It’s over 150 years since John Stuart Mill called the Conservatives the stupid party and in every one of those years they have worked hard to live up to that assessment.
Grant Shapps’ abortive leadership coup is the latest example of Tory idiocy. After Theresa May did herself a mischief in Manchester, Shapps scarpered over to his colleagues and piped up that the emperor had no clothes. To which they replied: ‘Where have you been, Grant?’ Unfazed, Shapps then offered himself up as a replacement, out of selfless devotion to party and country. The party, once it had established who he was again, said ‘nah, you’re all right, mate’. As one Tory MP snarked in a WhatsApp group chat: ‘There are fewer signatures on your list than files sent to the CPS after the election campaign you ran as chairman.’
Theresa May has well and truly soiled the settee. Her premiership is Dead Man Walking without the chipper ending and the blessed release of death. Every day in the spotlight is an evident torture for a woman who seems not to have considered that being Prime Minister would involve meeting people and talking to them in complete sentences, with spontaneous turns of phrase and the like. The Tory Party has to endure the indignity of trailing in the polls to the past president of the Gerry Adams Fan Club and watching the Brexit they have dreamed of for so long falter with no sign of strength or direction from Downing Street. The only person getting anything out of Mrs May’s ongoing tenure is Gordon Brown, no longer the worst Prime Minister in living memory.
The Tories, because they’re Tories, think it’s time for a coup. The only thing Tories enjoy more than winning elections is knifing the leaders who win the elections for them. Maggie delivered three stonking victories but they still carted her off. Major defied the polls to squeak back in in 1992 and almost immediately the bastards were out to get him over Maastricht. In the dying days of the referendum, when the Brexiteers expected to lose, some briefed of plans to do in Cameron for his combative Remainery. This was the man who only 12 months earlier had pulled off the surprise majority that allowed them to have their referendum in the first place.
‘There’s no crime so mean as ingratitude in politics,’ griped George W Plunkitt, whose greatest achievement was making it through 35 years in Tammany Hall unindicted. Mrs May can command no such gratitude from her MPs; she not only failed to win an election, she lost their majority in the process.
The temptation is to shove the Prime Minister out the back door and usher in Ruth (we’ll fight you for her), James Cleverly (the other JC) or Amber (someone please swap seats with her). But leadership coups are messy and rarely leave the principals on any side unbloodied. As Michael Heseltine will attest, the crime is not ambition but getting caught at it. The public bores easily when the matter of internal party squabbling arises but one thing they don’t like is open skullduggery. It implies a passion for politics that the British deem unhealthy if not downright suspect.
That’s all marginalia. The reason Mrs May must be kept on is Brexit. Not so she can hammer out a good deal from Brussels but because there won’t be a good deal from Brussels. Mrs T herself could not handbag a fair settlement out of Michel Barnier. Britain is leaving Europe and Europe is happy to watch us barrel head-first into a brick wall with an unconvincing ‘EXIT’ sign painted on. When that happens, we will need a new Prime Minister who will either have to initiate a fresh Brexit process or walk Britain back from the brink. Snatching the crown from Mrs May at this point would be like mugging a dog-walker of their poop bag.
If the Tories are smart, they will stick with Theresa May for now then dump her for the next generation when the time comes. If they’re still the stupid party and are determined to have another leadership split, there is no more deserving an inheritor of Mrs May’s government than Grant Shapps.