Jon Bigger looks over the stumbling Parliamentary scene as Theresa May struggles with Brexit and Ireland.
Theresa May is the figurehead of a government that could last a full five-year term or collapse at any moment.
It is now just over a year since her party failed to win an overall majority at the last general election. In the face of a major rise in support for Labour under Jeremy Corbyn she quickly decided to stay on and to do a deal with the DUP to stay in Number 10. This government though is behaving true to the theory that with such parliamentary arithmetic they will lurch from crisis to crisis.
The obvious thing to do would be to have a flagship policy that everyone could rally behind: something so monumentally good that all the problems of arithmetic disappear. That becomes a little less easy when your flagship policy is Brexit. Brexit means Brexit. Soft or hard, deal or no deal, Brexit means Brexit. Add to that the divisions within the cabinet and you can quickly see why May is floundering. If you’re wondering why she even bothers — I suspect that for her and others within her party it’s a simple matter of being worried that Corbyn could take over Brexit negotiations. Better a rubbish deal or no deal than a “socialist” one.
In the last week it looked like Parliament might bite back on Brexit. Although the government was not defeated it’s important to note that its was forced to offer concessions on a “meaningful vote” and other areas. The Brexit supporting press was up in arms at these parliamentarian backstabbers causing problems for their heroic prime minister. In fact it was the most democratic the UK Parliament has been in decades. People having to compromise and find a way to satisfy as many people as possible is surely the point of democracy.
That didn’t quite work out for the Scottish Nationalists however. In the most dramatic moment of any Prime Minister’s Questions I’ve seen, the whole contingent walked out after the Speaker prevented their leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, from disrupting PMQs with a forthwith vote on the chamber debating in private. The SNP have some very obvious grievances. As a nation Scotland voted to remain in the EU. As a nation they have largely been ignored by May’s government.
While Brexit dominates it also intersects with all the other politics that happens, some of which is unpredictable. Who could have predicted the Grenfell tower tragedy? Well the residents, as it happens. The Establishment was shocked by the anarchy in action which followed the disaster. This mutual aid was merely the solidarity most of us show to people in need. It was made more stark by a total lack of solidarity from the powerful and from Establishment institutions. May has recently claimed that she was sorry that she looked like she didn’t care. Yes, I bet she’s sorry about how it all looked. Saving face is sometimes all you can do.
The conference speech to the Conservative Party that May gave last year was a hoot. I loved all that coughing, the P45 incident and the set falling apart. The context from the Establishment has been that she had a cough and she was let down by the set, but really this serves as a perfect metaphor for a prime minister bereft of ideas, lumbering from one crisis to another, the zombie that some sections of the press have called her.
In more recent weeks the issue of abortion, combined with Brexit, has promised to cause May problems down the line. After the Republic of Ireland voted for a change to its constitution on abortion, calls were made for Northern Ireland to also change their laws. The views of the DUP had already been in focus regarding the idea of a “frictionless border” between the north and south. Now it was on their conservative social views. How this will play out in the months to come remains to be seen but it highlights that May’s government will face issues and potential conflict beyond the narrow Brexit focus and ones that create tension with the very party they need help from in order to cling on to power.
There have been ministerial resignations aplenty and continued rumours of plots to unseat the prime minister throughout the last year. The rumours at the start of 2018 were around seeing how well the local elections went in May. As the media spun it to look like a Labour defeat the talk of a leadership election was put back.
Despite the recent focus being on remain supporting Tory rebels in parliament, the most clear threat to May comes from the Brexit supporting group, with a potential plan to unseat her in favour of a Gove led government until Brexit is complete and then installing Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson prior to a general election. The fact we know this plan means it’s probably unlikely but we really are in anything can happen territory.
Politics isn’t going to get boring anytime soon. Be ready for anything.