Although Theresa May is very unlikely to have a Finest Hour that any serious historian would recognise, today she had her Darkest Hour in what has been a grim, grey Premiership. It does not take long to assemble the evidence for that assertion. And she has just five days to avoid the conclusion that her time is up.
Two days ago at a late hour, Mrs May was persuaded by senior civil servant and arch Remainer Oleaginous Robbins (among others) to undermine the position of Brexit Secretary David Davis by sending a collapse-of-stout-party proposal to Brussels without informing her Brexit Secretary. This document agreed to the preposterous Michel Barnier suggestion that there should be no assigned cut-off date for an end to a UK/EU customs union after 2021.
This morning, Davis – alerted by his remaining loyal civil servants – summoned her to a Commons rooms 1-to-1. She felt she had calmed DD down, but he made it clear he would have a further session with his Brexiteer collleagues. They stiffened his spine, and at some point between midday and 1 pm, Davis sought a second meeting, at which he told her that either the cut off date was to be clear and re-inserted, or he would quit. The Prime Minister caved.
She is now on a plane heading for the Canada G7, acutely aware that a senior Cabinet Minister has humiliated her for the second time in six months. Even worse, she has been rebuffed on the two issues dearest to the heart of Britons: the NHS, and Brexit.
I’ve been racking my brains during today to think of any historical precedent for this. In my book, there isn’t one.
We can be sure of one thing tonight. In the Commons bar, and across dining tables in Westminster eateries, Tory MPs are discussing, debating and calculating. With any Party leader – especially one so cynically elevated – there are always doubters. But the backbenchers must be eyeing the track record – a botched General Election, serial appeasement of rebellious ministers, shambolic EU negotiations, going Whitehall native – and thinking, ‘There is no way we can avoid defeat next time we go to the Country with this woman as our Standard Bearer’.
There is no policy dimension on which Theresa May can be perceived as “strong”. She is:
- Robotic when faced with the Public
- Suspected of having evaded responsibility for maladministration at the Home Office
- Unable to control her Cabinet
- Evasive at PMQs
- Distrusted by both Remainers and Leavers
- Unconvincing on the economy
- Seen to have bombed Syria without either public or parliamentary support
- Afraid of Whitehall
- Deficient in any signature policy initiative.
In short, she is not a leader: she bends to whatever the wind direction might be.
A year ago, the Conservative parliamentary Party orthodoxy was, “there is no alternative if we seek a leader who can deliver a Brexit consensus while marginalising a Hard Left Opposition”.
But two days ago, 62% of British adults taking part in a YouGov poll said they thought the May government “is making a mess of the Brexit negotiations”.
The typewriter monkeys at The Independent have tried to spin this into a reversal of the Referendum vote. This is of course daft, given that 3 in 5 of the dissatisfied respondents are Leavers.
Nevertheless, all three of the latest voting intention surveys at Poll of Polls show that Theresa May has made zero progress in positioning Corbyn Labour as ‘extreme’. If accurate, the polls would deliver the same House of Commons as we have today: a close-run thing, with no overall majority for the Tories.
If the Conservative Party goes into another election caused by its own divisions (and led by a Totem Pole) there is a chance that the alliance of SPA cheated women, underemployed blue collar workers, young voters and UKIP deserters could make Labour the biggest Party at Westminster. For reasons I’ve outlined before, I doubt very much that Jeremy Corbyn could form a Government without the support of other Parties. I think he would find alliances hard to come by….and even harder to sell.
But that result would place the UK at the mercy of a Brussels clique sneering at our lack of preparedness for Brexit.
Whatever might emerge from another General Election, the mind-concentrating fact among Tory MPs troughing in London bars and restaurants tonight is this: upwards of sixty Conservative backbenchers (and a couple of Cabinet beasts) are going to lose their seats unless some kind of drastic action is taken.
We now have just under three working days before the EU Withdrawal Bill faces a Commons vote on June 12th. In a laughably disconnected oped piece in The Guardian, this whole episode is airily dismissed as ‘much ado about nothing’. That view goes a long way towards explaining why Old G is now begging for donations to slow down its slide towards insolvency.
David Davis has today delivered a telling punch on the jaw of Alt State obduracy in the face of Brexit. It was far from being a knockout blow (geopolitically, such a blow might not exist) but we must remember that, on the Brexit scale, he is very much a middling sort of chap. The Rees-Moggies are infinitely more purist. Time will tell as to whether their huffery is mere puffery; but if anything goes seriously wrong next Tuesday, the Prime Minister will be toast.