Tories don’t want May to stay, but they don’t want her to go either

June 29, 2017 10:04

There is a curious and contradictory atmosphere in Westminster at the moment. Almost every Tory MP to whom one speaks holds the Prime Minister in varying degrees of contempt. They regard it as essential — and a given — that the party has a new leader. And every other sentence they utter is speculation about who that leader could be.

Yet the ritual protestations that we hear that now is not the time for a leadership contest — protestations that, if past behaviour is any guide, should be regarded as pure sophistry — seem actually to be genuine.

In conversations with both Cabinet ministers and backbenchers, my suggestion that Mrs May is a busted flush whose obvious lack even of basic authority means she has to go soon has been universally greeted with horror. They really do not want a leadership election, at least this side of the party conference season.

Which prompts a number of thoughts, some of which are directly relevant to our community.

The underlying reason for the wish to prop up Mrs May, no matter how fatally wounded she may now be, isn’t Brexit. Whatever is said about the need for stability as we negotiate our departure from the EU, the real reason is that the Tories understand the importance of not letting Jeremy Corbyn — and, especially, John McDonnell — anywhere near power.

A leadership election is, by definition, unpredictable. What might look in theory like an orderly plan for a transition to a new leader and Prime Minister could end up as anything but. Remember the last unforced election designed to instil a new era of strength and stability?

The thought that a bad situation for the party could be made infinitely worse as a result of the unpredictable events around a leadership election sends shivers down Tories’ spines.

This means that we are in a very odd situation, with a Prime Minister whom almost no one respects but whom no one — at least on the Tory benches — wants to remove. In office but not in power barely comes close as a description.

In a way, the opposite is now true of Jeremy Corbyn — in power but not in office. Numerically, Labour may have lost the election but in every other respect it won. Jeremy Corbyn and his allies are here to stay — utterly dominant in the Labour Party, leading to the distasteful spectacle of some of his former critics now heaping praise on a man who a month ago they did not consider fit for office of any kind.

More significantly, on all sides of the House there is a now an expectation that Labour will win the next election. So the axis of politics has shifted. Labour will now behave as a government in waiting. And the Tories are focused on changing that — which means it is Labour setting the agenda and the Tories responding.

Over the next few months, attention will return to areas like the economy. But it will be Labour’s economic plans that drive debate, as it will be the party’s other plans.

The political world has turned upside down in a few short weeks.


Marcus Dysch is away

June 29, 2017 10:04

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