Theresa May is under increasing pressure, as a senior Conservative MP was exposed as saying the PM is “dead in the water”. But the comments come after a week of Tory infighting. And it points to a Conservative Party not only unhappy with May at the helm but utterly divided itself.
Dead in the water?
Comments made about May by the former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell MP, most well known for the ‘plebgate‘ scandal, were made public on Sunday 9 July. Mitchell reportedly told a fellow MP at a Conservative Party dinner in June that May was “dead in the water”; that she was “weak” and had “lost her authority”. He also said that she “couldn’t go on” and that the party “needed a new leader”.
Mitchell played down his reported comments, saying that “this is an overheated report of a private dinner conversation”.
Not a good week for May
But the theme of his alleged comments are not in isolation. Because already this week:
- The Financial Times reported [paywall] that pro and anti-Brexit Tory MPs are at each other’s throats. Referring to Eurosceptic Tories, one reportedly said “we can work with half the Labour party and crush the f*ckers”. But a pro-Brexit MP said in response that he would not tolerate threats from pro-EU “wankers”.
- There is reportedly a group of junior ministers “plotting” to replace May with Brexit Secretary David Davis over the summer.
- Other reports described a group of ‘kamikaze’ right-wing Tory MPs who are happy to risk handing power to Jeremy Corbyn, in order to get rid of May and kill off moves to ‘reverse’ Brexit.
- Bookmakers slashed the odds on Jacob Rees-Mogg becoming PM from 50/1 to 16/1.
- A survey by Conservative Home found Davis was favourite to replace May as leader. The current PM now has a net satisfaction rating of -26% among Conservative Party members.
But May brushed off the apparent disquiet over her leadership. When asked by a journalist at the G20 Summit on Friday 7 July whether she’d be PM in a year or two’s time, she said:
Yes. We will be playing our absolutely full part and I’ll be playing my full part and the issues that we are discussing are important.
Corbyn cashing in
Meanwhile, at the Durham Miners’ Gala, Corbyn mocked May’s situation. He told crowds that the Tories “are living through a nightmare at the moment”. But that “I want to help these Tories out of their nightmare”. And then he called on May to resign:
"The Tories are going through a nightmare at the moment, we want to help them – call another election and we'll put you out of your misery." pic.twitter.com/fRdD5OmoL1
— EL4C (@EL4JC) July 8, 2017
Election round two?
The very public Conservative in-fighting is symptomatic of the frustration felt by many Tory MPs over May’s disastrous election campaign and the party’s ensuing collapse. But it also shows that the Tories are still deeply divided over Brexit. So this is a perfect opportunity for Labour and Corbyn to be inflicting major damage on them. Because with the odds of a second general election this year at 3/1, May’s position as PM might not have to be overturned by those in her party. Voters could well do it at the ballot box themselves.
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