Nick Palmer suggests she could be around for longer than predicted
Like many observers, I have the clear impression that most Conservative MPs feel that a change of leadership is needed before the next election. As many have observed, challengers are mainly inhibited by the sense that whoever challenges may not win, and the potential leaders would rather have May than a possibly successful alternative blocking their own chance at the top. At any moment, there could be a deal between two of the factions sufficient to trigger a leadership challenge – all the main contenders could rustle up 50 letters to achieve that if they worked at it.
But…when? What is the process that makes it happen? Parliament now disappears for two months, appearing only fleetingly in September before packing up again for the conferences. It’s likely, though we can never be sure in these turbulent times, that politics will be fairly quiet for a bit, with nearly all the main actors scattered around the world.
What about September? Well, say you’re a Tory MP. You come back refreshed, still concerned about the polls but largely out of touch with any ongoing plotting. Do you instantly sign a letter to force May out? No. You have a think, talk to colleagues, consult your constituency association. Two weeks pass quickly, then you’re off again.
What about the Conference? Well, that’s a good time to meet lots of potential fellow-plotters. But it’s a terrible time to launch a challenge. “Here’s our Prime Minister, speaking about the year ahead for Britain, and by the way we’ve decided this week to get rid of her. Enjoy the speech anyway.” No.
Of course, she might decide to resign voluntarily. But she’s stuck through a pretty nasty period. Why would she suddenly leave after a quiet one, with the Conference giving the chance to reboot her leadership?
What about after Conference? What, in the middle of substantive Brexit talks? It’s clearly against the national interest AND the party interest. It would look both frivolous and self-centred.
What about when Brexit talks end? If they fail altogether, maybe, but the EU doesn’t do failure, it does fudge. Given any sort of deal, it will be presented as the best result available, with a tricky transition period to get through. Time to have a leadership election? Not really. Rather, they’ll try to argue that actually they’ve got a very good deal.
So I can’t see that there’s a natural time to change before 2020. If Labour is then 20 points ahead in the polls, the party might finally move, in desperation. Otherwise, quite likely not. Theresa May is the Tory leader, even though most MPs might still wish she wasn’t (and if that reminds you of any other parties, life is full of ironies). Get used to it.
Nick Palmer was Labour MP for Broxtowe, 1997-2010