“Thou art weighed in the balances and art found wanting.” The verdict on Theresa May is the same as that on Belshazzar. The Book of Daniel records other similarities: Belshazzar’s Feast uncannily foreshadows the Buckingham Palace banquet in which President Trump will be entertained, along with the still-in-office Prime Minister who steps down as Leader of the Conservative Party on June 7th. There’s more. The writing on the wall continues: “Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” The Conservative Party is divided and must now yield much territory to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Farage’s former vehicle, UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) was always seen as the Provisional Wing of the Conservative Party. Well might Belshazzar, as Rembrandt painted him, look disturbed at the dread news on the palace wall. As did Theresa May in Downing Street, who had to choke back her emotions as she announced the end of her premiership.
The consequences now leap to center stage. First, Britain has no governing spirit, as distinct from “the Government.” The forms remain, the system stays in place, but power has drained away from Downing Street. Theresa May lives on as a wraith, a phantasm, but cannot give a serious order that is to be obeyed. Second, there is no successor to the leadership. The contest creaks into being on June 10th and cannot deliver a result before July. When Churchill went, his successor, Anthony Eden, was waiting in the wings and everyone knew he would be Prime Minister. Nobody knows, or can even guess, who will be next to reside at No. 10. There are eight names who have already announced their intention to run for office: all are tainted to some extent by their association with the present moribund administration. Third, into this well-vacummed space steps Nigel Farage. He will make the weather. He is liked and trusted by very large numbers of British citizens. Already he is making demands: his Brexit Party must be part of negotiations with the EU authorities. This will not go down well with the UK team who must flinch at the thought of sharing a long table with the roughnecks of the newly-fledged Brexit Party. Farage also demands that Britain must leave the EU by October 31st, failing which there will have to be a general election that his party will contest. Since this means death to many MPs, it will be sal volatile all round for these tortured souls.
Today there is a kind of stun effect. The media knows that something huge has happened but cannot yet get its head around the full meaning. We shall know very soon.
Ralph Berry writes from England.