The mostly commonly cited trope in Westminster these days goes along the lines of “Queen May”. The prime minister is so in command of all she surveys that she is becoming infallible. This ignores the problems coming her way in regards to the Union, but unlike what some pundits are saying, I don’t that even in a worst-case scenario anything on this front would seriously damage her ability to remain in Number 10. Most Tories care much less than about the Union in reality than they are generally willing to admit in public, so even if Scotland voted for independence, I doubt seriously that Tory MPs would call for her resignation. What she should be vigilant about, however, is an emerging narrative that seeks to blame a bad Brexit, one that goes horribly pear-shaped, completely on May and Hammond.
A great example of this is a Spectator commentary piece yesterday, rather brutally titled, “If the Tories can mess up a Budget, how will they handle Brexit?” The article is unrelenting in its scathing tone.
“This fiasco will be watched with amazement in European capitals. If Theresa May’s government caves under pressure, then her opponents in Brexit talks will apply pressure. If her red lines can be rubbed out after a few more days’ reflection, how seriously can anyone take anything that she says in such negotiations?”
It is odd to see a Tory sympathising outlet go at the party with such vigour, but completely understandable in some respects – after yesterday’s appearance at PMQs, which has to be the worst performance by any leader of the opposition in the history of the convention, Corbyn is even more clearly hopeless than ever. They feel no heat from Labour, so they can have a free hit at the current Tory government without worrying that it might lead to a Labour government as a result. In other words, this budget could mark the start of Tory infighting that will intensify greatly after the 2020 general election has delivered a massive majority for the Conservatives, after which the opposition will be even weaker and more divided.
Theresa May should be mindful of all this. It wasn’t long ago that George Osborne was the supposedly the master of all he surveyed as well, on an unstoppable conveyor belt towards becoming the next prime minister. Things can change in politics very quickly – even when Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the opposition.
It is clear that the Eurosceptic right of the Conservative Party is very happy with May – for now. But they are very clearly laying the groundwork for throwing her under the bus if the Brexit negotiations deviate at all from where they very specifically expect them to go. If it’s a choice between blaming Brexit and blaming anyone or anything else, the choice is obvious for these guys.