HASTINGS: 'What news, what news in this our tott'ring state?
CATESBY: 'It is a reeling world indeed, my lord,
And I believe will never stand upright
Till Richard wear the garland of the realm.'
—(RICHARD III, 3.2.37-40)
Catesby is testing out the reaction of Hastings to the question: where will he stand when Richard makes the bid for the crown? Substitute “Boris” for Richard, and you have no affront to metre or sense in today’s England. Theresa May is Prime Minister, and her prime challenger is at present understood to be Boris Johnson. What are his chances?
The main point to grasp is the sheer power of the Administration, especially in the House of Commons. There are many members of the Administration, from the Leader to the humblest bag-carrier for a minister. All are paid in cash, kind, and prospects. To lose position is to suffer a grievous personal loss. This is above all true of the Prime Minister, for whom office is the self itself and the loss is irreparable. They will fight, all of them, to repel the challenger.
But wait. Suppose the challenger wins, what then? Were it not well to be on discreet terms with the victor's party? Best not to be too absolute in one's support for the Leader. You can get it wrong either way. Catesby, Richard's man, became Lord Chancellor, and Speaker in Richard's only Parliament. He lasted for three days after Bosworth, before being taken to the execution yard. Theresa May will not leave many satisfied followers in her wake. They will be nursing their spiritual and financial wounds.
May's position remains fragile. Her plan for a continuing relationship with the EU will have to go before Parliament in the next couple of months. It will be assailed on all sides. If she fails, then there must be a new leader or a general election—which is a total anathema to the Tories, who would see their own seats under mortal threat and can block an election. Meantime Boris can decide on his moment, with his Monday article in the Daily Telegraph as his bully pulpit. He is highly popular among the Conservative rank and file, who are filling up with new members said to be eager for The Day. This is not yet a betting proposition, but the augurs are temporizing. Like Catesby and Hastings, they have to get it right.
[Image via Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Beyond Brexit: A Global Britain) [CC BY 2.0]]
Ralph Berry writes from England.