Theresa May’s ‘rude, abusive and childish’ advisers face calls to quit
Theresa May’s chiefs of staff, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, are facing calls to quit, as one former Downing Street aide spoke out about their “rude, abusive and childish” approach to running No 10.
A string of MPs are demanding changes to the way May governs, including the removal of one or both of her powerful advisers after they ran her disastrous general election campaign that resulted in the Conservatives losing their overall majority.
Katie Perrior, the former director of communications at No 10, who left at the election, said she respected May but her office was “pretty dysfunctional”.
Writing in the Times, she said: “What I could never work out was whether Mrs May condoned their behaviour and turned a blind eye or didn’t understand how destructive they both were. For all the love of a hierarchy, the chiefs treated cabinet members exactly the same – rude, abusive, childish behaviour.
“For two people who have never achieved elected office, I was staggered at the disrespect they showed on a daily basis. I never hated them. I felt sorry for them and how they measured success by how many enemies they had clocked up.”
The pair are widely credited with running May’s election campaign, which focused attention on the prime minister rather than the cabinet and ended with the Conservatives losing 13 MPs.
The vote was originally expected to result in a landslide victory for the Tories, with May commanding a double-digit lead in the opinions polls for much of the campaign.
But after a series of disastrous missteps including a U-turn on social care in the Tory manifesto, May was stunned by a surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. The party gained 32 MPs and dramatically increased its share of the national vote.
Asked why May was not able to operate without advisers like Hill and Timothy, Perrior told the BBC: “Being in the Home Office for such a long time with that being her top team she became accustomed to that being it. Of course, running the Home Office is very different from running the country.
“Trying to make that change to Number 10 was more difficult than she possibly anticipated. I used to wonder why because actually she needed to broaden her circle of advisers, she needed to have a few grey hairs in there who have been around the block a bit, who could say: don’t do that, don’t make enemies when you don’t need to.”
Perrior described a fearful atmosphere with Hill and Timothy in morning meetings with the prime minister, who only rarely challenged ideas that were often “batshit crazy”.
She also said that Hill and Timothy bullied cabinet ministers. “There was not enough respect shown to people who spent 20 years in office or 20 years getting to the top seat in government. They would send people text messages – rude text messages – which is not acceptable,” she said.
“What the prime minister needs at a time that you’re going through Brexit is diplomats not street-fighters. They only really know one way to operate – and that is to have enemies and I’m sure I’m one of them this morning.”
Perrior said she had already been close to leaving the post after a “toxic” 10 months but Hill effectively told her she had no place in the team.
Several MPs told the Guardian that the prime minister had no hope of fighting another election as Conservative leader, describing her as finished within months.
MPs have been privately discussing the possibility of lining up behind Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, or Amber Rudd, the home secretary, as a replacement leader but there is also a desire among senior Brexiters to see her steer the UK through at least the first part of negotiations starting in 10 days.
May was too weakened to move any of her senior cabinet posts and may be forced to accept an experienced hand as deputy prime minister to help her avoid more missteps and keep her team in check.
As the results of the election were pouring in during the early hours of Friday morning many said May would have to go, but as the day wore on discussions between MPs became focused on making sure Brexit went ahead.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former party leader, said it would be “suicide” for anyone to launch a leadership bid ahead of the talks, describing such a move as turkeys voting for Christmas.
But all agreed that one of May’s two closest advisers had to go, with anger at Hill in particular for bullying behaviour.
“It’s unacceptable for her to send sweary texts to cabinet ministers,” said another member of the cabinet who described Hill telling a senior government figure to “fuck off”.
Others were angry at Timothy for including the social care policy in the manifesto. They said there was no “retail offer” and no attempt to explain why they weren’t including a string of giveaways.
The issue of her staff is likely to arise at a meeting of the Tories’ backbench 1922 committee next week, amid strong feelings about the poor showing in the election campaign.
Insiders said the Downing Street advisers were not to blame and instead pointed the finger at the Australian strategist Sir Lynton Crosby, claiming he told colleagues that manifestos were a “sideshow” and refused to take part in policymaking.
A source also told the Guardian that Crosby insisted on focusing the entire message on May’s personal character, the 11 days until the start of Brexit negotiations, and relentless negative attacks against Jeremy Corbyn.
Sarah Wollaston, who was returned as Tory MP for Totnes, cited a controversial social care policy that was branded a “dementia tax” and resulted in a U-turn. She also blamed “US attack-dog style politics” that made people feel sorry for Corbyn.
“I do think she [May] should stay on but I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up having another election soon and people will be absolutely appalled by it … I can’t see the advisers staying. I think they should go,” she said, arguing there had been serious errors.
“I think those who were most closely involved in advising need to consider their positions.”
Rob Wilson, the Conservative culture minister who lost his Reading East seat, said the manifesto had struck an ”Exocet missile through the heart of our main supporters” and that the party cannot be run by such a small group of people.