In my earlier post on the importance of informal space in Parliament, I noted that, ‘as the examples of Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher demonstrate, party leaders cannot afford to neglect informal space. Theresa May is not a natural when it comes to utilising such space, but at times like this, she and her allies may find it essential.’
As Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC reports, the PM tended to make a virtue of the fact she was not a clubbable person – ‘At the start she boasted about not being a creature of Westminster’s bars and cliques’ – and continues ‘But it meant this very private politician had few true friends to help when things turned sour, and neither the powers of patronage, nor the capability to schmooze or arm twist to get people around to her point of view.’
Ministers may be good at performing in the chamber and in committee – what I have termed formal space – but to succeed in politics that is necessary, but it is not sufficient. It is what goes on in the tea and dining rooms, the corridors, and even the division lobbies that can affect their future success. They need to be seen and to listen to backbenchers. Knowing the mood and building up goodwill is important. A good rule of politics is to make your friends before you need them. Neglecting informal space leaves politicians vulnerable when they come under pressure. Theresa May has spent her premiership under pressure. She failed to learn the lesson of her predecessors. She has been another Heath in never making use of informal space, rather than a Thatcher or Major, who did recognise its importance but who found being Prime Minister too demanding to continue mixing with backbenchers on a regular basis. A good rule for any Prime Minister is never to neglect the corridors of the Palace of Westminster.