Wednesday 16 January 2019

May may not be as safe as she looks

I’ve posted previously on the way in which our own priors can colour our interpretation of facts and events; such interpretations can never be entirely objective.  Whilst to most of us, yesterday’s vote in the House of Commons was a resounding defeat, there are those around the Prime Minister who seem determined to interpret it in a rather different way.  
What to one person might appear to be an enormous Tory rebellion might well look to another as having successfully flushed all the rebels into the open where they can be picked off.  And it is indeed plausible that at least some of those 118 Tories who voted against the deal might be persuaded to vote for it when, as seems likely, it (or something very similar) is re-presented to parliament.  There is a slight flaw in that analysis, however; amongst the 198 Tories who voted for the deal, there will undoubtedly be some who did so out of a sense of loyalty to their government, knowing that it would be defeated anyway.  They may not feel the same obligation again and keeping all of them onside next time round is as big a challenge as winning round those who voted against the first time.
Would May really be silly enough to present essentially the same package to parliament again?  All the signs are that that is exactly what she proposes to do.  It’s clear that her offer to talk to her own backbenchers as well as opposition MPs on the next steps is largely limited to asking them what assurances they need before they will support the deal; she has already made it clear that her own red lines are not up for negotiation.  I used the word ‘asking’ – given her style and approach to date, it’s more likely to be an imperious demand that they fall into line and do as she says.
The Brexiteers continue to live in that fantasy land where the Irish know their place and the EU27 over-ride the interests of a member state in pursuit of the interests of German car makers, despite the fact that those car-makers themselves have already made it very clear that, if push comes to shove, they value the achievement which the single market represents more than they value the reduction in sales to the UK.  David Davis continues to push the line that the EU always manage to find an acceptable deal at the last minute.  He’s right of course; but he overlooks the fact that this is in relation to deals between the members where the interests of all need to be accommodated somehow, and not in relation to deals with outsiders where it is the interests of the EU member states which will always be paramount.
None of us knows what happens next, but a new election looks unlikely – and would resolve nothing anyway.  If Labour were to swing behind the idea of a second vote, the dynamic could change, but Corbyn still looks like a major obstacle to that.  Personally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the PM were to resign and her party move quickly to the election of a new leader who could shake off the restrictions of May’s red lines.  She may be feeling secure after having seen off the vote of no confidence by her own MPs, but no PM in history has ever seen his or her central policy rejected like this and been able to carry on.  And the Tory party’s history of leadership changes owes more to men in grey suits operating behind closed doors than to democratic votes of confidence.  Enough members of the Cabinet may yet decide that any progress now depends on her removal.

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