Theresa May is on death row but files legal appeals that extend her life. She might have taken a mortal hit at the Conservative Party Conference, but Boris Johnson, the Young Pretender (he is actually eight years short of her 64) did not strike the assassin's blow that many expected. He gave a barnstorming speech at a fringe event, seen by a huge crowd that had queued in their hundreds, abandoning the main hall. He did not disappoint. Theresa May's “Chequers” plan for Brexit was dismissed as a “cheat,” “'outrageous,” “a manifest democratic injustice”—which would end with the UK “paraded in manacles down the Rue de la Loi like Caractacus.” The response must be “Chuck Chequers!” at which battle-cry the rafters rattled.
Boris has the crowd of Tory supporters with and behind him. But he still says that
his policy is to change the plan, not the Prime Minister. This subterfuge fools no one. Curiously, the May supporters accuse Boris of being “ambitious,” as though we were living in the Tudor age. (“Did this in Caesar seem ambitious? . . . I it were so, it was a grievous fault.”) As the Sunday Times headline put it, “May v. Boris—it's war.” We are still in the Phoney War stage.
Of the reasons that glue together the Tory party, a large one is fear of dishing their chances of an eventual peerage (which are within the gift of the Party leader). £300 a day, tax free, just for checking in to the House of Lords, eases the trials of retirement. MPs know this, and only one has so far come out and urged a leadership challenge. Tories would just like others to go over the top, first. They would like Theresa to go but would prefer to be innocent bystanders.
She will not go of her own accord. May likes the job, which has now, after two years and more, become the self. All Prime Ministers go that way, and cling on desperately to their life-enhancing powers. In modern times there has been a single exception, Harold Wilson, who felt his final ailment coming upon him and stood down to universal surprise. May, to be fair, does give value for money with her clothes allowance. I have never seen her in the same garb twice. Royal watchers are delighted to note the garments which Queen Elizabeth brings out of her wardrobe. May never goes that thrifty way.
Prospects? It is hard to see a happy end for the Prime Minister. Later this month the EU will meet to determine its response to May's Chequers Plan. In the vernacular it will consist of two words, the second of which is “off'.” May presumably believes that the UK is engaged in a chicken game, in which at the end the EU will make an offer to avert the dreaded No Deal. And suppose they don't? The EU is passionately set on refusing the UK any deal that looks good or can be presented as good. They are after what Boris called “a punishment beating” of prisoners trying to escape. May will then have to bring back whatever deal—or no deal—has emerged, to Parliament. And Boris still lives, not on life support.
American Show Trial
The Kavanaugh ordeal resembles a show trial. There is no Vishinsky overbearing the shrinking defendant, only a victim accusing her oppressor. In effect the victim takes over the Vishinsky role. To remind ourselves of other differences: in a real trial there is a lawyer who will ask sharp, extended questions. He/she will not be fazed by hippocampus talk, and will explore memory at greater length. (Since the door was locked, how did the victim make her escape?) The lawyer will also raise the question of motivation: why now? Did the trauma have to be exorcised only after 36 years? He/she will linger over the Fear of Flying (now what did Erica Jong have to say in her masterwork?) and ask why Dr. Ford was able to overcome her fear when it suited her. It may also be possible discreetly to elicit details of offers which have been made to Dr. Ford since her testimony, including the dates when any such offers were made. In short, what was a one-way assault on Justice Kavanaugh would look totally different if subject to the normal procedures of court. The format of this process was designed to produce one result only.
Ralph Berry writes from England.