An amusing fluttering in the dovecotes of the media today with the headlines of Theresa May whilst on a tour to Japan saying that she intended to lead the Tory Party into the next election so the questions one could pose on that might be “Is that possible ?” and also “Why say this right now ?”
The answer to the first is yes it is possible but whether it happens depends on many, mainly external factors. The second though is far simpler, we are approaching the Autumn Party Conference season so what else could she say ?
The Last General Election
The general election she called where she lost her majority has had a number of consequences but the result delivered no clear answers. Labour didn’t collapse in a heap under Corbyn but neither did it make a major breakthrough so it told us little about Labour’s future prospects. The Conservatives lost seats but with a platform of ‘Brexit means Brexit’, there was no sign of the ‘buyers remorse’ the chattering classes hoped for and a rejection of Brexit by voting Tory MPs out wholesale so that didn’t tell us a lot either.
In fact there is absolutely no evidence to tell us why exactly what happened did happen if we are honest about it. In the end it is as likely that the media lost it for May by predicting a landslide for her and the British electorate would not knowingly vote for such a result whoever was in power, we like our adversarial system and instinctively look for equilibrium with only slight advantage one way or the other.
But odd though it may seem, one of the unintended consequences was to cement May into her position both as leader of her party and also Prime Minister and the reason ? Why of course the ‘broad tent’ that both parties are made up of. Both the Conservatives and Labour have their ‘right’ and ‘left’ wings, both their own ‘leavers’ and remainers’ as far as Brexit is concerned and if there was one lesson from the last election it might be that for the time being as far as the public are concerned there should be “No more ruddy elections” and I suspect that even the dimmest MP of whatever party has got that message.
Theresa May had two main objectives in calling the election when she did:
To extend the time period of the Parliament so that there would not be another election until 3 years after Brexit rather than just the one which would very probably have been used by the EU to give the UK a worse deal through applying pressure because of the UK’s ‘pending election’.
The second reason was to dilute the headbangers both pro and anti EU inside her own party either of which could undermine any deal she might make with the EU over Brexit, by gaining a larger majority.
She achieved her first objective of extending the life of the Parliament and also the second in an unexpected way. Most MPs now realise that if they or their party cause there to be another general election in the near future, they will be punished by the electorate, simply resigning as an MP would be better than getting kicked out by the voters. So whilst she still has her ‘headbangers’ in residence, they are being effectively muzzled by the electorate which makes party discipline a bit easier than it might otherwise be.
The big lesson to come out of this election and the media noise surrounding it though, is very worth repeating, it is that the ‘experts’ and ‘those in the know’ actually know fuck all about anything, this includes pollsters, pundits, people in the media and the ‘business community’ along with most politicians. All of these people need to have the humility to grasp this because if they don’t, it will get rammed down their throats because they are in danger of repeating what happened before and during WWI.
The First World War was a tragedy in many ways but it was also the watershed moment of the whole 20th Century. Although this could be said of many countries, I will speak of Britain only because the carnage and incompetence of that war was what destroyed the foundations of a society formally used to deference to authority, the ‘leaders’ were as exposed as the Wizard of Oz was to be, shown to be fake and lacking in any kind of superior knowledge who blindly led the country into mortal dangers and social upheaval.
The same thing happened in 2008 with the financial crash, the whole system was shown to be totally flawed and riddled with incompetence at every level. Nobody particularly cared about the City flash boys with their “loads of cash” mentality but it became a totally different matter when they turned out to be totally incompetent at their jobs and not qualified in anyway for the amount of money they earned. Now when people in the City and those flag bearers of conformity and continuance of the status quo The Economist and the FT bleat on about the impending doom of Brexit and rich people go to Court to try and overturn a referendum result, the majority of the electorate rightly suspect them of talking shit and only being selfish and they are correct.
The simple truth is that all these “Metropolitan Chattering Classes”, the stream of luvvies, gurus and self appointed experts we see prance across our TV screens have become the “Establishment” and whether they realise it or not, the majority of the British electorate rightly just don’t trust them any more. In one sense I might suspect that one of the reasons that Labour under Corbyn didn’t tank at the last election is that despite his loony tunes policies, he is clearly “Anti Establishment” and those who were leftward leaning or uncommitted politically thought “Why not ?”
The accepted wisdom of the Remainers is that only the old and uneducated voted for Brexit but what if it was at heart an anti establishment vote and Brexit was just the nearest stick to beat with ? If so what people need to grasp is that this mood is on going and has not yet abated, put up more establishment idols and it will repeat itself. Fortunately in evolutionary Britain the tumbrils will not rumble through our streets but humility rather than arrogance would be a more suitable garb to wear in the world outside the Westminster Bubble.
Can May Remain Through to the Next Election ?
We need to start with why she became leader in the first place following the referendum result, in simple terms she was the only game in town that didn’t leave either the Remainers or the Leavers feeling that the “other side” had got their man in. She was notionally a Remainer but had hardly campaigned at all for it and given the opportunity, embraced the referendum result with a slogan of “Brexit means Brexit”, anyone else could have caused the party to fracture.
As said above, the general election result gave no comfort to the Remainers so that they could say “I told you so” but neither did it give a ringing endorsement to “Leave” except to indicate that the public hadn’t changed its collective mind and just expected the Government to get on with it.
That Theresa May will stay until at least the Brexit negotiations are completed is highly likely if not certain because whatever the shape of the final deal between the EU and the UK, one thing is guaranteed, it will please neither side, not Remain and not Leave and as a consequence, whoever is PM will get shot at by both sides. The point being, whatever their personal ambitions, only a total Lemming would want the job prior to the completion of negotiations and as there will be a 3 year window left in the Parliament, plenty of time to have an orderly leadership contest and handover before a general election has to be faced.
So the likelihood is that she is safe until then and will most probably face a leadership election during the following 6 months which she could also stand in of course. Whilst the smart money will say this is the most likely outcome it is by no means certain and is intimately entwined with exactly what kind of EU deal has been agreed plus, what the general public seem to think of it as well as sitting Tory MPs. There is another scenario which is that the EU continues on its current dumb course and we end up with no deal, depending how that comes about, it might well lead to an upsurge of popular support for her personally in ‘standing up to the EU’ with the Tory Party having to face it being unwise to even imagine dethroning her.
There is also the question of who could stand for the leadership job, Boris Johnson probably has too many enemies jealous of his past successes, Michael Gove however clever is a proven back stabbing untrustworthy person, Philip Hammond, hardly. There are a number of ‘worthy’ potential candidates but no obvious unity ones with the kind of star quality required so Theresa May could well remain in post post March 2019 by default.
As to Why Say It
The Tory Party is pretty merciless on failure, look what they did to Margaret Thatcher so in the aftermath of the last general election, she had to apologise to her MPs and say that she would only stay in post for as long as they wanted her to which frankly, is a statement of fact. However leadership is also about authority, nobody wants a lame duck leader so with the party conference on the horizon, she has to make a play for establishing her authority on her party because without that, she won’t be able to command authority within the Commons.
Some of the headlines I’ve seen “…could open up divisions…” and all that are just nonsense, it is something she or any leader in her position just has to do. In the end and as she knows, it doesn’t matter if she gets replaced after March 2019 but right now, she must proceed as if she is there for the long term, it is her role and duty to the Country for as long as she has the job of UK Prime Minister.