FORTY is a significant number, or it ought to be. I have to confess I don’t understand the maths but I do understand the religious – that is, the Christian – symbolism.
After his baptism by John the Baptist, as everyone who went to Sunday school should know, Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness. During this time, Satan appeared to him and tried to tempt him. Only after Jesus refused each of his temptations – of the world, the flesh and the devil – did Satan depart and Jesus was able to return to Galilee to begin his ministry. The biblical narrative can be found in three of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke.
I read it again as a parable for Mrs May. If she, or Michael Gove, are following this column they might be wise to do so too.
Neither over the last 40 days, or before that, has she chosen to resist any of the temptations proffered her, one must infer, by the civil servants she depends on (and maybe by the odd Cabinet Minister), of power, hubris (vanity and ego) and falsehood.
Nor will the Times and the growing chorus of those now demanding her resignation convince her of that by repeating that other whopper – that she is in office but not in power. They are wrong. While she remains in office she indeed retains a great deal of power, to thwart all other plans and people apart from her own.
This is the reason why, after 40 days and 40 nights effectively holed up in either Number Ten or Chequers, she still refuses to admit that the game’s up or even that she has been timed out. That the organ that once spoke for the nation, the Times, has decreed that ‘she has surely run out of road’ simply doesn’t cut any ice with her.
The appearance yesterday evening of the wily Michael Gove on Sky News which confirmed he at least is still batting for her, made that clear. Just as the leaderboard went up – with Boris pledging his soul to the NHS (again), Jeremy and Dominic parading their wives, Rudd and Truss their feminist credentials – May’s new Svengali outperformed them with a neat leap on to the moral high ground: ‘Theresa May will be prime minister for a while to come yet,’ he reprimanded gauche cabinet colleagues clamouring for the crown before the king is dead, adding severely that Mrs May should be given the ‘time, space and dignity to leave in a way that she believes is right’.
Understand, was the clear message to all from Number Ten, there is no intention that she will stand down before she ‘very graciously’ said that she would. That won’t be until the withdrawal agreement is ratified.
And far from the cross-party talks being doomed to break down, listen to and note the coolest of cool Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s exact words as he composedly intoned it was important to ‘give Labour that time’ for the party ‘to come to terms with the need to deliver Brexit’.
We can guess the terms Mrs May will come to – capitulation on the customs union, workers’ rights and a ’confirmatory’ vote. Why not? May has already shown she holds her party in complete contempt and believes, like all autocrats, that she and only she speaks for the people.
She is quite capable of telling us that this is what 17.4million people voted for – especially if Mr Gove uses and abuses his great gift with words in another parliamentary performance of his life. And no, don’t imagine Barnier will cause difficulties for the UK over this particular add-on package.
So there you have it. Another false alarm and another confirmation that Kim May is not just in office but still very much in power. There’s no end to it once you thwart democratic convention and become immune to criticism.
Here at TCW we just carry on counting, and as we said:
Today is Day 40 . . .
Update: BBC Radio Four Today programme reports this morning Olly Robbins is en route to Barnier to discuss possible changes to ‘political declaration’.