In the end, she was the only woman left standing. Over the Easter weekend, Mrs May called in to Downing Street her senior Cabinet colleagues. David Davis, Philip Hammond and Boris Johnson echoed the views of her inner sanctum – call an election now, destroy Labour and secure the majority you need to complete the Brexit revolution.
May had resisted to the end. Her innate caution and obstinacy trumping the evident attractions of cashing in on a 20-point opinion poll lead and a spatchcocked Labour party led by its least credible leader since the end of the war. Even Michael Foot had more popular appeal (and certainly gravitas) than the perpetual protester of Parliament Square. May will emerge from the carnage of June 8 with a majority approaching 100 and with a mandate to do pretty much what she pleases over Brexit and much more.
As for David Cameron’s much vaunted, uber-PC Fixed Term Parliaments Act, pretentiously designed to curb the power of cynical politicians (quite unlike Dave and George), that has evaporated faster than a Nick Clegg manifesto pledge. Old-fashioned power politics has triumphed once more.
So May bowed to the primeval forces that shape every administration. She was persuaded she could find a sufficiently high-minded form of words to erase previous promises to soldier on to 2020 with a tiny majority, which put her at constant risk of defeat and humiliation. She has, of course, made the right call. And she was perfectly entitled to insist that her courtiers first made the case for the queen of all U-turns. Only the leftists of the BBC are making a fuss about her switch and even that won’t last more than a few days.
Cerberus predicted a month ago that there would be an early election – in 2018 – because the PM’s in-tray was too daunting to survive her paltry majority. She has, in the end, chosen not to risk the erosion of her authority through a year’s trench warfare over the Great Repeal Bill and related legislation.
What now? One thing can be predicted with certainty. Jeremy Corbyn will no longer be Labour leader after the middle of June. His party will pay a dreadful price for his inability to read the political runes, his 1970s intransigence, his lack of imagination, his failure to inspire and connect with the common people. Labour still has its blasted citadels, but they are fewer. It could lose 50 seats and be reduced to a rump of 180 MPs, implying a decade-long exile from power, even obliteration. The next Prime Minister (after Mrs May) will be a Conservative.
As for a replacement, we will have to endure the reign of another nonentity before he (or she/it) gives way to a Labour leader who realises the job is to reflect the hopes and fears of the great mass of ordinary people who form the backbone of the country – ie the multitudes who don’t live in Islington or Hackney, survive on vegetables, ride bicycles and sport beards.
With the election won and a comfortable majority established, the vicar’s daughter can get on with the job in hand. Brexit will be delivered – on time and to budget – though a big majority will allow her the luxury of facing down the harder-edged Brexiteers in her ranks – a gamble she should not push too far.
As for the rest of her agenda, still glimpsed only dimly through the clouded glass of her chronic hesitancy, that plays second fiddle to the historic EU farewell of 2019. Talk of a “shared society” remains just that – talk – and as Laura Perrins pointed out here yesterday, the grammar school revival has been already hijacked by the Left. Harold Wilson, speaking of comprehensives, promised a grammar school education for all in the 1960s. Mrs May, speaking of grammars, promises a comprehensive school education for all (because that is what you get when you set entry quotas based in income).
Radical reforming ideas are out there – not least a genuine post-Brexit bonfire of business taxes and regulation and a Singapore-style economic liberalisation – but they will have to wait for the rise of a new generation of free market Conservatives unconstrained by the party’s timid orthodoxies and unafraid of the poor opinion of the state broadcaster and its blinkered, pinko legions.
But give her her due. One thing at a time. Women may be famed for multi-tasking but Mrs May does one thing at a time. A clean, swift Brexit should be her legacy and who can cavil at that? Afterwards, we can get down to some real politics.