Monday 29 January 2018

Will There Be a Tory Leadership Challenge?

War is hell. Unless we're seeing Tory rising against Tory, then it's entertainment. And what an entertaining weekend it has been. "Call Me" Philip Hammond stirred a hornets' nest by simply setting out the government's current positioning on Brexit. That Britain is looking at continued close alignment with the European Union after Brexit is, of course, the most sensible course of action to take provided you don't want to tank the economy. And yet this position, which is more or less remaining in the Customs Union without it being called 'staying in the Customs Union', has been the case since early December. Why then are the Brexiters hopping mad and calling for blood, why the theatrics from Jacob Rees-Mogg followed by Number 10 putting distance between itself and the chancellor's remarks, even though he was reiterating the government's stance? Why was the idiot Gavin Williamson transparently on manoeuvres this weekend, and talk of a leadership challenge is abroad once again?

I guess we're seeing movement precisely because there has been no movement. The Prime Minister is precariously balanced because those who would be king, and at this point a man is most likely to succeed her, are all balanced out too. We're not in a position for a winner to swoop in and draw the party behind him, just like one Theresa May managed 18 months ago. Hence what we get is permanent instability, a period of balance and wobble and one most politics watchers are entirely unaccustomed to observing. Emboldened by 1922 Committee rumours, Rees-Mogg chose the occasion of Hammond's speech - who he detests anyway for having one foot planted in economic realities - to remind the Prime Minister of her stupid rhetoric near the beginnings of her premiership. No deal being better than a bad deal is exactly the programme of his magically-funded European Research Group, the shadowy organisation set up by hard right fool and, as it turns out, self-styled Crowleyite Dan Hannan. Their central objective is cutting loose entirely from the EU so the UK can double down as the world's number one destination for tax dodgers and money launderers, a pathetic and intellectually dismal project that would spell ruin for millions of people but entirely coincidentally line the pockets of Rees-Mogg and his like. His firepower, if it can be characterised as such, is less a challenge and more a shot across the bows. He knows as well as anyone that deposing May now would be folly, especially as not all Brexiters are signed up to his backward vision for Britain, and his getting on the final ballot paper is by no means guaranteed.

By way of reminding all and sundry of his existence, so Gavin Williamson gave us a double whammy of interventions too. He immediately tried to steal limelight for himself by declaring he'd had an affair which, if his story was true, is untrue; a couple of snogs hardly puts him on a par with "Shagger" Johnson, but it did allow him to talk about the strength of his marriage drone, drone, drone. That The Graun were planning to do a number on him was another coincidence, But to detract from that story, he decided to reveal intelligence that the Russians have a submersible fleet capable of cutting undersea cabling and piping, which would cause Britain thousands of deaths in the event of war. That his fool move has opened him up to accusations of going public with classified information is entertaining, it nevertheless demonstrates what kind of man Williamson is: someone who will cynically kick up a story to put attention onto himself, and a Tory wedded to the idea of scaring his party's voters into supporting him. Anything approaching a programme beyond personal advancement is entirely absent. Unfortunately, when things get fraught for the Tories, as long as Williamson is near the centre of power he'll intervene and make it all about him.

But are we at crisis point for Theresa May yet? As all sides assail her demanding to know what her vision of Brexit is, this plan, if it can be referred to as such, sans the smoke and mirrors is going to satisfy neither the Moggs nor the Soubrys. And yet, yet, there she is, still PM. To coin a phrase, nothing has changed. For all the witterings about confidence letters, everyone knows there is no factional dominance - a Brexiteer would have a hard time holding on to centrist leaning, remain inclining Tories, and a remainer as leader would see the ERG and its friends do as they please. Someone from the middle of this morass would only supplant May to find themselves in an identical position, and who'd want that? Added to that, everyone knows those who wield the knife will have their ambition consumed by the forces they unleash. Jolly old Heseltine for one and, more recently, Angela Eagle's desperate effort to depose Jeremy Corbyn are always helpful reminders. Which means, despite everything said in the press, the rumours of no confidence and what have you, unless a fall guy can be found whose loyalty to principle comes before self-interest (certainly a rare creature in the parliamentary party), nothing will happen. And even if that does occur, the factional balance would mean May wins a vote of confidence, even if the majority of those votes are grudgingly given.

Will May be Tory leader a month, two months, six months from now? Unfortunately for her, the odds are in her favour.


Karen Johnson said...

Good depiction of Enoch Powell

Karen Johnson said...

Enoch Powell