The Prime Minister’s problems just got a whole lot worse, with the nation blowing her a giant raspberry in the town hall elections and even former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith joining the clamour for her to quit. And, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the forthcoming European parliament plebiscite could just finish her off.
‘Two egg mayonnaises. Prawn Goebbels. Hermann Goering. Four Colditz salads.’
Try as he might, Basil Fawlty could not not mention the war in The Germans.
And try as they might, Tory canvassers could not escape the B-word on the doorsteps. And we’re not talking Bigamy, or Bestiality, or Bile, though that last one is getting warm.
Valiant efforts to focus the local campaigns on local things, like potholes or rubbish collection or whatever got a two-pronged response.
One was the many thousands of spoiled ballot papers with the word Brexit scrawled across them.
The other was the party’s worst comparable election result in almost a quarter of a century.
They thought it would be bad, but were horrified at the haemorrhage of 1,334 councillors. That figure made Labour’s loss of a mere eighty-two look almost like a win.
It wasn’t, though. Loath as team Corbyn is to admit it, the punters really were saying a plague on both your houses. An inescapable fact, given that the gains made by what would normally be considered minor players outstripped the losses of the two big parties put together.
So what does it all mean, Brexitwise?
Two schools of thought there, surprise surprise.
Commentators and politicos of all stripes who want out say it’s obvious. May promised we’d be gone by now, and hasn’t delivered. So she’d better get a move on. Get Labour to agree her deal, get it through parliament and get the hell out of Downing Street.
But remainers draw a very different conclusion. They point out, rightly, that the vast bulk of newly elected councillors were standing on a ditch Brexit platform. Ergo, the public mood has shifted and the big parties had better get used to it.
Their problem, however, is that the elections to the European Parliament scheduled for May 23rd very likely won’t deliver the clear-cut message they’re hoping for. For the simple reason that the remain groupings have failed to suspend hostilities among themselves.
So, come the day, Lib Dems will be pitted against Greens pitted against the new breakaway faction Change UK.
Er .. durrr. All that will leave the door wide open for Nigel Farage and his new Brexit party, already soaring at the polls, to stick his boot in.
So the best hope for those wanting to stay within the European Union has to be Jeremy Corbyn finally getting off the fence and mustering the Labour legions for the fight.
The 1975 referendum that confirmed we were in was an almighty headache for the then Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, as it split his cabinet right down the middle.
Though he hadn’t yet made it to parliament, Jeremy Corbyn shared Tony Benn’s view that it was a capitalist conspiracy. Seems he still does, even though his power base is mainly remainer.
The irony being he made a career out of being the outsider campaigning for less top-down leadership within his party. Yet now he’s the big willy he’s not so keen on this democracy malarkey.
You can’t help but think of the reworked version of The Red Flag. ‘The working class can kiss my arse, I got the foreman’s job at last’.
Whatever, he’s the reason Labour’s still fannying around the question of a second referendum, and being studiously vague about the ongoing cross-party talks concerning Theresa May’s unloved Brexit deal.
In his wounding intervention, Iain Duncan Smith wrote off the whole process as absurd. Adding that May must resign or be sacked, as she’s no more than a ‘caretaker PM’.
Two sidebar stories this week suggest he might have a point.
One, the Gavin Williamson affair. In spite of the former Defence Secretary’s emphatic denials, May found him guilty of leaking material from the National Security Council and sacked him.
The fact that anyone, no matter who, told tales on that most august of bodies says something about the shambolic state of affairs in Downing Street.
And Williamson might yet bite back hard enough to draw blood. He used to be the Tory Chief Whip, paid to maintain party discipline. Part of the job is jotting down in a little black book all the naughty things MP’s may have done that haven’t come to light.
Handy for persuasive purposes, when push comes to shove. ‘You remember that little indiscretion of yours with Madame Panky-Spanky? You wouldn’t want the papers to know about that, would you? Your wife would be frightfully upset, wouldn’t she, old boy’.
In short, he knows where any bodies are buried, because he’d have dug the graves himself.
The second sidebar story concerns Rory Stewart. Promoted to the cabinet in the mini-reshuffle that followed Williamson’s sacking, he straightaway announced he wants Theresa May’s job.
She has said she will stand down if she ever gets her Brexit deal agreed, but it seems a little, well, indelicate of him. A bit like the family divvying out grannie’s goodies when she’s still propped up in bed.
Probably, understandably, wetting it as well. Who wouldn’t?
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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