Even some senior figures in Downing Street were unaware that Theresa May was going to say she wanted to lead the Tories into the next election, I write in the Sun this morning.
The Prime Minister’s statement took Westminster by surprise. But even inside Number 10 there are doubts as to how seriously to take what she said. Indeed, I haven’t yet spoken to anyone who is genuinely convinced that she will lead the Tories into the next general election campaign. (Tory MPs were so calm about what May said precisely because they don’t think it is actually going to happen.)
I think it is fair to say that May’s intervention was not perfectly calibrated. One insider tells me that her team weren’t expecting headlines about ten more years of May and that the aim was more to knock down the idea that there is a definite date for her departure than to suggest that she intended to go on and on.
The summer has, though, strengthened May’s position. No Cabinet Minister has emerged from the pack as the obvious, alternative Prime Minister. So, there is no Gordon Brown-style figure to agitate for her departure.
At the same time, the Tory grassroots are increasingly of the view that the party should skip a generation when it comes to picking its next leader. This strengthens the case for May staying on for a few years to not only do Brexit but give this new generation a chance to show what it can do.