Theresa May is under enormous pressure following her failure to win an overall majority. Straw-laden pitchforks are being doused with petrol, the pearl-handled revolver is being polished. She cannot continue, it is being said. She’s lost all her authority, anonymous briefings growl. The question that exercises many is whether she should go at once or later. Different names are being touted as her replacement (one suspects by the would-be replacements).
The Conservatives are repeating their mistakes from the election campaign. They spent the entire campaign based on personality politics, presenting Theresa May as Prime Ministerial and attacking Jeremy Corbyn for his past unsavoury connections, with only terrorist attacks intruding to draw them up to the level of discussing events. Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn spent the campaign discussing his ideas.
The Conservatives need to pause. Right now, the personal isn’t the important political. They need to think. Let’s look at the ideas that they should be thinking about.
First, obviously, the Conservatives no longer have an overall majority. That means that the nature of government is going to change radically. A week ago, the Conservatives had hoped for an overall majority where the wishes of all bar a few in the inner circle could be disregarded. Not only has that hope been dashed, policy discussions are no longer solely an internal Conservative party affair.
Secondly, the Conservatives are stuck in government. No one else can conceivably govern on the current numbers. So the Conservatives have to decide whether they are going to work together or work to undermine each other. I would recommend Option A in any case but if some Conservatives are inclined to plot, they should consider how willing they are to see Jeremy Corbyn in power, which would be the inevitable consequence of internecine strife. My sense is that the loathing for Jeremy Corbyn is unfeigned. So they should cooperate.
Thirdly, they need to accept that means that no one is going to get things all or even mostly their own way on any subject, least of all Brexit. Open-door immigration is out of the question. But so are some of the weirder hard Brexit obsessions.
What this points to is a Prime Minister who is effectively able to manage all of the Conservative factions and to reach out to those outside the party to form alliances as necessary. Their personal authority is less important than their ability to manage shifting groups and to sell compromises to them.
Right now there are a lot of Conservatives who are very angry with Theresa May. I don’t blame them. But who have they got available who would be better at that task? The obvious name, David Cameron, has retired. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are deeply and rightly distrusted by many. For that matter, so is George Osborne. Amber Rudd, maybe, but she has the misfortune of a tiny majority which would probably be too distracting in an election campaign. David Davis is much-touted but is temperamentally a lone wolf and what is required is a leader of a pack. Philip Hammond is a better possibility, though the distrust that some on the right feel towards him from his Chancellorship is not an asset.
All of which leads me to the conclusion that the right person for the job might well be the person who currently occupies it. Ten days ago I speculated that if the election resulted in a hung Parliament: “The Conservatives might very well find themselves stuck with a leader levitating at the top of the party without any means of support.” Rather than take out their anger on Theresa May, Conservatives should consider what the job of Prime Minister will require in the next few years. I’m not sure that any replacement is likely to be an improvement.