May’s charmed life continues, but you can sense the luck running out.

December 12, 2018

by Martin Odoni

Theresa May has tonight survived the Vote of No Confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party, as she was expected to. But it was not as decisive as I expected.

Confidence In Theresa May vote

The result of the Tory Party ‘Vote of Confidence’ in Theresa May, December 2018

Now I am certainly not going to go crazy here and suggest that this is a disaster for the Prime Minister. A victory by as little as one vote would not be that. However, this is not really a good result for May either. Reports on BBC radio suggest she was told the final vote tallies in advance of the formal announcement. My suspicion is, what with her cowardly penchant for censorship, she was quietly wishing that the announcement would be restricted to the fact that she won, and that the ‘final score’ would not be read out. Because it was genuinely startling to hear just how many of her MPs voted against her.

Recalling John Major’s re-election as Tory leader in 1995 against John Redwood; Major won that contest with around one-quarter of the Parliamentary Party voting against him. This was considered an adequate but unimpressive, fairly indifferent showing. It gave him enough authority to see out his full term as Prime Minister, but no one was exactly in awe of his victory.

Likewise here, May won but with over one-third of the party voting against her, and during a Hung Parliament at that.

Now, May was almost certainly never going to lose tonight, the opposition to her from within her own ranks was never likely to be high enough for that, but I for one was expecting the vote against her to be no higher than about sixty. I expected most of the opposition to her to come from the lunatic-Brexiteer-fringe of the Parliamentary Party, and no matter what Jacob Rees-Mogg likes to bluff about it, there really are not that many of them.

Instead, I was genuinely startled to hear that the vote against May was almost double my expectation, thus in treble digits. Or to put it in a way that expresses proportion, over thirty percent of her Parliamentary Party do not believe in her. This Government was already weak and unstable due to the Hung Parliament, and it is now incontrovertibly exposed as brutally divided too.

The margin is not actually narrow, but it is far narrower than it was expected to have been, and the sharp intakes of breath that could be heard all around when the score was announced showed that many Tories themselves are shaken by it.

NOTE: One can make comparisons with Jeremy Corbyn’s victories in the Labour Leadership contests in 2015 and 2016 and argue that the similar proportions show him to be just as weakly placed. But that is not really comparing like-with-like, as tonight was a formal consultation of the party on the performance of the leader, not an actual contest. And the rules for electing the Labour leader are very different from the ones to elect a Conservative leader.

This all leads to some interesting possibilities. We can be sure the Democratic Unionist Party were hoping for a change of leader, so they could resume the post-Election Confidence-&-Supply Arrangement without having to continue dealing with the Prime Minister who lied to them and came back from Brussels with precisely the type of agreement that they cannot support. They would have wanted a new leader elected who would not allow the notorious ‘Brexit Backstop’ arrangement that would effectively establish a customs border in the Irish Sea. But Arlene Foster will instead be frustrated that May will stay as Tory leader for at least another year as things stand. So the DUP will have a very big decision to make in the event of another Vote of No Confidence, this time one in the Government itself in the House of Commons.

Come to that, judging by this result tonight, there may even be some Tory MPs who would now contemplate supporting such a motion too. Significantly less likely, but not as impossible as it seemed this morning.


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