The Conservative confidence and supply deal with the DUP is stable, and it gives the Party a formal majority in the Commons. The next election is five years away. The polls show Tory support at 40 per cent or so – a total that David Cameron would have killed for. Essentially, the country is divided into two electoral camps: those who support Jeremy Corbyn, and those who oppose him. There is real fear of a hard left government among a mass of middle ground voters, and until or unless there is a downturn they have no predominant reason to run a check on their voting intentions. The economy has grown since the referendum, contrary to George Osborne’s predictions, and unemployment has fallen. For all the rise in inflation above the growth in wages, Britain has become happier since the Brexit vote.
All of this is not to say that the Government is in a good place, or that it has a coherent plan to escape from it, or that Theresa May’s own position is secure: far from it. But it puts the sackings of Michael Fallon (in effect) and now Priti Patel in perspective. The entrances and exits of Cabinet Ministers provoke Pavolovian excitement in the Westminster Village. Out there in real Britain, most voters couldn’t care less, and many don’t even notice. The Prime Minister could probably lose one a month without any impact on her poll ratings. Nor are most likely to have clocked Boris Johnson’s error over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the charity worker imprisoned in Iran, or his failure to apologise for it (which was worse).
James Frayne is right about the extraordinary range of allegations that has swept Westminser in the wake of the Harvey Weinsten scandals, which range from the untrue through the unscandalous through the contestable through the serious to the grave – such as accusations of rape. Westminster’s reputation is already so poor that the facts and claims won’t change voters’ opinions.
One of those facts is the suicide of Carl Sargeant, the former Minister in the Welsh Government. It is reported that the allegations against him were “related to unwanted attention, inappropriate touching or groping”, that he was not subject to a police investigation at the time of his death, and that he was not informed of the charges against him. While responsibility for killing oneself cannot fairly be blamed on others, the Westminster Village should take a long, hard look at itself. There is nothing the pack enjoys more than a hunt – as yesterday when, on an infinitely more trivial scale, the progress of Priti Patel’s flight to Britain was tracked across Twitter by a mass of journalists and others.
We should all reflect that these stampedes can have consequences – and, yes, that includes this site, though we add that we have not joined in the pursuit of male MPs over the groping of female journalists. We’re told that some other media outlets, in the wake of Sargeant’s death, have called off the chase, at least for the moment.
It is also in the nature of modern news technology to turn dramas into crises, a tendency accelerated here by the concentration of media in one city, London, which leads the pack to ramp up the tempo. Yes, the Government faces a Budget with a Chancellor whose political position is weak. Yes, the Brexit talks may yield an impasse in December, or the EU Withdrawal Bill may get bogged down. And yes, a formal majority isn’t necessarily a workable one, and May doesn’t have the backing in the Commons to undertake the reforms that Britain needs. Indeed, there isn’t a majority for much at all, and there is a limit to what can be done through regulation. Conservative MPs may ask what the point of keeping her in Downing Street is. They may go further, and question what the point of governing in such circumstances is – though very few seem to have an appetite for an election that could return Britain’s first hard left administration ever.
But short of a scandal that takes down several Ministers at once, most of those MPs will grasp that the fate of the Government is in their own hands – as is the Prime Minister’s. Only they can turf her out in the uncertain hope of finding someone better. Goodness knows, it is hard to keep a sense of perspective when Cabinet Ministers are going at a rate of one a week. But it is worth the effort.