THERESA May’s moral and mental fitness to hold high office must now, more than Brexit, be the most pressing question for debate. How such an individual, whom it is hard to see getting beyond middle management level in any corporation, rose to be Prime Minister in the first place is another matter.
Her obdurate refusal to resign and take the only honourable course in the face of defeat will be analysed by psychologists as well as historians for years to come.
When in British politics has a Prime Minister lost such a crucial vote by so much – twice – and not resigned, Andrew Neil rightly asked after the vote on Tuesday night.
‘By all historic Westminster standards to lose by 149 votes is a huge amount . . . the House has now rejected Mrs May’s deal twice . . . the Prime Minister has lost twice, she’s lost by a lot, it’s the issue the has dominated her administration, but she’s lost. Why did she not announce her resignation tonight?’
Whatever the reason, the moral case for her ejection now is unanswerable: a moral coward of the first order, in office she has lied and lied and lied and lied, now sinking so low that she is even voting against her own manifesto to take ‘No Deal’ off the table, thereby betraying the referendum result and destroying the last vestiges of faith in what we now laughingly call our democracy.
Mentally, too, assertions have long been made in below-the-line comments as to whether she may suffer from a psychological condition that deems her unfit for high office, and similar hints are increasingly finding their way into mainstream opinion pieces. Theresa May, Matthew Paris concludes, not Brexit, is the death star of British politics. To his surprise ‘there is no difference between the pictures of her that Remainers and Brexiteers paint’.
Her behaviour betrays an obsessive rigidity very far from the strength of character her compromised allies pretend it is. Granted, most people who want and get to be Prime Minister are likely to pretty odd in one way or another – indeed a position that makes such demands requires someone pretty extraordinary to fill it – but it is also true, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, that those who desire power the most are the least suitable to attain it. As Kathy said recently in TCW, Theresa May is power-crazed and clearly bereft of honour, yet she will hold on as long as she can no matter what the destruction she wreaks on the country.
May is still Prime Minister for one very good reason: she exemplifies the qualities her ghastly party most admires and rewards: she is, like so many of her colleagues, ruthlessly personally ambitious, only more so; cowardly and unprincipled, only more so; cynical and visionless, only more so. Let us call her über Tory.
In contrast, people of genuine principle in the Conservatives find themselves sidelined. The party has always been extremely suspicious of convictions and routinely humiliates those who hold them: Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker struggled to get their ERG colleagues to submit letters of no confidence in May’s leadership. When the putsch finally arrived, it is rumoured it was engineered by her own supporters. The Tories duly refused to replace a leader it was clear was driving the country towards total disaster. Seeing Brexit as a poisoned chalice which will destroy their own ambitions and knowing that he who wields the knife rarely wears the crown, even today her Cabinet won’t act against her.
If nothing else, her party will always act out of self-preservation: faced with any other opposition leader than Jeremy Corbyn she would surely have been toast a long time ago. Both parties in our rotten duopoly have completely succumbed to their own eternal vices: the Tories to cynicism and ambition, Labour to ideological madness.
The one ray of light from this sorry tale is that Theresa May’s leadership of Brexit has finally revealed our shamocratic system of governance for what it is. For that, I suppose, we can at least be thankful.