When Theresa May spoke to the 1922 Committee in the aftermath of the general election, she said that she will “serve you as long as you want me” – a statement that combined common sense, humility and self-preservation. By avoiding any suggestion that she wants to go on and on and on, as Margaret Thatcher once put it, she won herself the political time and space to try to rebuild her position. And if she is to stand any chance of leading the Party into the next election, that is what she and her team should duly do.
It follows that we believed that all she would achieve, by publicly changing her position last week, would be to open up a question that she had previously closed down, and hand political ammunition to her internal critics. So it proved over the weekend, as her Party opponents complained about the switch to the media off the record. It isn’t fatal, but she could have done without the trouble.
Our survey finding today won’t help either, given what she said in Japan. Last month, 51 per cent of those party members polled said that she should quit before 2022. This month, the finding is almost exactly the same (51.2 per cent last month; 51.8 this: so close as to make no meaningful difference).
Which suggests that the slight recovery in her position last month from the month before has stalled. As matters stand, our judgement is that as matters stand she doesn’t have enough backing within either Party members or Conservative MPs to see her words of last week through. However, there is no consensus at all within the Party on who should replace her, and most Tory MPs (and activists) don’t want to risk another election soon. Which gives her the chance to rebuild her position, if she and her team can take it.