'She needs to pick up the pieces' - Norfolk and Suffolk Conservative MPs back Theresa May after disappointing election 2017 result
PUBLISHED: 07:00 12 June 2017 | UPDATED: 15:38 12 June 2017
The prime minister will begin the week with a seal of approval from the region's Conservative MPs, after a tumultuous weekend which saw mounting calls for her resignation.
Theresa May has faced criticism from Conservative backbenchers and opposition politicians after the shock election result on Friday and a quickly-announced potential deal with the right-wing Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Calls for her to step down have come from across the political spectrum over the weekend, including from former Tory chancellor George Osborne, who described her during a television interview as a “dead woman walking”, while a survey of Conservative party members revealed that 60pc believed she should resign.
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has urged MPs to show her loyalty, and on Sunday afternoon Mrs May revealed her new cabinet, which included a change of role for South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss and reconfirmation of Brandon Lewis, Great Yarmouth MP, as a minister in the Home Office.
The tensions have been a stark comparison to the jovial nature of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has, over the weekend, insisted he can still be prime minister and revealed he will challenge the Conservatives’ Queen’s Speech.
Ahead of a vital week which will see the prime minister face her new cabinet, meet Tory backbenchers and prepare for looming Brexit talks, Conservative figures across from the region say they back Mrs May to hold onto the top job.
We asked MPs and Tory leaders from across Norfolk and Suffolk whether they thought she should stay on as prime minister, and how they would address constituents’ concerns over some of the DUP’s more extreme beliefs.
Keith Simpson, Broadland MP, said: “After weighing it up over the past 24 hours, I’ve concluded that while I think she has been badly damaged and her majority has been seriously undermined, I think she needs to pick up the pieces and my feeling is that we are at a crucial stage.”
He said he did not believe the DUP was the “foaming at the mouth lunatics” they were portrayed to be, and said moral issues were decided by individual votes, rather than party stances.
But he added that the election would result in a less “hard-nosed Brexit”.
His support was echoed by Norwich North MP Chloe Smith - whose campaign during the 2009 by-election for the seat was led by Mrs May - who said the country needed leadership “immediately”.
“The Conservatives gained the most votes - a historically high level of support - the higher vote share and the most seats at this election so it’s right that we form the government, and it’s sensible if the DUP can support that to provide stability for the country,” she said.
“I am content that our gay Scottish leader has already had categorical assurances that any cooperation will not affect LGBT rights.”
Sir Henry Bellingham, who has held his North West Norfolk seat for 30 years, supported the prime minister’s decision to form a government with the DUP.
“We are the biggest party in parliament and the prime minister is right to go into coalition with the DUP, they are very close allies and always have been,” he said.
“It will have come as a deep disappointment that she did not secure the mandate she wanted. The last thing the country needs at the moment is a leadership election.”
While Waveney MP Peter Aldous said Mrs May was wrong to call the snap election, he said she should stay on as prime minister for the time being.
“I can understand her reasons for calling it at the time, but seeing how the campaign panned out, I think she was wrong to,” he said.
“I think it’s important at the moment to form a new government. I think that needs to be the prime minister’s and the Conservative Party’s focus.”
The MP said the result had clouded the issue of the Brexit negotiations and, when asked whether he had concerns about the unionist’s position on social issues, he said: “These are issues that are largely devolved for Ulster that will not, I believe, come in for their support of the Queen’s Speech.”
West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock added: “The proposed agreement with the DUP will cover the budget and enable us to put a government together.
“Like many of my colleagues I do not agree with some of their social policies – but they will not be able to affect our policy on these.”
The chairman of the local Conservative party in South Norfolk, David Goldson, believed the election should have taken place sooner.
He added: “The problem was the timing, it should and could have been quicker.
“It was going to be a snap election and it should’ve been three or four weeks ago. She had a majority and she could have done what she needed. The problem was she saw a golden opportunity to gain a mandate not only for Brexit but for other matters as well.”
On the coalition with the DUP, he said forming a government would be difficult, adding: “When it comes down to it, it will be alright.
“Politics is an art of compromise, and I don’t know what they will be.”
Mr Goldson said the election result has made Brexit negotiations more difficult as Mrs May did not achieve the overwhelming mandate she needed.
MPs Richard Bacon, South Norfolk, George Freeman, Mid Norfolk, Mrs Truss, and Mr Lewis did not respond to our questions.