Our last monthly survey found 51 per cent of Party member respondents declaring that Theresa May should stand down as Conservative leader before the next election is due in 2022. 56 per cent took the same view the month before. This month’s survey is being conducted as we write and – it is safe to say without giving too much away – the response will be in the same ball park.
This site’s sense is that the vast majority of Tory MPs take the same view. We have found very few takers off the record for the Prime Minister leading the Party into the next election – and not all that many on.
It follows that if May says that she will do so none the less, as she did yesterday in Japan, the collective media will find no shortage of Conservative MPs prepared to say on background terms that they do not agree. This will be duly reported – which will do nothing either to help stabilise her position or to improve the Party’s.
When she spoke to the 1922 Committee in the election’s immediate aftermath, she told them that “I will serve you as long as you want me.” That was a defensible position as matters stood then, and it remains so now.
ConservativeHome understands that her words yesterday (“I’m not a quitter” she said, echoing Peter Mandelson) weren’t part of a new Downing Street plan. There has been no deliberate decision to change the view put to the 1922 Committee. The Prime Minister was simply answering a snap question from a journalist, which was bound to be put to her sooner or later.
Her position may not be unsalvagable, and there is no crisis – if only because there is no clear successor, and Tory MPs don’t want to risk another election soon. But the answer that she gave is simply unsustainable as matters stand – for the reasons set out above.
If asked in future, she should simply repeat what she said to the 1922 Committee: that she will stay in post for as long as her Party and the country need her. This is not a perfect solution by any means. But under the present circumstances, it will have to do. To try anything else at Party conference, or in the run-up to it, is simply asking for trouble.