How is Prime Minister Theresa May doing six months on? Her East Anglian grassroots deliver their verdict.
- Credit: PA
Next week it will be six months since Theresa May moved into Number 10. Political editor annabelle dickson asks local Conservatives how they think she is doing.
Each week at Prime Minister's Questions Theresa May undergoes a barrage of criticism for her unwillingness to spell out what she will be seeking in Brexit negotiations.
She has been mocked for her imprecise soundbite that she wants a 'red, white and blue' Brexit. This week she came under further fire after losing a seasoned diplomat. In Westminster, Theresa May is under siege.
But leave SW1 and among her grassroots Mrs May largely gets rave reviews. Those who deliver the leaflets and knock on doors believe she is doing fine.
Her support in the party has of course never been properly tested after the leadership race stalled when her final rival, Andrea Leadsom, dropped out.
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But a poll of East Anglian Conservative councillors we conducted just before the leadership race ground to a halt in July, put her on course for victory with 63pc of those we spoke to backing her.
And her popularity seems to have held up, even hardened, in the months since the referendum vote.
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Ian Sherwood, a Breckland councillor and the agent for North-West Norfolk and South-West Norfolk Conservative associations, said his party was in good spirits, praising Mrs May's 'statesmanlike confidence'.
He said membership of both the North-West and South-West Norfolk associations had increased by between 25pc and 30pc since last June, and included new joiners as well as people returning.
The veteran campaigner noted the contrast between door-knocking in the 1990s when the party was really unpopular and a more positive response in by-election campaigns at the end of last year.
In Norwich it is a similar story. One association member claims she is more popular across the board than her predecessor David Cameron.
'She seems to have lost the Tory toff criticisms that were levied at
David which I always felt were unjustified.
'I think sensible people realise the European situation is difficult and will take time to sort out, but believe that Theresa May is up to it,' he said.
Certainly many party members are cognisant of the difficult circumstances under which Mrs May has taken the helm.
Nigel Pearce, a Conservative from Cromer speaking in a personal capacity, pointed to the severe problems she inherited, including Brexit, the economy, terrorist threats and domestic challenges.
'Although she was a remainer, she is 100pc right to respect the popular vote which gave us an exit mandate. That message does need to be clear to all; there will be no second referendum on this,' he said.
Andy Grant, a Great Yarmouth councillor, praised what he saw as her decision to 'remove all the liberals', including former chancellor George Osborne and former justice secretary Michael Gove.
He praised the 'good group of Brexiters' in the cabinet attempting to get on with the job.
But he criticised the speed of Brexit. Article 50 – the formal notice for leaving the European Union – should have been triggered immediately, he said.
But he said UKIP voters who had ditched the Conservatives because of the former leader's view on Europe were returning. 'Our party has returned to its core values and ditched a liberal agenda that the previous leadership loved but our heartlands hated.'
In rural Norfolk where the majority of people voted to leave the European Union, Ian Monson, a Norfolk County Council member for the Brecks Division, said people believed Mrs May would turn out to be true to her word and lead us out of the EU.
He praised her 'steely 'don't give anything away' approach' which he claimed would give her a good hand.
But Georgie Perry-Warnes, a North Norfolk councillor, was less happy with Mrs May 'playing her cards close to her chest'. An approach seen during the referendum and leadership contest.
'Unfortunately, we need clearer direction and leadership through the Brexit process, and leaving people guessing is not really an option,' she said.
She voiced concerns that there appeared to be a problem in the relationship between the government and senior civil servants involved in implementing the Brexit strategy.
'As a 'remainer' who is trying not to be a 'remoaner' but to accept the results of the plebiscite with good grace, I am disappointed that the closeness of the result is not being reflected in the hard Brexit Theresa May is signposting.'
While Tom Garrod, a Conservative Norfolk county councillor, said Mrs May was doing a 'great job', but raised concerns about her reaction to the social care crisis.
'I think that, particularly for rural counties like Norfolk, giving councils the ability to raise council tax 6pc over two years is a sticking plaster to the problem. We need fundamental reform, which has to include further integration between social care and healthcare services.'
Alistair Beales, the deputy leader of West Norfolk Council, characterised the May government as 'grown up, capable and doing well'.
But as someone who runs a large
agricultural business he said he was less optimistic.
'Currently, around 60pc of total income from farming comes via EU support in the shape of the Common Agricultural Policy. The implications for the industry are obvious should that support cease after 2020. Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom has talked about reducing red tape and increasing productivity but has made no promises regarding financial support. I am distinctly nervous.'