By Conor Holohan
Since what has been described as the worst Tory election campaign ever, disgruntled Conservative MPs have been growing in numbers. May’s leadership has constantly been under threat from MPs who have been trying to convince cabinet ministers such as David Davis to come out publicly against her. May has been protected, though, by two very important groups. Firstly, by the Conservative MPs who wanted Brexit. They are aware that a challenge to May’s leadership could easily result in a remain-backing minister such as Philip Hammond or Amber Rudd replacing her, putting a clean Brexit at risk. Secondly, she has been protected by the opinion formers in the right-wing press. Leading up to May’s Florence Brexit speech, when Boris Johnson published an unauthorised 4-000 word Brexit manifesto in the Telegraph, the Mail urged Boris not to ‘rock the boat’, lest it capsize and result in a Jeremy Corbyn premiership. In July the Spectator editorial warned ‘It’s time for the Tories to stop plotting – and let Theresa May govern.’
However, since May’s speech to the annual party conference in Manchester, she has lost the confidence of both. The Sunday Times revealed that after the ‘worst moment of Theresa May’s career’ a cabinet member telephoned another and said ‘it cant go on like this’. The two were joined in the sentiment by a third Cabinet member, who told Times journalists that May was unlikely to make it to Christmas. The minister backed Boris, but said that ‘any of the acceptable candidates [are] better than the current position.’
The opinion formers in the press who had backed Mrs May reported her speech as a tremendous failure, despite having urged people to forgive May for her calamitous election campaign and result. The right-wing press could easily have spun the speech as a victory for resilient, hard working May. Since the beginning of her Premiership, May has been talked of as a safe pair of hands who thanklessly pursues results rather than photo opportunities. Her lack of a show-biz approach to governing pleased those who wished for a stable and predictable government to manage Brexit negotiations. But instead the press held her up to a standard she has never been able to meet. She has never been one to consolidate her position with media set plays, but now her lack of charisma is being seized upon by those who wish to see her fall.
It seems that the fake-it-till-you-make-it ethos of unity in the Conservative Party has been abandoned, just as it has over the question of Europe before. May said she didn’t want her Premiership to be defined by Brexit, but the Times reflected this Sunday that she would be judged exactly on that. If there’s one thing that regularly kills Tory leaders, its the European Union, and no amount of one-nation, soft-Corbyn policies will save May now.