Could it be even remotely possible that Theresa May is enjoying herself? It’s not yet been a week since the details of her deal with the EU were made public and the entirety of the political firmament united against her. And yet, seasoned May-watchers, a number among which I have no choice but to count myself, are struggling to recall if they’ve ever seen her more upbeat.
And the reason for this is clear. Theresa May has seen this crisis looming on the horizon for some time, but what she cannot have foreseen is the traditional Theresa May role in proceedings being snatched away by the other side. For it is everyone but her who is so hopelessly buggering everything up. It is her opponents, not her, taking positions of immense strength and transforming them with spectacular effect into positions of immense weakness, while she is just, with her own terrifying certainty, “getting on with the job”.
Monday morning marked day six of Theresa May’s Brexit Hard Sell. And as she stood on stage in London, speaking to the Confederation of British Industry and taking questions afterwards, not since her saboteur-crushing days had she appeared to have it so good.
These were meant to be the impossible hours. But the magnificent crapness of her rivals has turned them into a cakewalk.
Jacob Rees-Mogg’s “European Research Group”, which likes to brand itself as a kind of hard Brexit crime family, has turned out to possess all the ruthlessness and cunning of a David Schwimmer lookalike stealing half a crate of lager from a Blackpool supermarket.
It’s long been rumoured that one or two people in the European Research Group aren’t actually in it just for the research. And it seems unlikely that its future output is going to be looked upon favourably in other peer-reviewed journals, now that Steve Baker, its self-appointed “organiser-in-chief”, has spent a full week publicly researching how to count to 48 and been found so utterly wanting.
The real-life Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort, now begins his self-help seminars by instructing the exorbitantly high fee-paying attendees to “sell me this pen”. It is not known whether anyone has attempted the Theresa May strategy, which is to say, “Look, we all know it’s a broken biro with the end chewed off but have you seen the alternatives?” before pointing to a room full of chimpanzees, fingers jammed firmly where they shouldn’t be, daubing the walls with a curious substance that, while toxic, is at least biodegradable.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has written his column again, setting out a “vision for Brexit” which now exists only to amuse himself at the fact that The Daily Telegraph is paying him five grand a time for it. There was a time that Johnson was described as that rare thing, the “rockstar politician”, and he certainly has the family life to back it up. So perhaps it’s for the crowd’s benefit, not his, that Brexit’s Chesney Hawkes sticks so faithfully to the only tune he’s got.
Michael Gove has decided, years after leading the Brexit campaign, that the battle against plastic straws cannot be fought without him, and that, well, it turns out cleaning up your own mess is a lot less fun than making it and is therefore a job best left to others.
And then there’s Jeremy Corbyn, who on Sunday morning, on live television, told Sky News that Labour’s vision for Brexit – the one that not even Labour thinks is possible, as it was only dreamt up in order to make David Davis account for his empty promises – could in fact be negotiated “during the implementation period”, which is so unfathomably stupid that not even David Davis has tried it.
So when Theresa May looks the part, sounds the part, and faces down tough questions from a “businessman” in the crowd who turns out to be the partner of one of her own MPs, Anne Marie Morris, who has already sent in a letter of no confidence against her, could it perhaps be that she “is” the part?
If we are witnessing a hyper-extended sales pitch for Theresa May’s deal, which we are, you do not need too long a memory to recall how these things have a tendency to end.
This, in case you have forgotten, is a woman who fought an election by allowing a personality cult to be built around her despite not having a personality, which came with predictably devastating results.
But then, like Willy Loman before her, May was selling only herself – a product nobody, it turned out, wanted to buy. This time round she is selling anything but herself. “This is not about me; it is about the national interest,” she has said, many times over, and it’s looking like it might work.
Also greatly in her favour is that this sales tour will not be spared the input of her erstwhile “ideas man” Nick Timothy, who, having done more than anyone else to deliver his country to this point of national and indeed international despair, now writes columns in which none of it is his fault.
Given the Conservatives are doing their level best to reinvent themselves as an Apprentice tribute act, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Timothy is the one who has been clearly seen, glancing David Brent-like at the cameras, loading human s*** into the artisanal sausage machine, and is now in the boardroom blaming the failure of the task on whoever it was that went 80p over budget on tarragon.
None of which is to say the prospects of Theresa May’s survival are much improved. Her deal must still find its way through the House of Commons, and however many of her own MPs try and fail in their attempts to launch a coup against her, there is still currently no chance of that happening.
But, hang on a minute. If MPs don’t back her deal, they’d have to back no deal, which also seems fantastically unlikely. You don’t have to wander too far down that path to get to a second referendum and a vote to remain, and that would be the point at which the Brexiteers accidentally killed off Brexit. It would be a fitting end if nothing else. Not least as Theresa May could even be left standing.
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