MPs dare not throw her out yet for fear that a new leader would mean another general election—and a Corbyn victoryby Tom Quinn / September 1, 2017 / Leave a comment
Theresa May’s insistence that she is “not a quitter” when asked whether she would step down before the next election has predictably sparked another round of speculation about her future. In another interview, she was asked whether she intended to lead her party into the next election and replied, “Yes, I’m in this for the long term.”
The response was swift. Her old foe, George Osborne, used an editorial in the Evening Standard to pour scorn on her comments. He accused her government of staggering on like “the Living Dead in a second-rate horror film.” Another former cabinet minister, Nicky Morgan, doubted that May could contest another election. The Conservative peer and former deputy prime minister, Lord Heseltine, said she had no long-term future.
On one level, May’s comments were unremarkable. If she had given any public hint that she did not intend to stay on beyond an anticipated Brexit deal in 2019, it could have destroyed what little authority she had left after the loss of her majority in June. Both Tony Blair and David Cameron saw their authority drain away after they set deadlines for their departures and neither was able to see out the full parliamentary term that each had wanted to serve. Once a party knows its leader is in the departure lounge, the countdown commences and it becomes the dominant media narrative. The effect can be debilitating for the leader, the party and sometimes the country. May’s talk of the work she has to do on Brexit was designed to avoid that scenario.
The problem, of course, is that her position is severely weakened, and everyone—including the PM—knows it. She called an unnecessary early election to increase her Commons majority but ended up squandering a 20-point lead in the polls. She then found herself cobbling together a deal with the DUP to enable her to run a minority government. The weakness of her government’s position may well undermine its bargaining strength in the Brexit talks. It’s no wonder that most observers assume she will go long before the next election.
But it is also the Conservatives’ weakness that paradoxically makes her position safer than it might have been, in the short term at least. Any change of…