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Theresa May’s Political Standing with the Tories

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Theresa May is caught between irresponsible ministers that she’s too frightened to reprimand, and European leaders who would love nothing more than to give the U.K. a bad Brexit deal. May cuts a frustrated figure. Her cabinet is atrophying – Brexit darling Priti Patel and Secretary for Defence Michael Fallon both left their positions in the last month, while rebels like Boris Johnson bay for her blood. As Merkel and Macron stall the Brexit talks in search of more money from the U.K., May has no wiggle room. The question must be begged therefore; where does she stand in the Conservative party, and where does she go from here?


One things for sure; May is the prime minister, and can’t just walk away like David Cameron did twelve months ago. She lost her majority in what was a catastrophic election for the Tories, but pledged to remain in her position for at least two years nonetheless – by which point the Brexit deal should be in place. The ideal time for Theresa’s exit, her ‘Thexit’ if you will, would have been directly following the disastrous election, but she clung to the hot seat – perhaps acutely aware that Boris Johnson was on hand to fill the void. She has the most drastic swing in approval rating (-25) over the course of the first year of leadership, and barely has the support of her party members after losing 13 seats and culling, before recalling, a number of Cameron’s mates following the election. May is feeble, she lacks the charisma required to lead the country through its most trying political moment for decades. Why hasn’t she been usurped?


History suggests that the snarling ranks of Conservative backbenchers will eventually prey on the weak; Thatcher was ousted after numerous rival leadership bids; Major was hugely unpopular with his own party in the 1997 election; and Cameron, humbled by his Brexit failure, had to quit, and retreat to his bolthole in Oxfordshire. The Tory backbenchers clearly couldn’t care less if Theresa May’s reputation is tarnished by Brexit, and anyway, the sum of remainers and leavers in the Tory party still hangs in the balance. What would Europhile Ken Clarke, or Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg stand to gain from ousting May? To a party that is divided over Brexit, May is an invaluable floating voter. A converted remainer, now pushing the hard Brexit line – she is proven to lack integrity and be prone to U-turns, a useful pawn malleable to the whims of her backbenchers.


May is so weak and hapless that the egos within the party can push their agendas onto her – and scapegoat her should it not come off. The party chasm widens, and May’s space to operate tightens. If she push her own views, a soft Brexit, she will inevitably be ousted by the far right of her party. For now, May is safe. She will hold onto the leadership so long as she acts as a puppet for her party around the negotiating table – but as Brexit negotiations stall, it remains to be seen how long she can hang on.


That leads us conveniently onto the ongoing Brexit talks. I imagine a huge Dr. Strangelove style table in the EU Headquarters in Brussels. A vast crystal ball sits in the middle, surrounded by European leaders, laughing like hyenas, and rubbing their hands watching Theresa May’s ramshackle government fall to pieces. No wonder they’re holding out for 40 billion, a bitter pill that May will reluctantly have to swallow to usher in the second stage of talks. May’s cabinet is keen to see progression, but how do you justify paying billions over the odds to a bunch of hard line Eurosceptics? Theresa May walks a tightrope. The European giants will continue to call the shots, which the cabinet will grow ever more impatient with – May is stuck in the middle, trying to keep both sides of the channel happy.


Still, May’s government trundles on. She defied expectations, surviving the weeks following the election. She could well see out her two years. It is growing ever more apparent, however, that the prime minister is being backed into a corner, as clinging onto power, and shirking the title of the prime minister who screwed up Brexit, becomes her biggest concern.

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