It’s taken me a while, but I think I’ve got my head around this now. Grant Shapps is proposing that the Conservative Party should hold a protracted contest to select a new chief, and thus render itself and the Government of Britain leaderless for several weeks, at a time when the UK economy and public finances are worsening and Brexit talks are going horribly. And he’s doing this because he says the Conservatives need to demonstrate leadership.
When you think of it that way, you start to understand the (really rather unkind) things Tory MPs are saying about Mr Shapps today.
Not that anyone is saying he’s wrong about Theresa May. She’s in a dreadful state, the PM. But the brutal truth is that for the Conservatives today, there are no good choices, just degrees of badness. One option is to persist with a broken leader, the May government limping on to the other side of the Article 50 timetable in March 2019 before she bows out, probably in favour of someone who is not in the current Cabinet.
The other option is the one Mr Shapps proposes: the Conservatives decapitating their own government and running about headless and clueless just as Britain faces its biggest national challenge since Suez.
To be clear, neither of these options is good, but one is a lot worse than the other. It would risks the sort of administrative meltdown that many voters, quite rightly, would never forgive.
A bad speech and a bad conference have not changed the fundamental facts of Mrs May’s leadership. She’s PM because no single alternative candidate has enough support in the party to persuade Tories that it’s worth the turmoil and risk involved in changing leaders in the midst of the Brexit talks.
When and if that changes, she’s gone, in a New York minute. But for now, the Conservatives and the country are stuck with her. To govern is to chose, and right now, all the Conservatives’ choices are bad. But some are more bad than others.