“We shall not go to Canossa!” declared more than one eminent German statesman. Theresa May loves Canossa, and cannot stay away from the place. For her the Castle of Canossa is the Europa Building in Brussels, whence she has just returned from another fruitless quest for mercy from the European Union. I see in my mind’s eye a mediaeval painting, “The Humiliation of St Theresa,” in which she is forced to sit in a side room outside the main banqueting hall where her fate is sealed by the Continental potentates. They keep wassail over flagons of finest Rhenish, while Theresa’s people bring her a takeaway pizza. Her fellow countrymen and elders are aghast at this display of impotence, holding up their withered hands to the sky and saying, “How long, O Lord, how long?”
Not long, perhaps. The E.U. has with exquisite cruelty granted an extension of the Brexit departure date to October 31st. This gives the British establishment time to do something about Theresa, if they wish, but not so much time that she can seriously disturb the EU projects. (Macron wanted a much longer extension for that reason.) However, the immediate question is for the E.U. Parliament’s elections on May 23rd. If the UK is to take part, the consequences could be drastic. There are 83 seats designated for British M.E.P.s. They will be assigned on voting numbers to parties and their lists, not to candidates named on the ballot papers. On current form, most seats would be taken by a swarm of desperadoes under the banner of UKIP or Brexit (Nigel Farage’s new party.) They would aim at making trouble for the E.U., with some harbouring ambitions to make a speech deriding the E.U. on TV and going viral as Farage did. The Conservative Party will be hammered, as the local elections on May 2nd will demonstrate. So we come back to the main question: will the party make a move against Theresa May?
From the street point of view, there’s a clear answer. May is an abject failure. Up till a couple of weeks ago she was promising Brexit on March 29th, now she is begging for an extension of the departure date to the end of this year. The popular judgment is, get rid of May. Conservative Association members are urged to petition the Party to change the rules (10,000 signatures would open the way to a leadership challenge). The letters pages of the Telegraph, the house organ of Conservatism, are sulphurous. But letter-writers have no power beyond mood music. In the Commons, May is supported by Cabinet ministers and other ministers of lower rank. All of them have one thing in common, which they share with the Prime Minister: a job. When May goes, their job goes.
Cabinet ministers, and other ministers of lower grade, will reflect on Dorothy Parker’s great lines:
“Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?”
But fate did indeed send them a perfect limousine, paid for by the State and with a driver too. In London. They intend to keep it that way.
Ralph Berry writes from England.