Is Theresa May Finally Over?

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The political demise of the UK’s prime minister has been so overpredicted that it’s hard to believe that she might finally be leaving. But the resignation of Andrea Leadsom, May’s minister who managed the Commons, may be the fatal blow. The Times (which has gotten a great deal wrong on Brexit) reports that May’s supporters anticipate she’ll announce her departure after a meeting with Graham Brady, who heads the 1922 Committee. Recall that May managed to get them to hold off on plans to defenestrate her by turning on the tears.

Leadsom is a staunch but not rabid Brexiter. She deemed some new features May added to the withdrawal bill, in particular to let Parliament vote again on holding a second referendum, to come too close to reneging on Brexit. From the Financial Times:

In a fresh blow to Mrs May’s fragile leadership, Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons and a prominent Leave campaigner, resigned from the government on Wednesday evening saying she could no longer accept Mrs May’s Brexit deal.

She said the possibility of a second EU referendum raised this week by the prime minister would be “dangerously divisive” and made clear her opposition to the revamped EU withdrawal agreement bill that Mrs May plans to put to parliament.

I must say I feel sorry for May. Even though she did a terrible job, it’s hard to imagine any of the serious contenders for prime minister would have done anything other than a different type of terrible job. And we may be about to see that proven out if as is widely expected, Boris Johnson becomes prime minister.

As we are seeing now, both of the major parties are too fundamentally split on Brexit for anything other than an inspired and energetic leader to have steered a path through the problem, and even then, it may not have been possible. Recall that for better part of two years after the Brexit vote, Fleet Street was braying with virtually one voice about how simple Brexit would be, how the EU was terrified of the loss of exports to the UK and of a crashout. And even if the Government had been able to hear otherwise, there was no one left in the civil service with the expertise and credibility to say otherwise.

One school of historical thought rejects the “great man” theory, and instead argues that circumstances create opportunities for exceptional action and people with the needed skills and ambitions manage to find their way into them. I have trouble with that view, since I don’t see the historical necessity of a Talleyrand, who nevertheless was enormously influential, nor do I see AOC somehow stepping into a role. And Obama ignored a critical three month window of opportunity when he could have made FDR scale reforms, and chose instead to reconstitute the status quo ante as much as possible.

But I do see some elements of truth to this line of thinking with Brexit. Brexit wound up being the end game of the Thatcherite revolution that was central to the Tories and the Blairites accepted but tried to make a bit less mean-spirited. No one of any consequence in the UK countered the relentless Tory scapegoating of the EU for the damage done by Conservative austerity. And a sore point with many working class Brits in the UK’s rust belt, that of the influx of Eastern European immigrants, was actually UK scheme that backfired. The UK pushed hard for EU enlargement, meaning the admission of Eastern European countries, to dilute the influence of Germany and France.

So whoever chose to be Prime Minister and set the Brexit time bomb ticking (which would have to have happened at some point, although May’s rush to send in the Article 50 notice was one of her major mistakes) would be destined to preside over a colossal mess. However, the distinguishing feature of May’s time in No. 10, her astonishing ability to take pain and fight off challenges, was enabled by the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which made it far more difficult to dissolve Parliament. Under the old rules, May would have been gone long ago. But the result may have been a series of coalition governments, or alternatively, a coalition that couldn’t agree on anything regarding Brexit while that clock was ticking.

Even though I do feel a bit of sympathy for May, the flip side is that her record at Home Office, particularly with the Windrush scandal, means there is not likely to be much that historians will be able to find to cast her as anything other than relentless and exceptionally unimaginative, except in her idiot-savant genius at political maneuvering. It was vlade who I believe typed her out as the sort of manager who won’t change course even when circumstances make clearer that a revision in plans is necessary. Of course, May did in the end, witness her getting to a deal with the EU, but only after beating her head against the wall for many months.

I imagine May’s one hope for near term solace is if Boris is indeed the next prime minister. Even she will benefit from being compared to him.

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  1. vlade

    I don’t feel sorry for May, but I do agree that any realistic Brexit that could have a chance to stand would start with where she ended (i.e. the WA as is, political declarations may differ).

    Tories belief that any leader can magically change the situation is up there with Tinker Bell. There are still only three possible outcomes. No deal, WA (+whatever political declaration), revoke.

    It’s interesting, but I’d say a lot rides on the EU elections, because both hard remain and hard leave see it really as a referendum re-run.

    If Tories drop to single digits, which is likely, then I’d say it’s Boris for PM. The question then is what will ‘I’ll quit if Boris gets in’ MPs really do. I suspect some (Grieve?) will go, but I suspect quite a few others will not. Will it mean GE? Likely before 2022, but not sure before Brexit day.

    “Labour getting twice the votes of Tories” is a headline a lot of Labour would kill for a year ago. Well, “twice” is a relative term. In the EU elections, it may mean 13 to Tories 7 points. And with Greens at 12 points, it’s entirely possible that Labour will beat Tories, to an honourable fourth place.

    Brexit Party looks like it will win the EU elections, but I’d be still a bit careful here. A lot depends on turnout. Because of the demographics, I think it could _slightly_ favour remain parties (the revoke petition was signed + 6m plus. If all of them got to vote, that’s more than a third of the last EU election turnout). If the turnout is in line with previous EU elections, I can see both still-though-of-as-major parties ill be able to ignore it. But if the turnout is >50%, then Labour in low teens and Tories in single digits is an unmitigated disaster for both.

    That then ties to the latest GE polls, which show Labour leading (again, 10points lead over Tories would be somethign to kill for last year. Except now it’s 30% vs 20%), BP overtaking Tories, and LD close to their historical numbers of low 20s (seems like current Labour leadership managed singlehandedly ressurect LD fortunes). So it’s extremely unlikely next GE would produce a majority government.

    Labour would most likely need SNP/PC and possibly LD to do a coalition. SNP’s price would be indy#2. LD would be EU #2. Would it work? No idea.

    On thing to note is that sterling has been on a slide for the last week or so, and is now testing 1.26. If it breaks below that, I’m not sure it will stop before 1.20ish.

    Fall in sterling was one of the reasons for BritishSteel going belly up, because it made inputs – ore and coal – more expensive (of course, PE extracting 20m/year for nothing and similar did not help..).

    1. NIx

      Watching prime-minister Boris be utterly outclassed by his European counterparts would almost be worth the price of admission.

      (In the sense of whatever happens, we are screwed.)

      1. John A

        “Watching Boris be utterly outclassed…”

        That’s immaterial. Boris is exactly like Trump, he lies and lies and lies, and even when caught out lying, he simply does not care and carries on lying.
        As for Leadsom saying a second referendum would be ‘dangerously divisive’, what planet is she on? The first referendum has proved incredibly dangerously divisive. To the extent, I doubt there can ever be any general acceptance of either leave or stay, whichever happens.

      2. Fazal Majid

        I’d love to be a fly on the wall the day he shows up in Brussels with his demands and is told to “go whistle”.

    2. Ignacio

      On turnout: If it is much higher than expected, wouldn’t be this too strong a remain signal to be ignored?

      1. vlade

        If turnout is high, and Farage polls > than LD+SNP+GREEN+TIG, it could be seen as a strong signal for no deal.

        Low turnout means little.

        High turnout + result can mean something. But what exactly depends on the result. Even then, high turnout with Farage winning (even getting less votes than remain) could easily generate some pro no-deal headlines.

        Best pro-remain result (but IMO extremely highly unlikely) would be high turnout (>50%), Farage +/- same as LD (say even with LD second but only by a few points), but significantly less than LD+G+SNP+TIG.

        1. Ignacio

          Thank you vlade! We will have to wait until Sunday. The results will be interesting anyway. This are not routine post-dem elections anymore. It migth mark the end of the end of history hahahahahah!

        2. BIllS

          I know this is anecdotal, but many of my European friends would like the Brits to stay in the EU. However, as vlade mentions, the EU elections are being viewed as a second referendum on Brexit as well as a test of populist parties in general. If the populist gains are weak in the EU elections and the Farage clique receives a mandate for hard Brexit, it is possible that the EU will severely punish the UK. Many European citizens want the Brits to stay, but are tired of their whinging and the anti-european propaganda being vomited forth by the UK tabloid press. Assaults on EU citizens speaking European languages are becoming all too common. If Farage is elected with a big turnout, EU citizens will demand punishment.

          1. Synoia

            There is no mandate granted by the EU elections, because there is no method a small EU splinter faction (Ferage’s Faction, large only in his imagination) can achieve anything against the “we are in the EU to stay” majority in the European Parliament.

            The Farage Faction in the EU parliament, will be less effective that the Lone Libertarian Senator in the US Senate, who is only there to demonstrate that the Republican Party are no completely crazy, and do have one of two realistic policies.

          2. Andy Raushner

            There is nothing populist about them. They are anti-american globalists who seek the end of Dollar rule and the destruction of the reserve currency status onto the new Eurasian model that the Oligarchs and Putin want. You simply don’t get it. Liquidating and isolating the US economically from its empire is the key. Making sure China is cutoff and depegs is a huge must for them.

            This board plays way to much 2 dimensional chess. You need to up your game.

            1. Roland

              You want “dollar rule”? You want somebody to have an empire?

              Please “up” your game and explain your upness.

    3. PlutoniumKun

      I think one of the big questions is what happens with the Brexit Party votes in a GE – I doubt very much if it would be able to mount a proper nationwide campaign – traditionally people use Euro elections as a protest.

      The thought did occur to me that Johnson as PM would do a deal with Farage for a quick election – allow him and half a dozen of his people a clean run at some constituencies, in exchange for support for the BP to run exclusively as a spoiler in Labour constituencies. Farage would then get the sort of plum job he always seems to crave.

      But otherwise, I agree with your assessment. If Labour doesn’t get second, they are in deep trouble. The Tories have already discounted a disaster I think, they’ll hope to win back BP votes in a ‘real’ election. The media will refuse to run the sort of ‘combined Leave parties win a majority’ story that the LibDems and Greens crave, even if they do exceptionally well.

      1. Synoia

        Two possible outcomes:

        1. No GE, May for Ever, Brext limbo, EU Membership continues until the UK stops paying the EU, or the people over 50 die and the young eliminate this circus.

        2. The Labor, Green, Scot’s Nat’s, and LibDems form a collision (intended) Government, and continue (1).

        Parliament has clearly demonstrated the wishes of the British people: No to the EU, No to the EU EU dictated withdrawal agreement (aka the MAY (Make Everybody Yell in pain) agreement, and No Crash out (No British 2 fingered salute, equivalent to the US 1 fingered salute)*

        What remains is Limbo, without flexibility – Remain but with Denial, and a change from a Badly Managed County, to a Badly Managed Country by a different set of Clowns.

        As Maggie Thatched remarked: There Is No Alternative.

        * The UK uses a two fingered salute, because British Men can consider two things at the same time, Beer and Women, unlike the French (Hereditary Enemies) who can only consider one thing at a time.

        **Just to clarify – British men can CONSIDER two things at the same time. Actually performing two things at the same time runs into the standard limitations of the Male Brain.

  2. The Rev Kev

    And to think that it was only yesterday that yet another Brexit date went by. That was the one agreed to in March where the EU agreed to delay Brexit until May 22nd if British MPs back Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal. The idea was that any later and a resentful UK would be taking part in the EU elections. Well, that didn’t work out for anybody.
    It turns out that Margaret Thatcher was wrong. There is such a thing as society. It is that which forms the bonds not only between people themselves but those who are supposed to run the country. The UK has cut those bonds and the results are so bad that the United Nations has come out with a report ( saying that they have created a “harsh and uncaring” environment for people, that ’14 million UK residents live in poverty, and that some 1.5 million of them were unable to afford basic essentials in 2017.’ No wonder people feel little connection between themselves and those running the country
    I was just listening to the news and it sounds like May was making all sorts of concessions in the deal that she was working on without consulting anybody else in government. There are so many people leaving her side now, that she may be the last person left standing in government. She is still clinging onto power but her own party members are busy stomping on her fingertips as a tipping point has been reached. Labour does not seem to be gaining by this either as they are bleeding votes to other parties due to their own Brexit position. This is going to get ugly when it comes time to choose a new leader. Prime Minister Nigel Farage anybody?

    1. vlade

      TBH, if I was watching safely from outside, I might enjoy Farage as PM. He never, ever had any responsibility (he even failed to get elected as an MP sever or eight times), so watching him dealing with real world might be fun. Not for the poor in the UK (he detests NHS and wants it fully privatised, if you think UC is bad, Farage could reshape it to the US model), so maybe rather not.

    2. shtove

      I certainly don’t anticipate Farage as PM. The only precedent is Churchill, and that was in the context of a national unity government sorted by Labour’s Attlee. Most people recognise Farage as a con-man, and I think the country got a bit of a titter out of the before/after photos from his milkshake encounter.

      May still has the authority of her office, and it’s still open to her to revoke and nothing anyone can do about it. Except the Queen. That’s the nuclear option that will have senior Tories wobbling in their underwear. So there’s still some skidmark action to come. Ugh!

      1. skk

        Knickers ! No “underwear” please, we are British” ( with apologies to the British farce from the late 60s).

        1. ambrit

          Yaargh for the “No Sex Please” reference!
          Plus, “skidmarks” is a common reference of an insulting nature here Down South. Kudos!
          The infamous joke ends with; “…and the dude had skidmarks on the front of his drawers!”
          So, ‘skidmarks’ is all too likely a result from the upcoming EU elections.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        No, the Queen cannot dissolve the Government. That was eliminated with the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

        The only way to force May out before the next GE is for her party to get rid of her, in December when her one-year survival of the last party vote of no confidence window ends. or by the 1922 Committee voting to change its rules to do that sooner. They are hoping to get her to quit by saying they really are ready to pull that trigger. But even then, she’s started them down for what, 6 weeks or so? Or via a vote of no confidence in the Commons, but that’s not gotten anywhere, since as much as the Tories loathe May, they loathe Corbyn way more, and the DUP is unlikely to be a critical player after a GE.

        1. shtove

          Thanks, Yves.

          I was talking about the removal of the prime minister, so I don’t see how the FTP Act is relevant to this issue.

          It’s an interesting question whether a government can remain standing when the person invited to form it has been yanked off stage. If a prime minister dies in office, I would expect a smooth transition (although May has declined to appoint a deputy, and a deputy has no executive powers).

          The appointment of a PM is at the monarch’s personal prerogative (which is not subject to judicial review), so my guess is Queenie can do whatever she bally well likes! However, I expect her to sit tight. But what if May announces her intention to revoke the notice? Lawks!

          1. shtove

            Just to add: The monarch can only act without ministerial advice in the event of a “grave constitutional crisis”. But it’s unclear to me if this applies to HM’s personal prerogatives. In any event, revocation strikes me as a plain vanilla executive act – however Game Of Thrones it may be in political terms – so I guess HM will remain seated for the duration.

    3. eg

      There is precious little about which Maggie was ever right — except that Tony Blair was her greatest accomplishment.

  3. Ignacio

    On the EU side it is interesting to note that European elections, that typically passed in sleepy mode have suddenly become very important as major parties see their power at risk. The optimistic in me tends to see this as a good outcome that migth end the austerian consensus but…

    1. shtove

      I disagree. The Brexit Party will underperform, Labour will have a wobble, the Tories will proclaim how remarkably well they did without campaigning, and the Lib Dems and Greens will try to politely speak over each other in declaring themselves the real winners. Then we’ll have a savage general election.

      1. Ignacio

        I don’t know on what you exactly disagree with but in any case I see you as too sure of too many things when uncertainty is much higher that in previous elections so as to make any prediction unvaluable. So far the European People’s Party (EPP) has had the control in the EU Parliament and Comission and risks loosing much of it. UK and Spain results will almost certainly be a blow for the EPP. The Liberals, let’s call them Macronites, see themselves as the potential winners as a hinge party and the Socialdemocrats dream of increased access to power and a Grand Left coalition. Although recent polls would like to find confort on 67% of seats occupied by pro-EU moderates of all signs I wouldn’t rule out we end in an “overly dynamic” situation with many difficulties to agree and pass any legislation.

        1. shtove

          Your criticism may be right, but I truly think people are tired of media prognostications and polling. Plus when I went into the voting booth today I got to vote for a party, not individual candidates, and I expect many frustrated conservative voters will shy away from putting their X next to Whatever Nigel’s Having.

          ps. I wonder, does anyone have figures on how many of the Brexit Party’s candidates are journalists? I’ve noticed a couple of them on the BBC’s Politics Live show this week.

          1. Ignacio

            So do I! I would forbid polling or publishing polls at least in electoral years. These tend to reduce our freedom to select, make voting accomodative and probably reduce turnout because ‘alea jacta est’ before the elections.

    2. chuck roast

      Indeed, yesterday’s links included a plea from brother Yanis asking support for his anti-fascist Diem25 movement in the EU elections. The delicious irony is that Yanis is running as an MEP from Germany. Schauble’s wheels must be smoking.

  4. vlade

    As a side-note. Not that NC is subject to the UK law, but in the UK it’s a criminal offence to publish or allow to be published any’y information about how people have voted based on “information given by voters after they have voted”’ while the polls are still open.

    Please, if you’re in the UK and voted, do not say who you voted for.

    1. Clive

      Indeed, invaluable advice. I’d add too things like “there were a lot of what looked like X- or Y- voters when I went past the polling stations, so that means a good chance for this- or that-“.

      That said, I can safely say that it’s a nice, warm, sunny day almost nationwide (apart from a few showers in the very far north of Scotland). Good weather usually boosts turnout, sometimes it can be as much as a 10 percent difference effect.

      1. vlade

        A funny thing here is that the UK’s broadcast code pretty much prohibits any political reporting (except for things like ‘X has voted in his/her constituency’ and similar important thing) for broadcasters. So if say May resigned, even tomorrow (because technically the election period is until Sunday night, when the results will be published), BBC may struggle with how to report on it, legally.

        But it entirely ignores any online media, which now have a field day (ex the restriction on how people voted).

    2. Nigel Goddard

      My Twitter timeline is full of people telling me exactly how they voted. Surely a voter telling others how they voted can’t be against the law.

      1. ambrit

        Unless this outburst of “spontaneous” camaraderie were to be orchestrated by a Party organization. Such as; “Don’t forget to tweet and email all your friends how you voted for our “Wonderful Messianic Party” (WMP) today! Share the Message!”

      2. vlade

        If those comments are public, Twitter can be sued/fined for this. The voter can’t.

  5. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

    I’m just trying to imagine someone just like Nigel saying almost exactly these same things about the 2-party system in the U.S.:

    6 weeks to form a brand-new party. *None* of the midgets on the Dem side have anywhere near the oratory and passion (or the stones) to do the same.

    1. Anonymous2

      According to Richard North, who knows Farage personally, having worked together with him in UKIP, Farage is a very effective speaker to crowds who already buy into his message. Apart from that he has nothing to offer in terms of managerial ability, interpersonal skills, foresight, planning etc. So essentially a one trick pony whose one trick is to argue for Brexit, which he is of course again doing.

      My perception is that he is very good at making people believe complicated issues are simple. And plugging into peoples’ prejudices e.g. racism.

      It would be interesting if someone did a study on Farage’s political career and the extent to which he is a creation of the media, Certainly Murdoch has been backing him for quite a while and comments are now being made about how often the BBC have given him airtime.

      North calls Farage The Spiv.

      1. Clive

        I believe these types of discussion focus too much on personality politics or demagoguery.

        Farage and his ilk obtained and continue to hold onto their 15 minutes of fame (well past that, as we know) for a reason. Remain spent the past 30 years, in effect, ignoring and batting off any compulsion they might have had to make the case for ongoing EU membership by the UK. It does often seem like Remain believed the entire concept and the whole subject of having to consistently and repeatedly make the case for EU membership to be beneath their — or anyone’s — consideration.

        And so Remain lost. It continues to be unable to turn the tide against Brexit convincingly. This must stop, if Remain is to win. Even if Article 50 got revoked, we’d still be just sitting here waiting for someone to trigger it again, so long as 40 percent or so of the population haven’t been convinced otherwise.

        I still — yes, unbelievably, still — see little evidence that Remain actually wants to win. Rather, Remain commentators and media outlets apparently want to perpetuate a now 3-year old monologue on how unfair it was that Remain lost, how unseemly it is to even think of Leave (-ing) and isn’t awful, all those deplorables and everything. Anything, it seems, other than actually trying to win. Or, alternatively, stop complaining about what Remain must do to win.

        1. Anonymous2

          Doubtless we all have our own perspectives on these matters.

          IMO the entire political and journalistic culture of the UK is now so dishonest and corrupt – politicians and newspapers lie constantly – that I am afraid it is now well nigh impossible for anyone who so wishes to ensure a rational, informed debate. The BBC has withdrawn from the field long ago as a champion of truth.

          I have no dog in the fight re Remain campaigning but against a background of thirty years of anti-EU propaganda in tabloids and the Telegraph it seems to me that most politicians found it easier to avoid the subject of the EU as much as possible and present EU membership as an unappealing but necessary evil. This was of course a lousy base from which to launch a positive campaign. i do not know if you listened to the Cakewatch podcast with Peter Wilding but he was very interesting on Cameron’s approach to the referendum campaign – effectively that it was too late to ‘roll the pitch’ by being positive with the UK public about the benefits of UK membership but that fear of adverse economic consequences would be sufficient to scare people to vote remain. How wrong he was. They were clearly unprepared for the ferocity of the leave campaigns attack on freedom of movement and just kept going back to Plan A even though it clearly was not working…However all this is history.

          As for what happens now, I rather subscribe to the view I take from David below – chaos reigns and in such circumstances all sorts of things are possible but unpredictable, many of them unwelcome. Given the calibre of the individuals concerned, I am not hopeful about what is to come.

        2. David

          Agreed. (If anything it’s actually worse in a number of European countries: hence the current hysteria over Sunday’s elections). Europe, as it developed after 1992, was the ultimate Establishment subject: complex, opaque, secretive, technocratic, legalistic, supranational, hopelessly divorced from everyday life. There was hardly any attempt to gain support for the concept of Europe as a cultural and historical entity: if anything the reverse. And having sown the wind, well, here’s the whirlwind and nobody wants to lend them an umbrella. If Brexit turns out as badly as I fear, I will never forgive the Euro-Establishment for not even bothering to try to enlist the support, or even the interest, of ordinary people.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            I don’t often disagree with you, but I don’t think the EU can ever be accused of being divorced from everyday life – in reality I think they were always acutely aware of the need to develop a constituency and many of its activities were specifically aimed at bypassing national governments in a populist manner. A famous example was when the EU took the UK to the ECJ over its failure to protect bathing waters on the basis of a postcard someone sent from Blackpool Beach. In fact, most of the environmental directives seem to have been driven by an awareness that they were far more popular with citizens than with their immediate governments. Although later hijacked by corporate aims, a lot of agriculture spending was clearly focused on ensuring small farmers were well aware the EU was more on their side than national governments. Populist actions like cracking down on roaming charges (one benefit that even English Brexiters liked) have been quite common. Likewise, protective directives for the professions and equal wage requirements for women have their own specific constituencies. The EU also put vast amounts of money into things like EU cinema (with those horrible preambles I always see in my local cinema) and arts and culture.

            They were often clumsy of course and frequently stymied by national governments – the UK in particular always took pains to blame the EU for anything unpopular, while suppressing benefits (note how ERDF funding signs tended to be much less prominent in UK regions than in other parts of Europe, where local politicians often prided themselves on how much EU money they could claim to draw down).

            It is of course highly legalistic and technocratic – its hard to see how a body founded on trade law could be anything but – especially as they always had to be cautious about being seen to tread on the toes of national governments. However, I do think that for all the isolation many of those technocrats had in Brussels (and I personally know one senior ‘lifer’ in Brussels who certainly fills the bill), I don’t think it can be fairly said that they weren’t acutely aware of the need to be at least perceived as representing ordinary people, even if the reality ended up as the opposite. Most Commissioners, after all, started out as national and local level politicians.

            One other point – a legal friend of mine has one particular theory over why the EU particularly winds up the UK – and thats over a fundamental misunderstanding over how law is interpreted in the ECJ. The highly literal approach of the northern European legal system is completely at odds with the Common Law approach, and this has led to endless problems with UK (and Irish and Maltese) trained lawyers trying to argue their way out of quite firmly sealed boxes. Thus the ECJ focus on precise interpretation of the law has resulted in the EU as being seen as highly technocratic, when in reality, its just very allergic to the type of rhetorical creativity (otherwise known as bovine excrement) so beloved in the English speaking world.

            1. David

              Yes, I should have been clearer that I’m not necessarily criticising the work of the EU institutions, and certainly not everything they do. My main criticism (like you I think) is of the class that unthinkingly identifies with the EU institutions and believes they constitute “Europe”. Some of them live in what’s called the “Brussels bubble”, whilst others just unhesitatingly identify with the productions and the processes of the EU institutions. There’s an entire European class (we’ve discussed this before) which speaks a kind of strangled English, eats in the same international restaurants, stays in the same international hotels, and flits around Europe by high-speed train and aeroplane. (Walk down the Rue Archimède by the Place Schumann at lunchtime, and you’ll see what I mean). By no means all of these people are bureaucrats. Many are parliamentarians, think-tank thinkers, journalists and consultants of different types. But they share a relatively simple faith in the wisdom and good sense of the Brussels institutions which, frankly, can’t always be justified. They talk largely to each other, and when they talk to the rest of us it’s in terms that often sound condescending.
              I agree that the EU often sees itself as working for ordinary people, and that it tries, sometimes clumsily, to do so. But it is, undeniably, an elitist structure and the fact is that it has not managed to convince many Europeans that it’s actually on their side. This is not a problem unique to the UK, and I know people in European governments, which themselves function very much along the same lines as Brussels, equally despairing of its procedures and its way of working. I agree about the Common Law point, and it’s very important, but it’s worth pointing out that that there’s lots of popular feeling (France is an example) against precisely this legalism at the national level. For many Europeans, Brussels is just a general repository of all of the weaknesses they see in their own government systems.
              To get back to the original point, I was commenting on, and largely supporting, Clive’s suggestion of a failure of the “pro-European” tendency, if we can call them that, over many decades. I think it’s undeniable that there has been far too much arrogance and complacency, and far too little attempt to explain and persuade, as well as to accept that certain criticisms are valid, as, in my personal experience, they sometimes are.

    2. Anders K

      There’s plenty of money in the US though, something that certainly helped Farage (the money, not necessarily money in the US) off the ground with his new party.

      The reason for third parties doing poorly in the US is not for a lack of people with oratory skills and passion, but intentionally systemic. Any 3rd party would face both those issues and local corruption in getting anywhere near the levers of power. A system like the UK, that already has a plethora of parties, is a far easier place to create another one, especially if it’s happened (relatively) recently in history.

      1. turtle

        Exactly. My understanding from some things I’ve listened to regarding the issue, is that the Republicans and the Democrats placed legal blocks against 3rd parties getting anywhere near power on a state-by-state basis. It seems to be extremely difficult for any third party to break through this blockade. And even if they manage to do this after years/decades of work (ex: Green Party), people are generally unwilling to consider voting for them because our first past the post system makes people afraid that “a vote for the 3rd party is like a vote for the ‘bad’ people in the other duopoly party”.

  6. ChrisPacific

    I do think it’s possible that the right kind of politician could maybe have managed to build consensus and a coalition around the Withdrawal Agreement. May was almost exactly the wrong person for that task.

    On the other hand, the UK first past the post system strikes me as particularly unlikely to produce such a person, and there weren’t exactly any obvious candidates waiting in the wings.

  7. fajensen

    I am pessimistic. She will never resign on her own volition. The Tories have no way of forcing her to resign. There is nothing they can offer to trade with her in return for her resigning because she won’t listen, ever, to anyone so she simply won’t hear the offer being made over the din of her own droning.

    Maybe The Queen can legally send some heavy-booted people over to physically drag her out of parliament?

    1. Anders K

      AFAIK, the 1922 Committee can change the rules to allow her to be challenged. The issue – just as with Trump – is that dealing with someone who breaks the informal consensus by breaking the formal consensus (changing the rules, even if it is just “for a special case”) is not necessarily easy or sure to lead to the desired outcome (what if the special vote fails to oust May? Will the next leader be challenged early, too?).

      After all, if the 12-month grace period has been set aside once, it can surely be done again, and no presumptive Tory PM is interested in being more restrained by the committee (for both noble and ignoble reasons, I’m sure, though I suspect the ratio to be tilted in the latter direction).

      1. shtove

        But she’s the Queen’s prime minister. Doesn’t matter if she’s not leader of her party. Or does it? There have been mixed rumours on HM’s views on the EU, which I suppose shows her subtlety. But if she is subtle, HM will find a way not to get involved.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Now there is a prospect – May refusing to relinquish No.10, even if she is thrown out of the Tory Party.

          1. shtove

            I hadn’t considered that! What if May is summoned by the chief whip and suspended, just like Heseltine when he declared he was going to vote for the Lib Dems? Can she dismiss the chief whip with a click of her fingers? L’etat, c’est moi.

            I’ve no idea about the formal route for expulsion from the party, but it seems Widdecombe was subjected to the rules when she declared for Whatever Nigel’s Having.

          2. ChrisPacific

            Now I have a mental image of a barricaded Theresa May taking to the airwaves and calling upon the military to come to her aid by suppressing her own party in the name of the Queen.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          No, the Queen has nothing to do with this as a result of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. The only procedurally important thing she does is give the Queen’s Speech.

  8. David

    It’s important to remember (and too easily forgotten) that the challenge to May’s position is as leader of the Conservative party, not as Prime Minister. Of course historically the two have been coterminous, but they don’t absolutely have to be. Normally, what happens is that a PM’s political missteps result in forced resignation or a leadership challenge, and the winner of the ensuing competition becomes PM. Eden resigned after Suez, Heath was forced out after losing the 1974 election etc. But both of these cases (and indeed Thatcher in 1990) were rather like sacking the managing director of an unsuccessful company. The Tory Party wanted to get back in power, or make sure it stayed there, and internal political and personal divisions didn’t matter that much. (The Tory Party was more Thatcherite in 1990 than it was in 1975 when she took over: it was simply that the party didn’t think it could win another election with her in charge.)
    What we have now is different. Not only has May made a disastrous mess of Brexit, she has also had to manage a bitterly divided party, full of people who hate each other and have completely irreconcilable political views and agendas. Whilst there have been Cabinets before with warring cliques, and PMs struggling to manage divided parties, I don’t think there has ever been a situation like this, where the two are lethally combined, and the incumbent PM is not capable of dealing with either. It’s possible to imagine another leader having done a better job in managing the politics and diplomacy of Brexit: it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it worse. But it is also hard to imagine anyone else having done a less bad job of keeping a violently fractious party together.
    Paradoxically, May’s actual performance under both headings has had little impact on the strength of her position. It seems to be acknowledged that she has been as a disaster as PM, but the problem is that getting rid of her is not a solution. Indeed, it would probably make the situation worse, and destroy the Tory Party completely, which is why she is still where she is. I don’t think even those who want to get rid of her most fervently believe that doing so would unite the party or make it more electable. It’s all about personal and political agendas. Far from resolving the crisis, her departure, which can’t now long be delayed, will only exacerbate it: the first time this has happened, I think, in modern British history.
    Under all the normal rules of politics, May would have been gone months, if not years, ago. That’s not in dispute. But in the past there were heavyweight challengers already waiting to take over from the PM of the day, and parties (especially the Tories) would rally round a new leader to stay in power or have a better chance of taking it. It’s an index of how completely the Tory Party has been destroyed by Thatcher and her successors, that it’s a talent-free zone made up of people who would happily destroy a party, a government and perhaps a country, out of ambition and jealousy. The situation now resembles the last days of a weak and discredited monarch, with no apparent successor and courtiers manoeuvring for advantage. Historically, that usually led to a civil war of some kind, and I expect that, mutatis mutandis, that’s what we’re in for now.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think your last two lines are highly significant. I’ve been trying to get my head around how it is that Johnson has suddenly become the favourite to become PM, when he is supposedly almost universally loathed within the party hierarchy and seemed to have blown what little chance he had last year. But it is, as you say, more like the lethal jostling when a monarch is dying without a successor – half the people around are trying to manoeuvre for the crown, the other half are trying to make sure they don’t lose their head if the ‘wrong’ person gets selected. It has nothing to do with regular democratic politics anymore.

      Whatever else, it will make the next Tory party conference rather entertaining viewing now that GoT is over.

      1. fajensen

        …. become the favourite to become PM, when he is supposedly almost universally loathed …

        Somebody has to be holding the unpinned hand grenade that Brexit has become, why not make that someone a person one wants to get rid of?

    2. flora

      For forty years now the economic and political philosophy of Milton Friedman has dominated and guided politics in the UK and the US. Reading some of his most famous quotes makes clear why it has all ended so badly, failed so spectacularly. As long as enough of the old system held on to keep things working the con continued. That’s over now, even if the current crop of “talent-free… people who would happily destroy a party, a government and perhaps a country, out of ambition and jealousy. ” don’t realize it’s over.

  9. Matthew G. Saroff

    Theresa May has made a dogs breakfast of everything that she has ever done.

    How has she managed to fail upward in a manner that would make Dick Cheney blush?

    1. shtove

      The phrase is, “dog’s Brexit”. Smooth texture on the palate, then a little gagging, and a somewhat sour aftertaste. Mmm.

  10. Pavel

    I’m afraid I have absolutely zero sympathy for May, Yves. Apart from the Windrush scandal, she has always been absolutely horrific on civil liberties. And let’s not forget she has approved the sales of arms to the Saudis for their genocide in Yemen. As a believer in Scottish independence, however, if she enables a second referendum in Scotland, that would be one accomplishment, though not an intended one for her!

    1. PlutoniumKun

      As someone who shares her physical clumsiness, I used to feel quite sorry for her when she was on the receiving end of so much abuse, she seemed to me to be admirable in the way she had made her way through such a pit of vipers to get to the top. But I think the cumulative evidence now is that, quite simply, she is a genuinely hateful person – she’s been responsible for too many genuinely horrible policies, many of which were promoted solely for her personal ambition. There are many, many more people deserving of sympathy.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I think she is high functioning Aspergers. She clearly has some sort of weird psychological disability that she has managed to make work for her enough of the time.

        She’s lacking in empathy, which is usually a marker of narcissists, but she doesn’t strike me as narcissistic, just emotionally deficient, exceptionally rigid, and tenacious.

  11. TG

    Theresa Mayxit?

    Suggestion: watch carefully what happens to May when she finally leaves office (as the surgeons say, all bleeding stops eventually). Will May sink into a shabby retirement? Or will she be quietly feted by the big banks, put on the boards of directors of various companies, end up a multi-millionaire etc., like Tony Blair was?

    In other words: was May merely stupid, or was she a useful agent of chaos? Follow the money, and eventually, we will know.

  12. skk

    The current crop of first-line politicians in the UK truly are a bunch of talentless gits. I’ve now watched several weeks of ITN news, Peston, BBC Question Time and I struggle for phrases to describe this bunch. I found some choice ones in this article –

    Now I’m all for changing one’s mind when the facts change/emerge – as I did – from a BrExiter ( aka a kick up the arse to the EU ( for Greece ) and the UK establishment ) to 2nd referendum/remain as the complexities, particularly the N.I. / Eire border aspect, came into focus – but this continual changes in positions by ALL sort of main-party politicians amazes me – when you compromise and STILL fail to deliver, its truly hapless, inept.

    As the Belfast Telegraph put it ( back in March at that ! ):

    The repeated failure to make Brexit less of a shambles suggests that politicians on all sides share that lack of conviction in their own judgment.

    What’s more terrifying still is that it increasingly looks as if they are right to think so little of their own abilities.

    The terrifying thing is this is only the first stage.

    Paradoxically, as the mess unfolds, my regular conversations and emails with Brit family and friends, all always politically engaged, this is mygen, nextgen, + nextgen+1 are less and less about it. They are all just getting on with their daily lives. I’m perhaps more animated about this than they are ! Just yesterday, all we talked about was our booking for a 4 day narrow-boat/canal boat trip and how excited the nextgen+1 are. So there is that, I suppose.

  13. Harry

    Treeza “Apres moi, le deluge” May. I often wonder why the BoE decided to put her in “Clearing Services”.

    Great piece!

    1. Pavel

      Surely “après mai, le déluge”*?

      If Boris is the next PM it certainly will be un déluge… ooh la la… The UK version of Trump but one spouting nonsense in Greek and Latin.

      [*with minor corrections for accents]

  14. RBHoughton

    I completely agree and fervently hope that Brexit is the end of Thatcherism in the UK. We want to return to government of the people, by the people, etc., and not this constant flow of concessions to merchants that the moneymen in parliament enact to profit from. It has never yet been the case that electors in UK vote for companies – that’s just the Tories working their insidious evil through the Chambers of Commerce – off with their heads. Back to Keynes and caring government.

  15. none

    Grauniad now reporting that May will meet with 1922 committee chairman Sir Graham Brady at 9am (London time) and then appear in public to announce a resignation date.

    I gotta ask, policies aside, is Corbyn a complete prat? I don’t mean being right about issues, I mean clueless about the machinery of politics. By contrast Sanders is a very competent political operator despite having been marginalized in Congress til fairly recently.

    How do they kick out May and put in someone like Bojo without a new general election? Is there likely to be one soon?

    1. vlade

      Gone. June 7. Which puts here just a wee bit longer than Brown.
      Note that this is as a Tory leader, so the leadership games can now start. once the leader is in, she will step aside.. Now, in a normal country, this would mean new PM needs an explicit vote of confidence to keep going. Not so here.

      1. none

        Is it different for non-Tories? I didn’t much notice the tribulations of the last few of those. Thanks.

        1. vlade

          It’s different for the UK. The parliament can be dissolved only via an explicit vote of no confidence.

          While there are important votes (QS being probably the most important), none of them are automatic confidence votes. I.e. somoene has to win a vote of no confidence, it’s not enough to lose (any) vote.

          Corbyn may try to run another vote of no confidence, but a Tories need to elect a new leader (which may easily take whole of summer), and then it’s into conference season. And pretty damn close to Oct 31.

          And the UK does not really run elections in the summer anyways. Coz you know, there are more important things, like getting on hols.

      2. MisterMr

        In Italy, people only vote for parliament, which then later votes for the premier.

        If the parliament leter chooses to vote down the premier, it can freely choose another premier. If it fails to do so, new elections are indicted.

        This resulted multiple times in “unelected” premiers, meaning that the people voted for some parties with the expectation that said parties would put on a certain person as a premier, but then later because of shifting alliances in parliament the premier became a new one.
        Even the present government works like this since the Lega party was voted on the presumption that it was part of Berlusconi’s coalition, but after the elections it allied instead with the M5S.

        Renzi (Italian premier of up to a few years ago) also was an “unelected” premier, and this was used against him rethorically a lot (even though thi is not used against the Lega today; it seems that this kind of accusation is more effective against center-left parties).

        I wonder how common is it really that when a premier loses cionfidence of parliament new elections are indicted, in the USA for example there is nothing like this (although there the president is elected directly so this is a bit different).

  16. vlade

    I do wonder. Will we, in six months time, say “we wish Theresa was back”? I’d say that even the horrendous Cameron might have been a microscopic smidge better than May (at least in the first term).

    And Brown and Blair were IMO decidedly giants compared to May.

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