With the Tories about to get slaughtered in the European elections, May ends in June this year. Probably. And the race is already on to find a new Prime Minister. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the party’s letting her phase her departure, bit by bit.
Theresa May’s discussion last week with the Conservatives’ execution squad, that’s to say the executive of the Tory backbenchers’ 1922 committee, was long. And ‘frank’.
For frank, read brutal.
These guys, also known as the men in grey suits, dispatched Margaret Thatcher without ceremony or mercy back in 1990.
This time they adopted a marginally more measured approach. To spare her blushes. And perhaps their own, given what a pickle the party’s in.
She’d said she’d go as and when she got her hated departure deal from the European Union past parliament, and she’s giving it yet another go early next month.
It’s pretty much a given that it won’t work. At which point, she now knows, it’s time to say goodbye anyway.
Only, instead of just saying sod you all I’m outta here, she plans, to use her quaint expression, to set out a timetable for her departure. More tiered than tearful, in theory.
In practice, it makes no odds. The former Tory chancellor George Osborne said a year ago she was a dead woman walking. Well, she is, finally.
And the runaway favourite to replace her, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is out of the traps already. In his own words: ‘Of course I’m going to go for it’.
But the outward clarity masks a murky backdrop.
In a sense they’re all dead men and women walking in parliament these days.
At Prime Minister’s question time on Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn did not tear into Theresa May over her failure to deliver Brexit, or over her cack-handed approach to negotiations, or over the shambolic state of her party.
Instead, he bigged up the death of Doris Day. Jolly sad and all that, but what will be will be. Never mind the elephant, it was as though neither Corbyn nor May had spotted the mushroom cloud erupting in the room.
It’s all part of the same story. Everything’s happening, and nothing’s happening.
The cross-party talks on finding a way out of the Brexit impasse have now officially failed.
The Labour leader is as deliberately vague as he’s always been about whether he wants another referendum.
And the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament will see the Tories cut to shreds, thanks to Nigel Farage and his Brexit party.
No messing around here. Opinion polls consistently give his lot more support than Tories and Labour put together.
Farage’s simple message, that it’s The System that’s failed to get us out of Europe, resonates with all those who feel betrayed by the big parties because we’re still in.
The Lib-Dem line, Bollocks to Brexit, is one in the cojones to all those angry people. But with the remainer parties in competition with one another, their vote will be heavily diluted.
And even when the Euro-election distraction dissolves and the Tories change leader, the parliamentary mathematics will still be the same.
The brutal reality is that none of the conflicting factions in the commons is prepared to budge an inch. So the Brexit deal on offer is both too soft and too hard to command a majority in the chamber.
And anyway, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists, on whom the government relies to stay in office, are too scared of being partitioned off from the rest of the UK to countenance what Theresa May’s negotiated.
Which makes her the second British Prime Minister to be shafted by the Irish. Having failed to satisfy the demands of Ulster Unionists, Herbert Asquith’s Liberal government fell in 1916.
So there’s more to May than just being the second female Tory leader to be forced out of office by her own party.
Not that that’s likely to be much consolation.
Meantime, there’s talk of yet another set of Brexit options to be put before parliament in the coming weeks. They all got slung out last time, and there’s no reason to suppose that’s about to change.
It’s as though there’s a load of boxers in the ring having the mother of all punch-ups, but no one landing the knockout blow. And in the end they all just fall to the ground out of sheer exhaustion.
Never mind a railway, it’s a funny way to run the country.
But at least the Tory leadership race creates the illusion something’s happening. Which makes for frenzied media focus on the runners and riders, and a total dissing of Theresa May.
A rarely quoted line from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida says it all.
‘Time is like a fashionable host that slightly shakes his parting guest by the hand, and with his arms outstretched… grasps in the comer.’
Bit sad, really, from May’s point of view, being yesterday’s woman when it’s still today.
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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