Tory MPs should vote for Theresa May in tonight’s confidence vote. Keeping her in place will be painful, difficult and lead to any number of awful problems. But it is far, far better than the horrors that will follow if they remove her.
Even if you can, like Owen Paterson, blithely gloss over the fact that Britain would not have a permanent head of government for a month at a time of national crisis, you can’t deny the fact that changing the leader won’t change the parliamentary numbers.
Nor — despite the fantasies of the Tory unicorn-herders — will it change the EU position. So the only option for a new leader is to change the British negotiating position, abandon the backstop that is a prerequisite of any deal with the EU and put the UK on course for a no-deal exit. And that, of course, is a disaster that would very likely cause sufficient unhappiness among reality-based Tories that there would be a Commons majority for any or all of the following: Article 50 suspension; a general election; a new EU referendum.
None of those is likely to end well for either Britain or the Conservative Party.
Of course, the belief in unicorns is very strong in Tory circles these days. Evidently significant numbers of Tory MPs believe that another leader can somehow change reality, somehow bend parliament and/or the EU to their will, and thus save the Conservative Party from facing up to the simple, brutal fact of Brexit: there isn’t a better deal on offer. Mrs May’s deal is bad but inevitable. So is she.
Of course that’s hard to accept. No one enjoys admitting they’re in a mess, especially not one they helped create. But while children have the luxury of closing their eyes and screaming in furious denial of reality, being an adult means accepting the world as it is, not as you’d like it to be.
Once, the Conservatives prided themselves on being a grown-up party, the people who did what was necessary to get the job done. Brexit has raised some deep and dangerous questions about whether the Tories are still that party or if they have decided to become something different – no longer a pragmatic party of government but an emotional rabble chasing fact-free fantasies.
Tonight we start getting some answers to those questions.