When you are no good at something, you hope that someone, somewhere, will stop you doing it. This is why, after a long, heated discussion about what constitutes a drawing of an apple, I wasn’t allowed to do GCSE art. I was stopped before I could do too much damage.
But Theresa May seems to prove me wrong. As my colleague Mark Bennister has pointed out to me numerous times, all the red warning lights on the dashboard of prime ministerial incompetence have been flashing for a long time. May has, in order, blew her negotiating leverage by triggering Article 50 too early, and then blew her majority in an unnecessary election.
Since then then her only task, her central policy, the point to her prime ministerial existence, has collapsed. Remember what she said back in 2016? Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it. Almost every word of that statement rings untrue. Brexit means whatever you want and nothing at all, there was no ‘we’ and so far it has not been a success.
Yesterday her plans, if we can call them that, went down to the largest parliamentary defeat in modern history. When people start talking about ‘Corn laws’ and ‘Home Rule’ you know it is very bad. Just to put it in perspective, Blair drafted a resignation letter ahead of the Iraq war debate where he had a rebellion of 139, and he’d won two elections.
Meanwhile, May has presided over one of the greatest scandals of modern times, creating a hostile environment that sent British Windrush citizens, British citizens, to other countries, where 11 of them died before ever seeing their homes again. In normal times you would think (and hope) a prime minister would resign in shame at their failure to care, failure to heed warnings and failure to help.
May looks to be a frightful combination of David Cameron’s carelessness for consequences, Gordon Brown’s indecisiveness and Tony Blair’s untruthfulness. While we are reaching for historical comparisons, as I’ve said before, May looks a lot like Neville Chamberlain. Supposedly details people and all efficiency and clarity, they both proved to be obstinate, out of touch and unable to see how dangerous their policies were. Their stubbornness meant they could, in Churchill’s phrase, ‘strive continually in the teeth of facts’. May could well have stood up after her defeat and repeated, word for word, Chamberlain’s admission of failure in September 1939: ‘Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins’.
Now she faces a vote of no confidence. She’ll probably win but that’s not the point. It’s rather like when people have to publicly state what a great sense of humour they have (think Nigel Farage). That means they don’t have one. Any leader who faces a vote of no confidence is facing a serious confidence problem, and is in very serious trouble.
And yet she is still here. She is, perhaps, the Breaking Bad Prime Minister. Like Walter White she jumps from crisis to crisis. She constantly escapes by the skin of her teeth, but each crisis leads to a bigger and deeper one. Still she’ll plough on, with no plan B (though I’d argue she never had a plan A).
But where exactly is her ‘event horizon’ or point of no return? I’m not insinuating, of course, that she has travelled through a black hole and is controlled by the forces of evil. You may think that, I couldn’t possibly comment. It is just that every ‘crunch’ vote, Cabinet meeting or EU gathering since the Summer of 2017 was supposed to her last, the point when fates converge, nemesis arrives and time runs out. But the rules of politics have been bent and misshapen. Parties, people, leaders are all divided. Our two Brexiters in Chief, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, are sitting around hoping something, or someone, will either save them or take the blame.
My fear is that Theresa May will still be there when we reach our point of no return, and she’ll be trying for another vote when we are all hunter-gatherers, living in caves to avoid falling aircraft, and running out of blood, water and chocolate.