Former Conservative leader and Foreign Secretary William Hague once referred to his party as “an absolute monarchy tempered by regicide.” Probably, pretty accurate!
Throughout their chequered history, the Conservative Party has developed a reputation for being ruthless with their leaders, neatly bringing us to the current incumbent and Prime Minister Theresa May.
After a calamitous conference speech, (yes, impacted by some factors outside of her control), a snap election which went badly wrong and a permanent loss of authority, the pressure has been mounting on the Prime Minister. This pressure reached boiling point this week when a rebellion led by former minister Grant Shapps, with the alleged support of 30 fellow MPs and 5 former Cabinet Ministers publicly called on May to step down.
This number of MPs falls below the 48 threshold needed to force a leadership contest under current Conservative Party rules. Shapps move has been condemned by Tory colleagues who have advised him to “shut up.” Despite the apparent failure of this coup, most senior Tories accept that it is only a matter of time before May has to leave, so why has she survived on this occasion?
The one thing (most likely, the only thing), that the Conservative Party is united on is that they don’t want another General Election for the foreseeable future. This is an election, they would be likely to lose. There are fears that although there is no constitutional pressure to call an election when a Prime Minister is changed, the pressure could lead to exactly this occurrence if May is forced out. It is clear there is a consensus that removing May leads to a situation they cannot control.
Secondly, there is no obvious candidate to replace her. Boris remains popular with the membership, but not so with his colleagues who could block him. Amber Rudd, David Davis or Philip Hammond have also been mentioned but none can make an overwhelming case. The most obvious choice is Ruth Davidson, but she shows no signs of wanting to come to Westminster. Those, and there are many, who want the top job are willing to keep their powder dry until the climate is more favourable towards them.
Lastly, there is Brexit. Brexit impacts everything in our politics. There is a school of thought in the Conservative Party, that with negotiations at a fragile stage this is not the time for a leadership contest. Brexiteers are worried a new leader would seek to halt Brexit and Remainers are worried a new leader would desire a harder Brexit. Both these groups are unwilling to risk a change, with so many factors outside their control.
Theresa May will survive this coup, but is on very thin ice. A Prime Minister with no authority cannot continue indefinitely. The rebels will regroup and will strike again and next time calculations could well have changed for other MPs and potential leaders. It still remains a matter of time.
Article by Mike Hough
Photograph – BBC