Are we living in a one-party state? Although last week at the Tory conference in Birmingham there was no triumphalism, just quiet satisfaction that Mrs May had taken so readily to the job, the question is hard to avoid. Just look at the state of the other parties.
Labour is mired in the most appalling internecine strife. Hardly a day goes by than Mr Corbyn appoints someone unheard of to his frontbench team, and someone else resigns. With most of his more senior and recognisable MPs refusing to work for him, he has just summoned up a squadron of nobodies to populate his shadow cabinet. Now there is talk of a ‘shadow shadow cabinet” made up of moderates bitterly opposed to his student union politics.
Only yesterday, two Labour whips resigned and others are said to be planning to follow suit after Corbyn sacked one of the few pros on his team – Chief Whip Rosie Winterton. The party is still polling around 30 per cent, but this translates into an overall Tory majority of 80 at the next election and around 60 sitting Labour MPs getting their P45s from the electorate.
Tim Farron squeaks plaintively from the sidelines, but with a parliamentary party the size of a people carrier and a poll rating to match, no one really cares if he wants a referendum replay. Electoral Calculus is predicting that the Lib Dems will lose seats at the next election from their lofty position of eight MPs right now.
As for Ukip, it is in a terrible mess. It is beginning to look like one of those Arab states that descend into savagery once the strongman (Farage), who has held the show together for years, is removed. It is patently obvious that Steven Woolfe is its only figure with the ideas and charisma to unite its warring factions, yet he is been systematically undermined by the jealous rabble who make up its so-called leadership. Woolfe is out of hospital after his tempestuous meeting with his fellow MEPs and is no doubt pondering whether running for election in Libya promises a quieter life than trying to impose order on his party’s querulous tribes.
In short, the Conservatives are the only show in town. Political debate and argument will be conducted within the Tory tent for the foreseeable future, placing even greater responsibilities on Mrs May, the party’s leading figures and its rank and file.
As an exercise in political leadership and positioning, May’s speech in Birmingham was near perfection. She offered clarity and decisiveness on Brexit (we will leave in 2019 as a sovereign state once more), cheered traditionalists with her scathing assault on the out of touch, patronising, metropolitan elite (sorry, Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne), elbowed Labour aside by vowing to be the party of the working classes, acknowledged popular discontent over globalisation (which underpinned the Brexit vote), and bashed the bad boys of big business (start with Sir Philip Green and Mike Ashley). As Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian observed, the speech could have been co-written by Ed Miliband and the editor of The Daily Mail.
Mrs May is mistress of all she surveys. To the (far) left of her is a bearded Trot who has not had a single new idea since 1975. Corbyn may be able to summon up the sinews of a new generation of North London Poly Marxists and vegans but his hipsters and their militant feminist wimmin (almost all employed, if at all, in the public sector) are not going to be able to cut it on a wet Wednesday afternoon in Walsall. As for Ukip, its king has abdicated in his moment of triumph and its fox has not only been shot – but hung, drawn and quartered and impaled on the gates of Downing Street.
So what can go wrong? Plenty, of course. Mr Philip Hammond, the dry accountant at the Treasury, is being quietly subversive, letting his acolytes, no doubt smarting at no longer running the show (a la Brown and then Osborne) put the boot into the Brexiteer ministers: Davis (too ‘aggressive’), Boris (‘irresponsible’) and Fox (over-reaching himself). Hammond and the Treasury must be reined in over their obsession with staying a member of the single market. It is not going to happen, not least because the likes of Germany and France will not concede it while allowing the UK control of its borders. What will happen is a Britain spared the shackles of EU membership while still trading tariff-free with the 27-member bloc, not least because that is desperately in the interests of German carmakers and French winemakers.
Brexit apart (and no one should underestimate its existential challenges), Mrs May faces a huge battle with the leftist establishment over her plans to revive grammar schools – a concrete expression of her determination to appeal to the aspirational working classes without the money or the connections to swing a good school for their children. Her Commons majority is tiny, though she is massively helped by the chaos in Labour ranks. In that respect, she has the good fortune of Mrs Thatcher, who was able to drive forward her revolution in the face of a divided Left. Calls for an early election are unlikely to dissipate, particularly if key votes are lost.
Then there is the appalling slaughter in Syria, the continuing terrorist threat from so-called Islamic State, the cynicism and brutality of Putin’s Russia, and the weakness of America, unlikely to be relieved by Hilary Clinton as president. A Trump victory, less likely now, is a leap in the dark.
Mrs May has a lot on her elegant shoulders. One hopes that her Cabinet colleagues and her MPs are up to the task of supporting her.
(Image: UK in Italy)