After a long summer of recovery, Theresa May has a renewed confidence as Prime Minister. With the party having no obvious successor and no appetite for another election, May has been allowed to salvage her premiership. The injection of new staff into Number 10 has helped May survive the post-election fallout and prepare for an autumn policy blitz.
It’s clear that May still wants to have a legacy which goes beyond Brexit. Despite the departure of Nick Timothy from government, May is on a mission to ensure that the economy “truly works for everyone, not just a privileged few”. This has meant keeping her Christian democratic platform of reforming corporate governance, introducing a modern industrial strategy, and fixing broken markets.
The chances of May leading the Conservatives into a general election between 2019 and 2022 are slim. But there is still hope for May to lead a positive and constructive policy programme at home which builds upon her pre-election policies as well as responding to issues raised by the election result. Steering a do-nothing government on domestic affairs during the Brexit negotiations would do immense harm to the Conservative party. This is a fact which Number 10 appears to understand.
In this spirit, it will be announced that the public sector pay cap will be dismantled. Ever since Gavin Barwell’s post-election interview, this has been a major topic of debate during the summer. This blog made a small contribution to this debate shortly after election night. It would be a significant boost for the “just about managing” on the public sector payroll, but the key question will be how it is funded. As well as finding money for social care and business rates relief, Philip Hammond will not find it easy putting together his Autumn Budget.
May’s survival as Prime Minister has a particularly strong significance at a time when many Conservatives have focused more on what kind of Conservatism is needed to win the next election, rather than who the next leader should be. May might not lead the party into another election, but she can do much to shape this debate as Conservatives think about how to reform capitalism. Timothy can also support May and defend their brand of “post-liberal conservatism” through his weekly column in the Daily Telegraph.
But Mayism and the broader One Nation wing of Conservatism will not go unchallenged. Moggmentum emerged as the darling of this year’s silly season, but now the prospect of Jacob Rees-Mogg becoming Conservative leader is being taken seriously. In a world where Jeremy Corbyn is one election away from Downing Street, and Donald Trump is President of the United States, this idea appears to be a lot less fanciful than it would have done a couple of years ago.
It is easy to understand his appeal. With Boris Johnson’s brand in the doldrums, Rees-Mogg has become the party’s new feel-good character. His cheery eighteenth century demeanour has not only helped his impressive social media presence, but also inspired engagement from across the grassroots. Rees-Mogg also offers a coherent and articulate worldview rooted in the classical liberal formula of tax cuts and free market economics. The Conservative leadership rules make it unlikely that Rees-Mogg will become leader, but Moggmentum is a sign of how the Tory right could make a comeback under a more credible candidate.
This ideological clash will decide the future of the Conservative party. Conservatism will reform capitalism either on a Christian democratic or classical liberal basis. If May wants the former vision of Conservatism to endure, then she will have to deliver significant domestic achievements which inspire future leadership candidates to embrace Mayism.