Opinion: Beyond May
At the end of the snap election on June 8th 2017, Theresa May seemed to have lost a her grip on a fragile government. She was holding onto her government majority by the very tips of her fingers; jumping into bed with some singularly ambitious DUP MPs; and it looked as though the vultures were circling on her role as head of Her Majesty’s Government.
One year and four months later, perhaps shockingly to some, we have the same Prime Minister, and the same speculation regarding how long Ms May can last. The rumour-mongering on who will become the next PM has changed only slightly. A year ago, front runners included Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, both of whom seem to have fallen by the wayside in their quest for power: Gove into the abyss of a minor cabinet role; Johnson, considered by many a minor celebrity with his signature hair and bumbling ways, resigning his post as foreign secretary and creating controversy with his comments such as those on burkas. Two ambitious MPs has now become three, with the entrance of another controversial candidate, Jacob Rees-Mogg. Rees-Mogg shares strong links to Boris, a friend he has backed recently against his own party.
This interesting new ‘powerhouse’ between Boris and Rees-Mogg should not be underestimated or written off as a comic backbench duo. Despite Boris playing the buffoon and Rees-Mogg described as MP for the Eighteenth century for his less-than-modest upbringing, these are the men with the ways and means to form a new government from the schisms in the Tory party. Rees-Mogg has the money to bankroll a quest to the top of British politics. His affluence is rarely hidden from public view, with tens of millions in assets and hundreds of thousands in yearly earnings making him one of the richest MPs in Parliament. (P336) Together, Boris and Rees-Mogg represent an influential force within the conservative party, both having been part of various groups and committees, both as foreign secretary (Boris) and a member of the cornerstone group and Chair for the European research group (Rees-Mogg).
The fluidity of political infighting has helped keep May in power. Allegiances have changed many times, something Boris found out first hand when former friend Gove 'torpedoed' his bid for powerand handed the reigns to the incumbent PM. Grudges appear fleeting in the face of all the political games at play and one such game is the farce of Brexit. The government’s long drawn out attempts to create something tangible have been both ineffective and drawn-out. Boris’ own resignation from the cabinet and the scathing letter to the PM emphasised the divide between government policy makers on Brexit negotiations. Returning to the back-benches of Parliament may be a move backwards in terms of job status for Boris. However, returning to sit alongside MPs with similar Eurosceptical views and ambition for power such as Rees-Mogg must be more appealing than being part of a government blamed with failing to provide a successful Brexit. By removing himself from the cabinet Boris is disassociating himself from and betting against any success of May’s government. This is a move similar to David Cameron’s exit from Downing Street after the referendum result went against his personal views on the EU.
Ms May has been left with an unenviable task and an unstable government. This has been made easier by infighting not being an exclusively Tory trait; the Labour Party have been equally fractious. Anti-semitism has been the controversy of recent weeks, that and party infighting resulting in votes of no confidence in some constituencies which has led to many Labour MPs fearing for their place in Corbyn’s new ‘leftist’ Labour. Denying that there is an ‘agenda’ to move out centrists is not enough, many would argue it is time Corbyn took a stronger hold of his party in the chaos of Tory infighting and splits. Labour won some significant victories from the 2017 election, weakening the Tory’s hold on government, but have not yet used this new-found power to consolidate and present a strong opposition before the Tories unify themselves.
While half the Tory party seems to be heading further to the right and Corbyn’s Labour moves further to the left, the only party intent on remaining central within the political spectrum is Vince Cable’s Liberal Democrats. Cable believes he can tempt other MPs in joining the Lib Dems ‘to create a more powerful force in the centre ground of politics’. It is a fanciful offer, one unlikely to be taken up by a great deal of MPs. Cable is on a rocky path, leading his party back from the coalition government of 2010 which left so many manifesto promises unfulfilled, and led to an abysmal voting result for the Lib Dems in the 2015 elections.
All three parties are in turmoil of sorts and the fourth, UKIP, is thankfully in a state of total regression. It is hard to imagine which party will address its issues first. For now at least, Theresa May’s fellow party members seem happy to throw stones from afar and dig away at the foundations of her government; watch Mrs May fall off the proverbial cliff that is Brexit; and perhaps pick up the pieces before the Labour Party do.