Every minute, Theresa May gets safer
The plots to oust the Prime Minister are beginning to fall on deaf ears. And that’s good for everyone.
Theresa May this week celebrates – if that is even the right word – a year as Prime Minister and as Conservative Party Leader. A year since she made the speech on the steps of Downing Street calling for a more equal country; a “country that works for everyone”, and vowed to see that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union would mean just that. In that year, the PM has called out those she sees as “citizens of nowhere”, triggered Article 50 – oh, and lost the Conservatives their Parliamentary majority in an election she didn’t have to call, and indeed said she would not call.
The situation May found herself in on June 9th is very different to the one she was in on July 13th, April 19th and even today. A Prime Minister that had whipped her party into unity behind her, with some MPs referring to her as “Mummy”, now awaits her final day as Prime Minister at the knives of her fellow MPs – just as soon as they get around to finding them. May has already faces the backbench 1922 Committee, promising to serve as PM so long as the Party wants her – which, with the Brexit process underway, appears to be the two years that she is employing her new staff for. But even once the Brexit process is complete in 2019 (supposedly), there is little to suggest the Conservative factions will have come together behind one successor.
MPs have not escaped the fact that for every moment Theresa May is in Number 10, the safer her precarious position will become. Every time her opponents brief against the Prime Minister in Sunday newspapers, in the hope she will step aside, is another moment the PM will be defended by her cabinet and another moment the back benches will be discontent with whoever that selected Sunday columnist endorses. Since the election, we’ve had the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson talked up and then smacked down by the ‘ABB’ texts; followed by a seemingly continued obsession among Brexiteers with David Davis — who lost the leadership election in 2005 to David Cameron.
To combat that, we’ve had talk of Chancellor Philip Hammond taking over as a ‘caretaker Prime Minister’ should May feel unable to fulfill the role throughout the Brexit process herself. Even talk of a pact between Home Secretary Amber Rudd and the Chancellor has been spoken up — while this week International Development Secretary Priti Patel and Leader of the House of Commons and May’s former Leadership rival Andrea Leadsom have refused to shut down their open desire for the keys to Number 10. The problem is that with each of these, May becomes what she has always been: the ‘safe pair of hands’ that got her into this position.
That’s because May is a known quanitity, with little authority who can now, likely, be easily controlled by parliamentary forces. Patel, with her views on capital punishment and thatcherite economic policy, puts off almost all of the Conservative Party’s moderates. Rudd, an arch remainer who battled Boris in the EU Referendum debates, turns off the Brexiteer wing — but not more so than Philip Hammond, who has come under fire simply for being too critical of Brexit. In short, every potential leader so far spoken of has an enemy with one of the Conservative factions, all thanks to Brexit.
While May’s relatively weak position leaves this out in the open and as a continuin situation, the more the public — and indeed the Conservative Party itself — sees of this, the more people look to Theresa May, as the incumbent ‘safe pair of hands’, and as the lesser of the two evils. It’s not a great place for May to be in, admitedly, but the more people push for someone to challenge May, the more other people push for May to stay ever longer. The more people try to push May out, the more people say May should stay, because they don’t like the proposede change.
The notion that Theresa May is ‘in office but not in power’ is one that is often thrown about, and in this case appears to be true. Theresa May will remain in office so long as the parliamentary party is divided on who her replacement should be — or until she decides to leave for herself. The greater danger is for Tory MPs: that May leaves anyway, leaving a gaping hole of division at the top of the Conservative Party, more so than for May, with the prospect of being forced out.