Commentary on Theresa May’s meeting with backbench Conservatives today.
“Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it,” is often attributed to the US congressman Mo Udall, speaking before a ponderous committee session. Regular participants in political meetings – indeed, any meetings – will recognise this picture of people talking at length and adding little.
Parliament’s discursions on Britain’s alleged exit from the EU have featured plenty of time for everyone to speak. Indeed, the length of the debate on Brexit has allowed many key actors to occupy several different positions on the subject, including ones previously decried.
It would be unfair to blame this purely on Theresa May. The chaos of her appointment as prime minister, with her rivals competing only to show their unsuitability for the job, marked the febrile environment she assumed office in.
But after three years in the role she cannot be blameless for what has happened. Parliament is locked in a cycle of endless votes, sometimes labelled ‘indicative’ or ‘meaningful’. Plenty of constitutional lawyers dispute the latter.
Mrs May is failing to have her withdrawal agreement passed – and that is putting it politely. The strategy of squeezing Parliament between no deal and her deal has only yielded a short extension to Britain’s departure date, and with MPs taking control of parliamentary businesses. Her previous failures do not need repeating.
In this context the prime minister will sit before the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers at around 5pm. Lobby journalists speculate that she may set a date for her resignation.
Mrs May has made a habit of disappointing expectant hacks. The setting of a podium before 10 Downing Street, previously indicative of a major announcement, means nothing under her premiership.
Local government has likewise grown used to empty promises from her ministers. The sector has been promised progress on social care, fair funding and the spending review. This is without mentioning the need for action on housing, the environment and economic regeneration in many places.
Regular readers will know the inaction has prompted a response from local government. Adam Lent, director of the New Local Government Network, has written of the ‘community paradigm’, which aims to more closely involve service users in shaping public services.
This ties into the prevention and integration that are broader themes throughout local government. Greater Manchester, one of the leaders in devolution, has been forging ahead on this front with health and social care for some time, but is only among the most prominent examples.
Perhaps most daringly, Tony Blair’s former adviser and current RSA director Matthew Taylor has argued that central government should face an inquiry into the policy failures of the last decade, the handling of the EU referendum only the most recent.
Though that was four months ago, nothing much has changed. This is despite Mrs May seeing off a Tory backbench vote of no confidence and a slew of ministerial resignations.
Speculation about the next prime minister is endless in politics, but has been acute since the botched 2017 general election. Mrs May’s survival is attributable to the lack of a clear successor.
There is still no clear alternative to the prime minister. Among the mooted candidates are Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab, according to the bookies. It is unclear if any of these could bring together enough MPs to move forward in some – any – direction.
That is to say nothing of how a leadership election could be arranged around the current Brexit schedule, or how accommodating the EU would be in the event of leadership change.
However, the extent of Mrs May’s failure is such that such uncertainties look more promising than keeping her on board any longer, particularly given the dismal prospects for her government should, by some miracle, she cross the Brexit quagmire.
Something must change. It is time for her to go.
Jimmy Nicholls, features editor