'She's on death row' - Despite show of unity, Tories know it's a question of when, not if for Theresa May

Posted On: 
13th June 2017

It was all contrition and unity at the 1922 Committee last night, but Tory MPs are biding their time for a new leader.

Theresa May leaving Downing St to attend the 1922 Committee
Credit: 
PA

The room was packed to the rafters for Theresa May's big mea culpa in front of her parliamentary colleagues.

The hordes of MPs and peers jostling for space on a hot afternoon added to an already febrile atmosphere, which the Prime Minister did her best to calm down.

While her public tack since the election has been to carry on as if nothing's happened, May was contrite and apologetic in front of colleagues. She said sorry for the 'Dementia Tax' fiasco and offered "support" for former colleagues booted out by the electorate last Thursday. Plum jobs at a revamped CCHQ all round, perhaps?

"I got us into this mess, I'll get us out of it," was her pitch, though her offer to "serve as long as you want me" probably got closer to the reality of her plight.

There was talk of a change of style, and a reference to the quickfire appointment of her new chief of staff Gavin Barwell, whose name got a chorus of approval from the assembled backbenchers.

And while Boris Johnson and others took to Twitter to declare their backing for May, that looks like nothing so much as an outward demonstration of loyalty designed to avoid destabilising the party any more than it already is.

Whatever the expressions of public support, May will shortly run up against the remorseless arithmetic of a wafer-thin, DUP-backed Commons majority.

'SHE'S ON DEATH ROW'

One senior Tory who attended put the shows of support down to simple self-interest. "It was, as you would expect, the tribe have decided its interests are not best served by dispatching her now and therefore the tribe have quite rightly rallied round."

Another offered an even more trenchant analysis: "These meetings are always a sort of obscene spectacle of ambitious colleagues trying to outdo each other in fanatical loyalty within hours of a reshuffle, but more seasoned observers will have realised that she is on death row and it's a matter of when not if."

Others pronounced May's appearance a qualified success, under the circumstances. "I think it really dampened down the clamour for her to go immediately but I don't know how long it'll buy her just because the fundamental maths hasn't changed, but there was a change of style and more emotion," one MP told PoliticsHome.

"Most people are still hedging their bets but there's enough who said 'we've got to stick by you' that I think it was a success."

So how long can she last? "Maybe till the end of the Brexit process, and then she can be saddled with the result," was one MP's take.

All of which suggests that if May is to last beyond a few months she'll her colleagues' impeccable instincts for survival to thank, rather than any residual respect for their now nominal leader.