ANALYSIS: Like Gordon Brown, Theresa May is benefiting from having useless enemies

Posted On: 
12th September 2018

Gordon Brown famously had to deal with at least four attempted coups during his three years as Prime Minister.

Theresa May is facing growing angst on the Tory benches.
Credit: 
PA Images

Happily for the former Labour leader, each one was more cack-handed than the one before.

I wrote about all of them a year ago, shortly after the last hopeless attempt to unseat Theresa May was launched by Grant Shapps in the wake of her Tory conference disaster.

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What I discovered was that for a seemingly unpopular PM to remain in office, they only need to be faced with an incompetent enemy. That being the case, Theresa May is clearly onto a winner.

The Shapps 'coup', in case you had forgotten, involved him trying to persuade enough MPs to send letters of no confidence to 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady, thereby triggering a formal vote.

But his cover was quickly blown and his clumsy attempts at treachery amounted to nothing.

Fast forward 12 months and here we are again. You don't have to try very hard to find Conservative MPs who are deeply unhappy with the Prime Minister, and specifically her attempts to negotiate Brexit.

However, that is a far cry from having the strategy, plan and - most importantly - the nerve to take her down.

We saw yet another Tory party spasm last night when details of the European Research Group's latest meeting were quickly leaked to grateful hacks.

All the talk of the 50 or so MPs present was about how to dethrone May and replace her with a keeper of the true blue Brexiteer flame, we were initially told.

Andrew Bridgen then emerged from a dinner with Number 10 chief of staff Gavin Barwell to breathlessly tell ITV that he had made his unhappiness about the PM clear and that we'd need to "wait and see" whether there would be a coup against her.

We didn't need to wait very long. It soon became clear that only a handful of ERG members had spoken of getting rid of the PM, and even they couldn't agree how best to do it.

Then, Brexiteer big beasts Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis were forced to publicly pledge their loyalty to May, bringing the latest half-baked attempt to defenestrate her to a pretty embarrassing end.

The fundamentals of the situation remain the same. The rebels do not have the numbers to defeat her in a confidence vote, can't agree on an alternative candidate were she to be dethroned, and are a million miles away from having a viable alternative to her Chequers plan.

That is not to say that Theresa May's position is safe, of course. Were the Commons - as looks increasingly likely - to vote down her Brexit deal in the autumn, she would surely have to resign. But for now, the incompetence of her opponents is keeping her in place.