23 July 2017

Theresa May must play shrewd game to avoid summer bite on the Asp as Tory vipers close in on leadership

DRAINED Theresa May heads off tomorrow on the most treacherous holiday of her life.

She will spend three ­perilous weeks walking with husband Philip in the mountains of Switzerland and Italy.

PA:Press Association

UK Government Cabinet photo from July 2017[/caption]

This summer could prove to be a game of Snakes and Ladders for The Conservative Party

But it’s not the snakes in the long Alpine grass which pose the greatest threat to her leadership. It’s the nest of Tory vipers back home.

The long, hot summer break from Parliament — coupled with the embattled PM’s absence — will put scheming rivals in the mood for plotting.

Mrs May must make sure she doesn’t put a foot wrong as she treads the hiking trails.

Her decision to take a long break after last month’s ­election setback makes her the first PM to take three consecutive weeks off since Tony Blair visited Cliff Richard’s Barbados mansion in 2002.

But he was at the height of his popularity, while Mrs May is heading off with the worst satisfaction rating of any modern-day PM.

It makes her gentle hillside walks fraught with danger.

PA:Press Association

Theresa May and her husband will spend three weeks walking in the mountains of Switzerland and Italy[/caption]

So here’s a holiday survival list to ensure she gets back to No10 in one piece next month.

First of all, she needs to show who’s boss — even though that may be tricky when her authority was so publicly undermined by the catastrophic election result.

That means making clear to members of her Cabinet she will not tolerate any treachery while she is away — and being prepared to act decisively by SACKING anyone who steps out of line.

Firing a conniving minister would send a clear message to what is now her biggest power base, her backbench MPs.

Times Newspapers Ltd

Giving ­Chancellor Philip Hammond a short spell in the hot seat could prove troublesome[/caption]

They, more than most, want Mrs May to stay in power until Brexit is delivered and fear a change of leadership before then would trigger another General Election that could cost them their seats and put Jeremy Corbyn in power.

First Minister Damian Green is loyal, safe and trusted to look after the shop.

Boris Johnson is being kept away from the levers of power this summer but giving ­Chancellor Philip Hammond a short spell in the hot seat could prove troublesome.

Mrs May would do well to warn the man Brexiteers love to hate against winding up ­colleagues while she is away.

Rex Features

The PM trusts First Minister Damian Green to look after the shop[/caption]

A Cabinet source said: “We need some clarity about who is in charge of the Government while she’s away.

“The last thing we want is some ­minister bragging: ‘I’m in charge’ like we had with John Prescott during the last Labour ­government.

“Theresa’s greatest weakness is her own lack of authority and she has to exert what ­little of it she has left if she is to survive the summer.”

Allies of Brexit Secretary David Davis have been accused of mounting “black ops” to undermine the PM, and Cabinet colleague Andrea Leadsom is still believed to harbour leadership ambitions.

Getty Images

Allies of Brexit Secretary – David Davis – have been accused of mounting ‘black ops’ to undermine Mrs May[/caption]

Mrs May’s spies will no doubt tip her off about any secret dinner parties they may hold — or any WhatsApp ­discussions taking place.

They will also keep a keen eye on Davis’s cheerleader Andrew Mitchell and the outpourings of ex-Chancellor George Osborne in the London newspaper he now runs.

Iain Duncan Smith, whose two-year spell as Tory leader ended after a summer of ­plotting, said: “There are some who clearly have a death wish and will spend the break briefing against the PM.

But they should bear in mind that the back benches are rock-solid behind her.

PA:Press Association

Former Chancellor George Osborne is now editor of the London Evening Standard[/caption]

“Their message is clear — most MPs certainly won’t be supporting any future leadership candidate who shows the ­slightest treachery over the summer.”

The biggest potholes of all ­facing Mrs May are the most unexpected and difficult to avoid — events.

A crippling strike in key public services, a demo that descends into riots or an unexpected catastrophe, such as flooding, would all plunge her into crisis mode.

With such a slender majority too, she should instruct ­holidaying Tory MPs to avoid windsurfing, paragliding or any adventure sport that could end in a mishap that would trigger a by-election.

AP:Associated Press

Photo of May’s first cabinet meeting after the 2017 general election[/caption]

Mrs May herself must tread carefully on her walking ­holiday. One wrong step could result in a sprained ankle and some embarrassing headlines about an “accident-prone PM”.

Senior Tories have urged plotters to back away from sparking an early leadership contest.

But there are fears a move to replace her will be made in the autumn as soon as the conference season ends.

The PM can head this off at the pass now with a wave of initiatives and announcements over the 46-day summer break to put her on the front foot.

Last week Mrs May joked that her MPs will be relieved that she is not returning to Snowdonia, where she made up her mind to call a snap General Election during an Easter walking holiday.

Perhaps this time she and Philip will spend those hillside strolls discussing what she will say in her conference speech.

For while she may scale a few peaks over the next few weeks, she’s got an even ­bigger mountain to climb when she returns home.

Theresa May seems to accidentally let slip she is set to sack her warring Cabinet
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