Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.
On Tuesday afternoon, I spent a few hours in Portcullis House interviewing various MPs for an article I’m writing for a national newspaper. I lost count of the times I was asked: “So, what do you think is going to happen?” I then lost count of the number of times I shrugged. Robert Peston and I agree that the whole political commentariat class has become a bit of a fraud.
Why? Because we are paid to offer our interpretation of events and predict what is going to happen, and frankly none of us have a Scooby Doo. Sometimes I feel I should donate any broadcasting or writing fees to charity. The moment soon passes, since I still have two dogs to feed, but never in my whole time as a commentator have I felt so uncertain as to what will happen next. And I don’t think I’m alone.
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One senior MP I talked to reckoned there was a 70 per cent chance that the balloon is about to go up on Theresa May’s leadership. This would certainly fit into a widely-held view that Graham Brady has received close on 48 letters expressing no confidence in her. I’ve always thought that this take is wrong because many Conservative MPs know that they should be careful what they wish for. Having a vote at a time when the Prime Minister would probably win a ballot would be very counterproductive indeed.
And at the moment, I think that this is still the case, though she would be very damaged in the process. Many MPs are very aware that up and down the country there are many people who think she should simply be allowed to get on with the job, and that she’s doing OK in very difficult circumstances. My mother died six years ago, but I can hear her saying to me: “why don’t they just leave her alone”?
And that’s part of the reason that she’s still polling so well against Jeremy Corbyn, and why the Tories remain ahead in many recent polls. Yes, the government looks chaotic and devoid of a domestic agenda, but there’s still that feeling out there in the country of “stick with nurse for fear of worse”.
That, plus the fact that there’s no readymade replacement, is May’s strongest asset. One bit of good news for her is that her personal poll ratings (as measured by YouGov) have been on the rise for the last three months and, although still in negative territory at -22, are better than Boris Johnson’s – who comes in at – 35, his lowest-ever rating.
Had he a lead over the Prime Minister, Tory MPs might be more likely to take a chance on him, but at the moment? Not a chance in hell.
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I hadn’t been into Portcullis House in the Palace of Westminster for close on a year, but one thing I did notice was the number of people sitting at the tables. It’s as if the population of parliament has doubled. It seemed to me that most of them were interns employed by Labour MPs. It’s almost as if they sense an election in the offing.
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The news from Brussels on Wednesday night was not good. Not good for Britain and not good for the Prime Minister. She suffered yet another humiliation when she was allowed a mere 15 minutes to address the 27 EU leaders on her way forward for Brexit. Well, that went well, didn’t it? She had little new to say beyond a few blandishments, and a couple of hours later she experienced a further humiliation when it was announced that the planned November summit wouldn’t go ahead given the lack of progress.
These are dangerous times for May.She has boxed herself into a position from which she cannot escape. She still can’t bring herself to admit that Chequers is dead, and now says she would consider signing up for a further year’s transition. But she couldn’t sell Chequers to her own party, the country or the EU. I doubt very much whether she will have any more success with a longer transitional period than she had with the Chequers plan.