Well I never would have predicted that. Today, I put the size of May’s defeat on the ‘meaningful vote’ at 141, a number which I changed three times but felt was a good shot. I started getting nervous when I realised I’d forgotten to consider possible abstentions. I needn’t have worried – the total ended up at 230. This is a monstrous number and one that is entirely unprecedented.
This prompted the Prime Minister to stand at the dispatch box and all but ask for a vote of no confidence. Jeremy Corbyn duly obliged. The debate will take place tomorrow and the vote carried out in the evening..
So how is this one going to go?
There are very few people predicting defeat for the Prime Minister (certainly nobody close to the process). The ERG (the thorn in her Brexit side, led by the Honourable Member for the 18th Century) have pledged that they will back her, her confidence and supply partners, the DUP, have also pledged their support and that pretty much gives her the numbers to see this off. Somewhat counterintuitively, this one will appear to be much closer than any of the other votes, but will in fact be much more certain.
She’s going to win. Which is ridiculous, but makes sense when you look at it from a Tory Party identity point of view. It is, of course, enraging that we all have to suffer the consequences of a Tory identity crisis, but that’s the way it is. I want to write soon about why I think political parties should have a shelf life, and this will form a central part of thinking.
What is utterly obscene about this is that the Tories will never, above anything else, jeopardise their position in government if they can help it. Only if they can be absolutely assured that they are safe will they ever make any ‘risky’ moves. This obviously doesn’t always work out…as Mrs May found to her cost when she was about a thousand points ahead and fancied a 6 week tour of the country. The difference there was that she didn’t see it as a risk.
This becomes a huge problem when pretty much all other norms of party management and loyalty have completely broken down. Apart from infighting about the European Union, which is standard Tory practice, cabinet collective responsibility is hugely damaged, factions have emerged and are all willing to vote down legislation, broadsides against the executive are now daily and they just crushed the PM in the biggest vote of her tenure.
The PM, on this evidence alone, clearly doesn’t command the confidence of the house – but they will never ever say so when the alternative is that the opposition could form a government, or a general election could be called. This is deadlock, and it will only get worse.
As I said earlier, I can’t see Mrs May ever standing down of her own accord. All those that know her say she driven above all by a sense of duty – but this means different things to different people. It could be argued that being completely incapable of getting your major business through would indicate that it is your duty to step down and let someone else get their own mandate. But she doesn’t, and won’t, see it that way. And her party will back her. C’est la vie.
So this won’t be a very interesting prediction I’m afraid,. What will be more interesting is the pressure this now puts on Jeremy Corbyn. Frankly, it’s about time he faced some political pressure over Brexit and hopefully (though nowhere near certainly) this might come from his supporters, who overwhelmingly support a second referendum.
I personally think that would be the most politically catastrophic thing to happen since the last one (I think referendums are constitutionally ridiculous anyway and hugely resent the first one), but he will now start facing heated calls to back such a vote. If he doesn’t, or he dithers over it, will May be able to catch a break? Perhaps, but this will surely be short lived.
The problem now is that, if I’m right, all options will have been exhausted for removing Mrs. May and there will be no mechanism to stop her until the crunch in March (unless John Bercow just invents one, which, in his current mood, I wouldn’t put past him). So we remain in deadlock with a government that can’t get its business through, an opposition that hasn’t got a policy and a deadline fast approaching. It will be extended, obviously, there’s no way we will be leaving on that date. But eventually something will have to give.
And I have no idea what that will be.
So, to the prediction. As always, I point out my appalling record of political predictions before encouraging you to pay the slightest attention. Generally you can take whatever I say and believe the opposite.
Can you see any way she could lose it?
On the motion That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government
The Ayes to the right – 312
The Noes to the left – 324
VICTORY BY 12 VOTES
Will she continue as Prime Minister VOLUNTARILY?