“I’m not a quitter” Theresa May has told the British press who have decamped to Japan to follow her tour in east Asia, when asked if she would be stepping down before the next election. “Yes” she answered when it was enquired of her whether or not she would remain Tory leader going into the next general election.
This has created predictable waves in the UK. Yet there is no way that May is going to go beyond 2019 unless some miraculous change in both her style and the way the public responds to her during that period of time occurs, either of which are hard to imagine. No, she’s going after the Article 50 period elapses; she simply doesn’t want to seem like she’s marking time until then, so when asked if she is hanging around indefinitely she has to answer in the affirmative. Otherwise, what would she say? The truth, which is that she is still in the position simply because no one else wants it right now and her penance for calling the election and then blowing it is to draw as much of the poison from the wound that will be Brexit disappoint towards herself personally?
This raises a much more interesting question, one that few are asking at present: is May hanging around until 2019 a good or a bad thing for the Conservative Party? Most Tories assume it’s a good thing automatically – but when you ask their reasons for this, they tend to fall apart. Some cite the need to avoid another election anytime soon. But a change of leadership wouldn’t necessitate a general election, particularly under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, so that’s a red herring. Some point to the need I have already mentioned, for May to be the one to carry as much of the blame as possible when Brexit is an inevitable disappointment, at least at first (what happens when you promise people a golden dawn).
But there is another viewpoint. Under May’s leadership, the Tories came perilously close to losing power – to Jeremy Corbyn, no less. Shouldn’t the party in government seek to renew itself sooner rather than later? It seems to me that while going five years certainly could be the fate of this parliament – in fact, it is the most likely thing to happen – it could still fall apart due to unforeseen circumstances. The Tories might be wasting time now bedding in a new leader that could come back to haunt them some day soon; they might even have to face a snap election with May still as leader.
It is up to the Tories what they want to do in this regard. Yet I think they should probably be having a broader discussion about whether May should stay in post or not than the one that is currently taking place.