursday. Whether Ms Hill and Mr Timothy go or stay is irrelevant, and I couldn’t care one iota either way. What is the problem with the Tory campaign and the Tory Government is its policies and its ideology. It was those two factors that convulsed the electorate on Thursday into large swings back to the Labour party – not enough to give Labour power, but enough to deprive the Tories of a majority. Sacking two advisors is not going to change the underlying problems facing the Government or alter how the public view them.
Later in the day today, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy perhaps bowed to the inevitable and quit their positions in Theresa May’s Downing Street team. The BBC was reporting that the Prime Minister had been warned that she could face a leadership challenge as early as Monday if they weren’t dismissed. The BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith says the news gives the Prime Minister “breathing space” after 24 hours of incriminations over losing the parliamentary majority the Conservatives had held before the Prime Minister called a snap election for 8 June. Norman Smith argues that critical MPs in the government were concerned that the two aides were too close to the Prime Minister and that this was preventing Mrs May from adopting a “outgoing, inclusive, responsive, empathetic approach” to her leadership.
Nick Timothy said he regretted his part in the “disappointing” election result and that he was taking responsibility. He urged MPs to “get behind” the PM but stressed that nothing can get in the way of forming a government and beginning Brexit negotiations. He argued that the disappointing result in the election was not because people didn’t support Mrs May but because of the “unexpected surge” in support for Labour. This sounds a little contradictory, but he is perhaps referring to the surge in young people voting for Labour who had previously not voted for anyone. Indications show that around 70% of 18-24 year-olds who had registered to vote actually voted, up from an average of around 40% in the previous two General Elections. Of these it is suggested that two-thirds voted Labour or parties other than the Conservatives.
Mr Timothy said the party’s manifesto was “honest and strong” and that the social care policy that so badly affected Mrs May’s campaign was not his “pet project” and had been discussed in government for months prior to the publication of the manifesto. However, he added:
“[I take] responsibility for my part in this election campaign, which was the oversight of our policy programme.
“I regret the decision not to include in the manifesto a ceiling as well as a floor in our proposal to help meet the increasing cost of social care”.
Fiona Hill gave a brief statement via the Conservative Home website:
“It’s been a pleasure to serve in government, and a pleasure to work with such an excellent prime minister. I have no doubt at all that Theresa May will continue to serve and work hard as prime minister – and do it brilliantly.”
Here are some comments about the resignation of Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy:
- Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said that Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill had “taken the fall” for the defeat, and he added that the PM was “responsible for her own defeat.”
- The Guardian’s Owen Jones, on Twitter: “Pathetic watching @theresa_may let her advisors take the flack. She’s the leader. She made the decisions. She should resign.”
- Conservative MP Nigel Evans on Twitter: “At last some good news from Downing Street- resignations of advisors must be the start- inclusive style of governance must follow.”
- Conservative MP Michael Fabricant on Twitter: “Sad in many ways, though understand why, Nick Timothy quit. He was main architect of #Brexit including need to leave Single Market.”
- ITV’s Robert Peston on Twitter: “So resignations of Hill and Timothy create a huge risk for @theresa_may for all that her MPs wanted them out: she has lost her human shield!”
- Labour MP Wes Streeting on Twitter: “It seems former Tory MPs aren’t the only ones losing their jobs because of Theresa May’s hubris and incompetence.”
Read HERE to read more about Fiona and Nick.
BREAKING: Theresa May appoints a new Chief of Staff
Later this evening the Prime Minister appointed a new Chief of Staff to replace Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy who resigned this morning. The new Chief of Staff is Gavin Barwell. Mr Barwell was Housing Minister in Theresa May’s pre-election Government before becoming a victim of the Tory losses on Thursday – losing his seat to Labour in Croydon Central. Mrs May said: “I’m delighted that Gavin Barwell accepted the role as my Chief of Staff,” and added:
“He has been a first class minister and is widely respected. He will bring considerable experience of the party to the post.
“As I said yesterday, I want to reflect on the election and why it did not deliver the result I hoped for.
“Gavin will have an important role to play in that. I look forward to working with him.”
Mr Barwell said: “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to serve as her chief of staff.”
It seems ironic that the Prime Minister has replaced two Chiefs of Staff who oversaw a disastrous election campaign that resulted in the Conservative government losing its parliamentary majority with a man who failed to win his own marginal seat despite having in the past written a book called How To Win A Marginal Seat. I guess Mrs May doesn’t do irony.
Above: The DUP’s leader Arlene Foster with the Prime Minister at Downing Street
Here are five facts about the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the right-wing Northern Ireland party which the Conservatives are now going to rely on to stay in power:
- The DUP are opposed to same-sex marriage. They have vetoed laws to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. Their former Health Minister Jim Wells said in 2015: “The gay lobby is insatiable, they don’t know when enough is enough.” Ian Paisley Jr, who is one of the DUP’s current MPs, called homosexuality “repulsive” and that he hates what gay people do and that they “harm themselves.” He has also said that same-sex marriage was “harmful to society” and that it was “immoral, offensive and obnoxious.” Mr Paisley is the son of the former DUP leader the Reverend Ian Paisley – “a self-made evangelical preacher whose virulently sectarian speeches, and sometimes violent demonstrations, helped stoke interfaith tensions in the early years of the Troubles.”
- The party is anti-abortion. They have opposed attempts to bring Northern Ireland into line of the rest of the UK on abortion and reproductive rights. As a consequence, abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland and women have to travel to the mainland to obtain an abortion and have to buy pills illegally online. Abortion is only allowed in Northern Ireland when the health of the woman is in serious danger, and only 23 abortions were carried out in the Province in 2013-14. Mr Wells also believes that woman who were raped should not be allowed abortions.
- The DUP is the only major party in Northern Ireland which supports the UK leaving the European Union. They do, however, support a softer Brexit than Theresa May appears to be set upon.
- They aren’t afraid of scandals. In 2012 Arlene Foster launched the Renewable Heat Incentive. It gave subsidies to businesses who burnt wooden pellets instead of oil as a fuel source. Unfortunately the scheme was so badly organised that it meant that for every £100 of fuel the businesses used they received £160 in payouts. Effectively, the more they burned the more they received from the taxpayer. Arlene Foster refused to resign when pressure on her to do so mounted.
- It’s former leaders had connections with loyalist terrorists in Northern Ireland. In 1986 the party’s leaders Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson addressed a meeting of Ulster Resstance. Mr Robinson was also pictured wearing an Ulster Resistance beret. The Ulster Resistance funded and armed loyalist terrorist groups such as Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association. It seems that the Tories, who repeatedly accused Jeremy Corbyn of being a “terrorist sympathiser” during the election campaign, are now prepared to be cosying up to terrorist sympathisers themselves. The hypocrisy is probably lost on them and I guess the DUP don’t consider the loyalist terrorists as terrorists but patriotic fighters defending Irish Protestants against Catholics and the Irish state.
The DUP will undoubtedly try to extract concessions out of the Prime Minister in return for their co-operation in Parliament. This is something they have done before and are now in a strong position to achieve more for Northern Ireland and for their own interests in the Province. In particular they will probably try to ensure the maintenance of an open or soft border with the Republic of Ireland post-Brexit. The DUP are known to be determined to ensure this stays in place after the border comes back up between the North and South. The government’s deal with the DUP may antagonise Sinn Fein and make dealings with them and with the peace process in general more difficult. It seems highly unlikely, however, that Sinn Fein or the IRA will return to the so-called Troubles as it is not in their own interest to do so.
Above: Ruth Davidson MP, Scotland’s only Conservative MP before the General Election
The deal with the DUP gives the government a tiny working majority in the House of Commons, but the Government will rely on the loyalty of all it’s own MPs to ensure legislation is passed. That is by no means guaranteed. The DUP’s right-wing policies of anti-gay rights, anti-women’s rights and anti-abortion, as well as their Christian fundamentalist views may alienate many Tory MPs at Westminster, such as the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson – an openly-gay woman who is about to marry her partner. She said that she had been “straightforward” with Mrs May on her own views and concerns, saying:
“I told her that there were a number of things that count to me more than the party. One of them is country, one of the others is LGBTI rights.
“I asked for a categoric assurance that if any deal or scoping deal was done with the DUP, there would be absolutely no rescission of LGBTI rights in the rest of the UK, in Great Britain, and that we would use any influence that we had to advance LGBTI rights in Northern Ireland.”
Ruth Davidson played an important part in the Conservative election, with herself holding onto her seat in Scotland and 12 other Conservatives joining her as newly-elected Scottish Tory MPs. Before 8 June, she was the only Conservative MP in Scotland. Without those 13 seats in Westminster, the Tories wouldn’t need to both talking to the DUP as they would have far too few seats for the DUP’s support to make any difference. Without the Scottish Conservative MPs the government could probably not have survived. Even with them, and the DUP support, there is no guarantee it will survive long anyway with many already predicting a leadership challenge and/or another General Election. The last time we saw two quick successive elections was in 1974 when Labour’s Harold Wilson minority government (which he had formed after the Conservatives failed to create a coalition following a hung parliament in the election in February) went to the polls again in October, scraping home with a majority of just three. The subsequent chaos that ensued in the economy after 1974 was devastating for the country and the Labour party and I’m sure Theresa May will have this in mind when she is thinking of how to proceed.
Calculating the figures of the Government’s slender working majority are complicated. You have to add the seats held by the Conservatives and the DUP to get a total to start with. Then you add up all the opposition party-held seats and take that away from you opening total. Then you add back on to the running total those that don’t vote at all, such as the Speaker and the Sinn Fein MPs, who don’t vote as they don’t attend Parliament in protest at British presence in Northern Ireland. Then add back on the 1 or 2 other Northern Ireland opposition MPs who are likely in the end to support the Conservatives. When you have done that you are left with the actual Conservatives/DUP working majority – which is just two! So you can see just how crucial the DUP is now in the whole survival of the government.
Without the DUP the government would have no hope of forming any deals with other parties and would be either forced to try to govern with an unstable minority government or call another General Election00. All the main opposition parties ruled out any deals with them. Even the Liberal Democrats who had gone into Coalition with the Tories in 2010 were at this election ruling out co-operating with them in the event of a hung parliament. They got their fingers burnt once. They learnt that in Coalitions the majority party takes all the credit for the successes and the minority party – i.e. the Lib Dems – take all the blame when things go wrong. The Lib Dems suffered huge losses at the 2015 General Election because of their decision to go into Coalition with the Conservatives. They lost more seats this time, but gained some new ones so at the end of the day had gained a handful of MPs, but people were still punishing them. This was shown by the swings back to Labour and the loss of Nick Clegg’s seat in Sheffield Hallam – it had been Mr Clegg who had led the Lib Dems into the Coalition.
Matthew d’Ancona, writing in yesterday’s New York Times, said of the deal between the Tories and the DUP:
“The Democratic Unionist Party […] is a hard-line reactionary party, devoted not only to the union of Britain and Northern Ireland, but to a social conservatism that directly contradicts the modernization of the Conservative Party in the past 15 years. When she was the party chairman from 2002 to 2003, Mrs. May did much to brush away the cobwebs, daring to tell annual conference delegates that theirs was perceived as ‘the nasty party.’ Now, nearly 15 years later, she has allied it with the Even Nastier Party.
“How will she explain to the socially liberal, centrist voters whom Mr. Cameron won over during his decade-long leadership that she must now govern in partnership with a group of homophobes, zealots and creationists?”
Robin Wilson, an expert on Northern Ireland and European affairs, described the DUP as “bigoted, xenophobic, homophobic, isolationist and corrupt.” He continued:
“Their idea of what Britain is today is so completely out of kilter with modern multicultural Britain and the secular character that it has today.
“They believe that most of the modern world is morally decrepit and degenerate, whether it’s abortion or gay marriage or even just trying to form any kind of relationship with Catholics; they find these things very difficult.”
A former director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, Andy Pollak, said:
“I think it’s a disaster for Ireland in that we are now back in the old sectarian swamp in the north, with one party effectively representing Protestants and another representing Catholics, and nothing moderate or nonsectarian in between.”
Others are not so negative about the DUP. Paul Bew, an emeritus professor of history at Queens University Belfast, was more sanguine towards the deal:
“They are not Attila the Hun.
“They’ve been doing deals with Sinn Fein for 10 years now. Some people who are not paying attention think they are as they were 30 years ago. I’m not saying they are now liberals, but they’ve come a long way since then.
“They still have a religious base in various parts of the countryside, and they don’t want to alarm it, but a lot of the people who are in the party are pragmatic, urban people.”
The Guardian, a traditionally left-wing broadsheet in the UK, came out in support of the Labour party ahead of the General Election. Today it’s correspondent James Walsh was filtering through its readers’ comments on the fallout from the Conservatives losing their parliamentary majority and whether Mrs May will survive as the PM and party leader. Here are some of those comments:
“So presumably the Tories and the DUP are working on a coalition agreement. But the negotiations are being carried out by a PM, May, who is quite clearly on her way out. Does she intend for her successor to be bound by the Tory-DUP agreement? Or will the successor try to re-negotiate the agreement? Or will there be yet another election when May’s successor comes in?
“In summary I don’t really understand how May at this juncture could negotiate anything with anyone.”
“She won’t be able to survive. It is just a matter of time. As soon as any ‘Brexit’ talks become difficult she will have nowhere to go.
“The best move now is to postpone ‘Brexit’.”
“The sacking of her closest aides, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy is a price that Theresa May thinks is well worth paying! If Theresa May was so easily influenced by a couple of advisors into making such a mess up, then how is she going to stand up to 27 hardened EU negotiators in 9 days time?”
“For me, the single most shocking thing about Nick Timothy’s resignation is his letter where he acknowledges all the real problems in this country and tries to claim Theresa May is wanting to fix these problems – such as austerity. She only had a year to start this. I have heard nothing from the Government in the past year aside from BREXIT MEANS BREXIT and a few words after Terror attacks. People need a government that governs and not runs away from their own public.”
“I don’t understand Theresa May. Whom is she doing this for? She is basically doing the job the Brexiters like Boris Johnson don’t want to be associated with: the economic and social disaster of a right-wing Brexit or the disappointment (for the right-wingers) of a reasonable Brexit.
“May’s career is in tatters. The best she could have hoped for was a decent showing in the general election with an increased majority. She failed miserably. And even if she had achieved her goal of a large majority for herself and “her team”, she would have had huge problems defending her position after the Brexit deal when the knives would have been out.
“She should resign and let the plotters take over and fail and be defeated in the next election that would be inevitable within the next six months because of the utter uselessness of the Tory right wingers. If she did that, she could have done her country (and herself) a favour after all.”
“May’s USP was the “safe pair of hands” cards. Her accession last year was born out of desire for dull stability after the dramatics of Brexit. Her act of calling this election destroyed that trump card as she showed herself willing to start Brexit and then risk chaos by calling an election.”
“I know the result is a surprise and we’re in a far from ideal situation but the chomping hate and mass hysteria I’m seeing all over isn’t going to help anything at a time when we’re about to start the most difficult negotiations we’ve ever had to do. Give everyone a bit of time to reflect, rethink and reorganise and come back with a sensible plan for the next few months. It’s not a good time for rash decision making that’s likely to lead to more mistakes. And that goes for everyone as I’m not taking sides here.”
“Not sustainable. The Daily Mail seems to think that May had to be persuaded from resigning on the spot on Friday. There is no way that she can withstand the absolute mother of all storms that is going to sweep this country on Monday- it will destroy her and quite a few others too. God knows whose idea the DUP was but they live in cuckoo land, that’s for sure.”
“”Labour need to sit tight, continue to get their possitive message across; in a few months the Tories will be at war and will be ripe for the taking. As for May’s campaign, I’m not sure it made that much difference, once Corbyn was able to be heard, people liked it, they liked his positivity. All May has offered since she became PM was more of the same: austerity and tax cuts for the rich, people are fed up and are starting to realise that cuts to public services and inflation are really affecting them.”
Sources & Further Reading:
- Katie Perrior on Theresa May’s inner circle – bbc.co.uk/news – 10 June 2017
- General election 2017: May’s ‘toxic’ No 10 team blamed for humiliating result – latest – theguardian.com – 10 June 2017
- Theresa May’s ex-communications chief launches devastating attack on social care U-turn – independent.co.uk – 1 June 2017 – by Joe Watts, Political Editor
- 5 terrifying facts about the party now propping up Theresa May – indy100.com – 9 June 2017
- Why is the DUP so controversial? The party’s stances on abortion, gay marriage and climate change explained – independent.co.uk – 9 June 2017 – by Lucy Pasha-Robinson
- No extending abortion act to Northern Ireland, first female leader says – theguardian.com – 6 January 2016 – by Henry McDonald, Northern Ireland correspondent
- Election results 2017: Who are the Democratic Unionist Party? – bbc.co.uk/news – 9 June 2017
- May removed Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill ‘under threat of leadership bid’ – theguardian.com – 10 June 2017 – by Anushka Asthana, Political Editor
- Labour should have won against May’s ‘open goal’, says MP – theguardian.com – 10 June 2017 – by Press Association
- Readers on the general election fallout: ‘May won’t survive’ – theguardian.com – 10 June 2017 – by James Walsh and Guardian readers
- Pressure in Britain builds on Theresa May to step aside as her top aides resign, her party plots her possible ouster – washingtonpost.com – 10 June 2017 – by Griff Witte
- Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise success tapped into an anti-elite sentiment, but he’s no Donald Trump – washingtonpost.com – 9 June 2017 – by Adam Taylor
- Discontented voters make their voices heard, in Britain, U.S. and elsewhere – washingtonpost.com – 10 June 2017 – by Dan Balz, Chief Corresondent
- Britain’s Election: What the D.U.P. Is, and What It Wants – nytimes.com – 10 June 2017 – by Ed O’Loughlin
- What Turned the British Election? Maybe the Youth Vote – nytimes.com – 9 June 2017 – by Ceylan Yeginsu
- Britain Will Pay for Theresa May’s Election Gamble – nytimes.com – 9 June 2017 – by Matthew d’Ancona
- Theresa May’s Top Aides Quit Under Pressure From U.K. Cabinet – nytimes.com – 10 June 2017 – by Steven Erlinger
- Theresa May appoints ousted Tory minister Gavin Barwell as new chief of staff – metro.co.uk – 10 June 2017 – by Jimmy Nsubuga