The most unwelcome endorsement a football manager can ever receive when his team’s results are going against him is that of his club chairman; a public statement that a boss has the full support of the board is traditionally a prelude to the chop. The fact that Boris Johnson has given his backing to Theresa May when the Prime Minister has proven yet again precisely how blind she is to her own shortcomings as PM isn’t necessarily something she should take as an indication she’ll still be around come the next General Election. After all, Boris’s own Downing Street ambitions remain unfulfilled and received a renewed boost following the far-from convincing performance of the Government on June 8. The next Election is pencilled-in for 2022 – just as the last one was pencilled-in for 2020. However, Mrs May’s fellow Tories aren’t exactly queuing-up to echo the Foreign Secretary’s dubious confidence in the PM.
Former Conservative Party co-chairman Grant Shapps remarked that Mrs May’s comments about going on and on were ‘too early’, whilst those who lost their job when May took up hers – such as ex-Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Evening Standard editor George Osborne – were a little blunter when it came to the PM’s future. Tory grandee (and prominent Remainer) Michael Heseltine said ‘The long term is a difficult one for Theresa May because I don’t think she’s got one.’ Theresa May, on the other hand, has declared ‘Yes, I’m here for the long term…not just delivering on Brexit, but delivering a brighter future for the UK.’ To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, well – she would say that, wouldn’t she?
Many reckon Theresa May has managed to cling on due to the Brexit factor; others see the fact she’s still at No.10 is testament to the dearth of a talented contender in her Cabinet. Not that there aren’t a few in there who fancy her job. Boris Johnson may have been thwarted at the eleventh hour courtesy of Michael Gove last year, but May’s unconvincing leadership has given him fresh hope. When your most ringing endorsement emanates from a man who stands to gain the most from your continuing presence as a weak leader, it doesn’t bode well for ‘going on and on’.
The situation for the Tories in terms of a leadership challenge isn’t that dissimilar to the situation Labour found itself in when Gordon Brown lost the 2010 General Election. Granted, in the Conservative case, an ineffective leader unpopular with the general public did actually manage to scramble across the finishing line, but the victory came at a catastrophic cost, most of which has been spent paying the DUP; and the candidates to succeed her are hardly outstanding. Even if one takes a mercurial clown such as Boris out of the equation, we’re faced with a dullard like Philip Hammond or a dimwit like David Davis.
If the Tories regarded Jeremy Corbyn as their greatest electoral asset in the arrogant run-up to the last campaign, Jezza’s strong showing on polling day forced them to examine their own lack of assets; and the only Tories to have failed to come to the conclusion that their frontbench was a pretty woeful collection of nonentities were those too distracted by their self-interested egos to realise they were as mediocre as the next man. All will hope Mrs May stays where she is for the time being, as will the Labour Party; any Prime Minister who can lose a safe Parliamentary majority and can instil such apathy in the electorate as the PM has achieved over the past four months is a far more encouraging opponent than a strong leader with a landslide to her name.
In between bigging-up her ability to survive and prosper, the Prime Minister was waffling on about a ‘Global Britain’ as a means of proving to the doubters that we can trade beyond the borders of Europe without any economic upset; she also came out with the kind of meaningless statement re dealing with ‘those injustices domestically that we need to do to ensure that strong, more global, but also fairer Britain for the future’ that she delivered from the Downing Street lectern the day she moved into No.10. Well, she was able to shoehorn ‘strong’ into her spiel, though ‘stable’ was notable by its absence. At best, the furthest date from the here and now she can feasibly make it to whilst staying in the top job is probably the day we officially withdraw from the EU in March 2019; the thought that she could still be around three years later is inconceivable to anyone other than Theresa May – and…er…Boris Johnson.
The PM cited the example of her predecessor as to how announcing one’s intentions can prematurely curtail one’s premiership; but even though David Cameron revealed he was planning to step down after serving two full terms, there’s no doubt he would still be in the job today had the British public voted Remain rather than Leave last year – and he’d have almost three years left to go. Unlike Dave, Theresa May is head of a minority administration, and having to depend upon obstinate Ulstermen to prop her up is not exactly the most strong or stable foundation for planning to go on and on.
Theresa May is in the most vulnerable position of any British Prime Minister since Jim Callaghan, and were the country not engaged in an unprecedented diplomatic disentanglement that doesn’t need the additional headache of yet another Tory leadership battle, she wouldn’t simply be a dead woman walking; politically, she’d just be dead.
© The Editor