Midlands questions to Prime Minister Theresa May

There's no pleasing some people

Image copyright PA
Image caption On Brexit, Theresa May must try to please so many competing, often contradictory, audiences

"You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time."

The wise words from the 19th Century US President Abraham Lincoln. But look where they got him....

As she prepares for her second Conservative Party Conference as Prime Minister, Theresa May could feel like adding a further line:

"You can't please any of people any of the time."

Image caption Abraham Lincoln uttered wise words

On Brexit she must try to please so many competing, often contradictory, audiences: To strike a more conciliatory tone in the hope of unblocking the negotiations between her Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

To soothe the nerves of business leaders, including the boss of Jaguar Land Rover Ralf Speth, alarmed at the prospect of the proverbial "cliff edge" and the loss of their open access to European markets as freedom of movement comes to an end.

And yet she also somehow has to avoid the appearance of back-tracking, especially in the eyes of people in those Midlands areas which voted two-to-one to Leave the EU, registering a higher Brexit vote than any other region of Britain.

In the Black Country and the Potteries, support for Leave was still running sufficiently strongly just four months ago for the Conservatives to pick up those crucial marginal gains in Walsall North and Stoke South.

Brexit means... errr

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The prime minister has tried to strike a more conciliatory tone in the hope of unblocking the negotiations between her Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU negotiator Michel Barnier (pictured)

It was a a statement of the obvious. But "Brexit means Brexit" did at least have a certain rhetorical ring to it.

In her speech in Florence last week, Mrs May confirmed we will indeed leave the EU as planned in March 2019.

And, yes, our MEPs will get their P45s.

But what about that two-year transitional, or "implementation", period?

Continuing to honour our budgetary responsibilities? Who knows how many billions will continue to flow into the EU's coffers, maybe retaining our membership of something very much like the single market and the customs union, without "bringing back control of our borders" for five years after the referendum?

Restless backbenchers

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Who knows how many billions will continue to flow into the EU's coffers?

Suddenly, the message looks much more blurred and nuanced, after the succession of reality checks and electoral shocks encountered by her government.

And it's not just the voters or even her own Cabinet she needs to try to hold together.

Her restless Tory backbenchers have been on the receiving end of her unrelenting charm offensive too.

One of them told me recently that the outcome of Brexit would determine the course of politics for years to come.

Another said of the prime minister: "Her weakness is her strength. If we had got a majority of 40, maybe more colleagues would rock the boat.

"As it is, they may be too afraid of letting Jeremy Corbyn in."

We'll see.

Questions, questions...

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Rubbish piled up on Birmingham's streets during a bin workers' strike

Inevitably this will form the basis of my conversation with the prime minister as she prepares for her conference.

But there will be other questions too.

Not least, the Birmingham bins strike.

While Labour have been feeling the heat, the West Midlands Conservative Mayor Andy Street has not been entirely fire-proof.

As the strike wore on and the bin bags piled up, he came under attack on social media after telling Midlands Today that despite calls for him to get involved, he must not interfere in an issue for which he had no responsibility.

Technically he was quite right.

But there is a general perception that this new-style mayoral role is about much more than the sum of its parts, projecting a wider and more all-embracing style of leadership and political accountability.

Image copyright PA
Image caption West Midlands mayor Andy Street Street will hope to divert attention to more positive ground than bins when he takes centre stage at the Tory conference

The former editor of the Birmingham Mail, Steve Dyson, told me: "This is the biggest crisis we've had here for years.

"There's a serious lack of leadership. Maybe this is one for the elected mayor."

But Mayor Street will hope to divert attention to more positive ground when he takes centre stage at the Tory conference.

He's going for a treble of civic beauty contests in which there is no doubting his involvement.

Birmingham's bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the possible relocation of Channel 4 to the city and Coventry's campaign to be named UK City of Culture 2021.

Some sort of feel-good factor and a successful Conservative metro mayor would do Mrs May no harm at all in a region where she partly needs to bolster her party's support.

Image copyright Craig Holmes
Image caption Birmingham has been named England's candidate to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games

But before any of these more glamorous ambitions can come to fruition, Mrs May must contend with some increasingly difficult problems already piling up.

A threatened "Winter of Discontent" for a start.

No sooner had the government signalled the lifting of the pay cap for police and prison officers, than the unions representing other public sector employees were lining up to demand inflation-busting pay increases.

And the Labour Commissioner of West Midlands Police, David Jamieson, has warned that without help with the costs of higher police pay, he would have to lose a further 60 jobs or more.

Sunday Politics Midlands

To find out how the prime minister answers these questions, you'll just have to join us for this weekend's Sunday Politics Midlands.

With me in the studio will be two of the first-time winners in June's general election.

Eddie Hughes won that Walsall North seat from Labour for the Conservatives.

And Labour's Preet Gill retained Birmingham Edgbaston for her party, even though it had been one of the Conservatives' prime targets.

And I hope you will join us too, in our usual 11:00 slot on BBC One this Sunday morning, 1 October 2017.