BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
When this week Prime Minister Theresa May’s childhood sporting hero – the cricketer-turned-commentator Geoffrey Boycott – affectionately described her as “like Margaret Thatcher”, many of Her Majesty’s Opposition supporters found themselves in a tricky position.
While such opponents of the Government love to denigrate May and the Tories at every opportunity, they know that Geoffrey Boycott has become a much-loved British national treasure over recent years. So, attacks on his praise of May were few and far between. Most criticism came from the usual posse of dunderheads on social media:
Boycott, who happened to be staying at the same hotel as the Prime Minister in Delhi, described Mrs May as someone with “integrity and principles. She’ll be like Margaret Thatcher, she’ll be brilliant”, he said. “She’s good, she doesn’t need my advice, she’ll be fine. She’s got a few more strokes than me. She’s strong. Life is about integrity and principles – it should be. We want politicians like that with integrity, with principles, with honesty.”
While one can understand why Boycott sees the Maggie in Theresa, what precisely does Theresa May admire in plain-speaking Yorkshireman Geoffrey Boycott ?
The journalist Tom Jotischky gives us some clue here back in July when he wrote in the Huffington Post: “I first encountered her when I was deputy editor of the Sunday Telegraph; every year at the Conservative Party conference we would meet senior party figures and they were invariably relaxed, informal, gossipy affairs. Some were disarmingly indiscreet. Not Theresa May. Whether it was coffee at the conference centre or dinner in a hotel restaurant she was business-like to the point of taciturn; unusually for a politician, she would listen, say very little, rarely be drawn and bat off all attempts at informality. Geoffrey Boycott, her childhood idol, could not have played with a straighter bat. As a journalist, it was disconcerting.”
As well as playing with a straight bat, Boycott was an opener who liked to hang around – notorious for his stubborn, slow-building and successful innings, which seemingly annoyed team-mates, especially when overs were running dry.
Perhaps the nadir of Geoffrey Boycott’s brief time as England captain came when he was deliberately run out by one of his own side on the fourth day of the second Test between New Zealand and England in Christchurch in February 1978. And the other character involved was another of the most stubborn and outspoken in the game at the time – that other arch Brexiteer, Sir Ian Botham. (Botham once described Pakistan as “the kind of place to send your mother-in-law for a month, all expenses paid” in an off-the-cuff remark in a radio interview in 1984. Botham had returned home early from a tour of Pakistan for surgery but his comments soon reached Asia. The Pakistan authorities were angered and staff at the Hilton Hotel in Lahore, where the England team were staying, threatened to strike.)
“Boycott never attempted a scoring stroke off anything but the rankest long hops,” wrote John Woodcock in the Times. “The effect this has is to depress the other batsmen infinitely more than the opposing bowlers. Boycott is an institution rather than an inspiration.”
Theresa May’s stubbornness was referred to by Ken Clarke and Sir Malcom Rifkind when they were caught on camera during downtime on Sky News back in early July. Clarke’s comments at the time were: “Theresa is a bloody difficult woman but you and I worked with Margaret Thatcher (laughs). I get on all right with her … and she is good. She’s been at the Home Office far too long, so I only know in detail what her views are on the Home Office. She doesn’t know much about foreign affairs.”
But surely the true answer to May’s admiration of Boycott can only be deduced by playing a game of Boycott Bingo – the game invented by listeners of BBC Test Match Special where Boycott is one of the key summarisers. The game is based on Boycott’s remarkable turns of phrase, such as “Less brains than a chocolate mouse” and “My gran could have hit that with her broom handle”.
As Theresa May might opine:
“We currently face a corridor of uncertainty with Brexit. The Leader of the Opposition Mr Corbyn has no more brains than a pork pie and even his own players don’t listen to him. Yes, I admit that I’m nervous about PMQ’s but I find that time in the middle is better than any amount of nets and, frankly, with Steptoe opposite me I should book in for bed and breakfast on this wicket. He ‘asn’t got any brains! The best place to see fast bowling is from the non-striker’s end. What do I get from him? Incessant lollipop! How do I feel about being Prime Minister? Add two wickets to the score to be cautious – frankly it’s it’s all about good footwork but there’s no need to permanently dance around for the media like that spiv Dave. You really have to focus on the bread and butter and don’t let the opposition ever steal your brilliant policies – Show the makers name! If being PM is judged on points scored, it’s all about grafting, It’s not how good you look, it’s how many you get. Frankly the Opposition is so weak, I have to wait for Angus Robertson and his crowd of anoraked Picts before I get to face a decent question and that’s only Military medium. That Tim Farron has got a big heart but frankly all he offers is buffet bowling and Powder puff delivery. In my day that’s what you’d call poor technique. Almost as easy to hit for six as the weekly juicy half-volley from the Northern Irish MPs. That were wasted on thee. I used to worry about Keith Vaz a bit when I was Home Secretary. Not anymore since his nocturnal activities were exposed – he could swing an orange that chap. Am I going to call an election to be done with these morons? Rubbish! If I’ve said it once I’ll say it again, there will no General Election until 2020 even though Corbyn has said, suicidally, he wants one. That was just stupid! Soon dismissed that as might anyone half competent with a stick of rhubarb.
I make that 27 out of 44.
Given the current low standard of Britain’s Opposition parties, there’s still room for Theresa May to switch her affections to Josh Butler or Ben Stokes – eradicate any perceived dilly-dallying – and aggressively smash the lot of them out of the park in straight sixes. May could be one of the truly great Prime Ministers and will certainly not be wanting to get run out by an impatient member from her own team.