The editors of this site spare no effort on our readers’ behalf.
Why, we have even offered you exact figures from today’s confidence ballot. 200 votes for Theresa May and 117 against her, we wrote this afternoon, would be a “Problematic Win”: “once the opposition to May climbs above a third of the electorate, it becomes harder to assert legitimacy”.
So it has proved. A third of the 317 Conservative MPs is 106. So 117 is a bit north of that – 37 per cent, close on two of them in five. Furthermore, one must take the payroll vote into account. Either 62 per cent of the non-payroll voted against her, an indisputable majority. Or one must let that percentage fall…but raise the proportion of the payroll that opposed her, pari passu.
All in all, this result isn’t bad enough to spur her Cabinet into removing her, as Margaret Thatcher’s did to the then Prime Minister in 1990 (Were its members less timid and had the Tories a majority, matters might be different, especially were the Government not embroiled in the most important negotiation of modern times.)
But nor is it good enough to free Theresa May from the ERG, their allies and the DUP – or from the Conservative Norwegians and second referendum campaigners, for that matter. And since her vote is a bit lower than expected and the opposition a bit higher, the ERG whips can take a modest bow. Having apparently predicted the result to within three votes, they have salvaged their reputation for numeracy.
The ERG claims 80 members – a total about which we’ve always been a bit sniffy. But the lower the number really is, the more support they’ve put on today – in the wake of a rushed ballot, the timing of which caught the group on the hop; of a co-ordinated Twitter blitz on the Prime Minister’s behalf, and of a carefully-crafted appearance by her outside Downing Street, in which she pushed claims about the contest that were, shall we say, debatable.
You will say reply May scooped 63 per cent of the vote, and that her leadership can’t now be challenged for a year. Quite so. However, those facts simply open up a new range of problems. She will have wanted to win by a margin large enough to justify bringing her Brexit deal back to the Commons. It is very hard to see how this drab result can be treated as a springboard to that effect.
But if it can’t be used to threaten the Commons with No Deal (as in: “my deal or no deal”), it can scarcely be used to threaten the Commons with no Brexit either (“my deal or no Brexit”). These numbers don’t give her a platform solid enough on which to pivot to postponing Article 50, or a Second Referendum, or Norway Plus.
The Queen is the most powerful piece on the chess board. And the Prime Minister is the most powerful member of the Government, usual rules permitting. May retains the title, but cannot move except by putting her side into check. Her internal opponents can’t no confidence her for the next twelve months. But she can’t win votes or get legislation through without their help.
Across the board this evening, she and the pawns and knights of the ERG glower and frown at each other. We have stalemate.
And all the while, Labour watch and wait for the day when they can take on the Queen and her allies themselves – if she’s still in place then.