It’s two weeks until the summer recess and judging by today’s papers, that’s two weeks too late. Despite Theresa May’s positive trip to the G20 summit, the Sundays are filled with tales of leadership plotting and planned Conservative rebellions.
Although Philip Hammond was heralded as a caretaker PM a few weeks ago, it’s now David Davis who is being talked up to take the reins from May. The Mail on Sunday reports that Davis’s ally Andrew Mitchell denounced the PM as ‘dead in the water’ at a Tory dinner (though bear in mind his comment is two weeks old – a long, long time in politics – and the Sunday Times quotes him as telling plotting MPs to ‘go and lie down in a darkened room and then take a holiday’). They say a ‘kamikaze’ group of Right-wing Tory MPs are ready to risk handing power to Jeremy Corbyn and oust Mrs May – in order to kill off moves to ‘reverse’ Brexit. In response to this plot, senior Tories, in the Observer, are urging MPs to back away from such plans – saying it would be a mistake to remove May too soon.
Now May is undoubtedly in a weak position. The Creasy amendment to the Queen’s Speech and the public sector pay cap row have exposed the limits of the Prime Minister’s power in Parliament. Her big election gamble backfired spectacularly and as a result the Brexit process will be more uphill. However, the reason May stayed in office on the day of the disastrous election result remains: there is no obvious alternative.
Even if Tory high command managed to get the three leadership frontrunners – Boris Johnson, David Davis and Philip Hammond – into one room to agree between themselves who would be the caretaker prime minister, a coronation would be near impossible to engineer. There are too many people in the party (and the number seems to grow everyday) who think that they are leadership material. As well as ambitious Cabinet ministers, there are MPs from the class of 2010 and 2015 who would not be willing to just sit by as the reins were handed to someone from the old regime – even if it was just meant as a temporary measure.
At some point before 2022 there will be a Tory leadership contest, but to rush this when there is no clear plan just increases the chances of an early election. As things stand, the vast majority of Conservatives would still rather have the Maybot as Prime Minister, than risk Jeremy Corbyn getting the keys to No 10. With the latest YouGov poll giving Labour a six-pt-lead, any MPs who think otherwise ought to take heed of Mitchell’s most recent advice: ‘go and lie down in a darkened room and then take a holiday’.