The sense in Westminster this morning is that Theresa May will win tonight’s confidence vote. So, as is the way, the conversation has immediately moved on to what would be a good result for her.
Cabinet ministers are busy saying that a win is a win, whatever the margin. One points out to me that if she wins tonight, she’s PM for a year and ‘unassailable unless people want to have Corbyn as PM’. But I can’t help remembering how John Major set a floor for himself in the 1995 leadership contest without telling any of his political team. He needed 165 votes to win but resolved he’d go if he got 215 or less. In the end, he got 218.
One long-time backbench ally of the Prime Minister predicts that she’ll win tonight by 200 to 115. In normal times, a hundred MPs voting against a leader would be devastating. But these are not normal times. A minister who knows the Tory party better than anyone predicts that she’ll win despite 100 plus voting against her, but that will still strengthen her overall given her current position.
What none of this will resolve, though, is how May gets her withdrawal agreement through the Commons. The number of Tory MPs who’ll vote against her tonight, suggests that she can’t get this deal through even with clarifications and addenda unless she gets industrial-scale Labour support. But given the Labour leadership’s desire for an early election and the number of Labour backbenchers who now want a second referendum, this doesn’t seem likely either. All of which makes me think that the chances of a second referendum have risen significantly this morning as if May survives tonight, she can’t be challenged for another year.