Political Editor of The Sunday Times and bestselling author Tim Shipman, joined us at Pagefield this week for our ‘Meet the Editor’ breakfast. Alice Hawken provides her take.
Tim Shipman’s two books All Out War and Fall Out – engrossing accounts of the trials and tribulations of Westminster – kept the Pagefield team gripped. With extraordinary access to Westminster, Tim joined us this week to offer his insight into a fragile premiership, cabinet infighting and of course, Brexit. Here are five things we learned:
Tim kicked off proceedings by reminding us of what has been a momentous two years for British politics. Drawing on parallels between the EU referendum and General Election, Tim told us that essentially both campaigns “had the wrong leaders, the wrong argument and spoke to the wrong people”. Crucially, neither David Cameron or Theresa May thought they would lose.
Reflecting on May’s efforts in the General Election, Tim said that the PM was “uniquely unsuited” for the Presidential style campaign that she ran. The “strong and stable” mantra – which no doubt will be etched in our memories for years to come – was flawed from the outset.
May’s entire platform was, according to Tim, built on “poor data”. The Prime Minister was told that she would win the election by a landslide, consolidating her leadership and providing her with a mandate for Brexit, all notions which underpinned her entire campaign.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
According to Tim, Conservative Brexiteers – not Labour – are the biggest threat to May’s leadership. Tim said that their “game” is to “stick the bayonet in the wasp’s nest” when they pressurise May to push for the hard Brexit they are after. This is one to watch this Friday when May will be delivering her next Brexit speech.
As Brexit is becoming almost synonymous with the Conservative MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, it was only right Tim brought up Mogg’s chances of a leadership bid. Tim conceded that even he had not yet quite worked out JRM’s agenda – he is certainly “more self-aware than he is given credit for”.
If there were to be a new leader, Tim believes hard Brexiteers would still back Boris. This being said, Tim noted that increasingly Johnson is mirroring Mogg’s language (think “vassal state”) in an effort not to be “rhetorically outflanked”.
A significant flaw in May’s leadership is her government’s lack of domestic narrative. Tim commented that the government’s strategy has been described as “loads of clothes pegs but no washing line”.
With the exception of DEFRA Minister, Michael Gove, who’s green agenda generates up to “50% of all government news”, Ministers are reluctant to discuss their party’s principles with the media.
Tim said this lack of engagement from Ministers, and No 10 in particular, was becoming a real problem for journalists.
Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement earlier this week that his Party are to endorse remaining in “a” customs union could see Labour siding with Tory rebels to defeat May on her Brexit strategy.
A significant shift in policy, Tim thinks Corbyn and Sir Keir Starmer will be sensible enough to let the Tory rebels lead the charge on the amendments tabled by the likes of Anna Soubry MP and Dominic Grieve MP, with Labour support bringing up the rear.
This being said, we’ll have to wait till spring to see this play out, with the PM accused of “running scared” as the Bill looks like it will be delayed until April.
Tim concluded our breakfast with a message to businesses – we are listening.
Tim suggested that businesses should look to engage with political hacks if they have an issue which is not getting cut through with the government.
Offer the journalist a clear brief, pinpoint the tensions within government and it may well be that the journalist is open to discussing stories that can shift the political dial.