Theresa May's fate has been laid bare – and Corbyn's ideas are being exposed for what they are

It is unfortunate in the extreme that with a prime minister as hopelessly exposed and as hopeless as this, the story must yet again form around the Labour leader

Tom Peck
Wednesday 16 January 2019 21:47 GMT
MPs vote in confidence of Theresa May's government following her Brexit deal defeat

Not since Winston Churchill can the country have had a more Churchillian prime minister. Not for her soaring oratory, because there was none and nor will there ever be. Not for her strategic nous or powers of persuasion. The cupboard is again bare on both those counts.

But Theresa May will go on to the end. She will defend the transparently indefensible, whatever the cost may be. And if this island, or a large part of it, were subjugated and starving... actually let’s not dwell on that bit.

She is indestructible. She is the cockroach in nuclear winter. She is the algae that survives on sulphuric gas from sub-aquatic volcanoes, seven miles beneath the daylight. She is the Nokia 5210.

She has suffered the biggest defeat by any prime minister in the House of Commons history. She has thrown away her party’s parliamentary majority, and she stands singularly unable to deliver the only thing she is in office to do.

But she ended the second apparently “historic” day in a row almost with a spring in her step.

For the second time in 24 hours, MPs filed up and down the floor of the house and in through the voting lobbies, walking the short yards to generate the number that, we continue to be led to believe, will shape our futures.

And for the second day in a row, history took a long time to arrive, and when it did, it was exactly as expected. On Tuesday, 117 of Theresa May’s MPs might have resoundingly rejected her Brexit deal, the sole achievement of her time in office.

But on Wednesday, the idea they would trade her in for Jeremy Corbyn was given the short shrift it was always destined for.

The Democratic Unionist Party hold the trump cards in all this. Once upon a time, they might have considered ratting out the Conservatives for a Labour Party that had, say, brokered the Good Friday Agreement (though they did walk out on it). But one that has, as Theresa May pointed out, “invited IRA terrorists to the House of Commons the week after they murdered an MP” is kind of beyond the pale.

Theresa May was secure. She lives to fight another day, in the style of, well, I can only think of one analogy. About 150 years ago, University College London embalmed the head of their founder, Jeremy Bentham, stuffed his body with hay, dressed it in his own clothes and put him in a glass box. He is still brought in to College Council meetings and holds voting rights.

For the second day in a row, being present at a moment of great history was not so much something to tell the grandkids about, but rather a desperate battle to attempt to commit something, anything, to the memory banks, in the fear you might one day be asked about it.

Already, I cannot say with any certainty if I was there. No words were uttered that lingered long in the memory. Jeremy Corbyn did another angry, staccato attack on Theresa May’s “botched and damaging deal”. To listen to the man rise to his high conclusion is to hear The Flight of the Bumblebee played on a piano with a single key.

Just after Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May had a passable job at listing the many reasons he should never be allowed to be prime minister. The Salisbury attack, in which he wanted to “send the findings of our own scientists to be checked by Russia”, was one of her main examples.

But it was an act of political contortion from both sides: a mad cross-dressing ballet taking place in zero gravity. On opening the motion, Jeremy Corbyn told May, “Any prime minister who has been voted against by so many of her MPs should resign.” Two years ago, he lost the confidence of 80 per cent of his MPs, but carried on. Calling a general election would not be “in the national interest”, she told him. But apparently it was in the national interest 18 months ago, when it was also in her interest, or so she thought.

Anna Soubry rose to ask the leader of the opposition why, if the government was so terrible, is he “six points behind in the polls?” An interesting point, that, when the chap you’re challenging is asking for a general election your own side won’t grant.

After May’s moment of victory, and the predictably deafening cheers from her own MPs (who were so devastatingly undermining her just 24 hours ago), she rose to say she would be inviting Jeremy Corbyn to Number 10 that night.

I understand that invitation has already been declined. It is unfortunate in the extreme that with a prime minister as hopelessly exposed and as hopeless as this, the story must yet again form around the Labour leader.

On the vanishingly unlikely chance he gets the general election he so craves, he still wouldn’t say what his policy on Brexit would be in that election. Only that “we are a democratic party and we would listen to the members”.

The members want the second referendum you are fighting tooth and nail not to give them, Jeremy.

As Theresa May’s fate is laid bare, the wizard’s curtain behind which Jeremy Corbyn has hidden for so long is being pulled back in agonising slow motion.

There’s nothing there. Just staccato anger, abstract nouns and absolutely no idea what to do.

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