Given her past form, it is reasonable to assume that Mrs May’s assertion that she will fight the leadership contest with all she’s got is a sure sign that she’ll be resigning shortly; but however it plays out, it is difficult to see how the Tories will this time avoid the split they have postponed so often in the past in the name of party unity, or as the Tories like to call it, ‘the national interest’ and ‘the good of the country.’
But what then?
As I see it, all the likely permutations in the leadership contest point to the same end, which is that either one side or the other in the Tory party will be unable to support whoever is chosen:
- if Mrs May wins and stays on, the Brexit faction will remain unreconciled;
- if she loses or resigns (like Margaret Thatcher before her) because her margin of victory is too small, then no candidate that the Brexit faction chooses will be acceptable to the rest, and vice-versa.
- In the event of May going, it is hard to see that there is any sense in running another candidate who takes up where she left off, and pursues her already discredited Brexit plan against a hard-liner, so the only realistic alternative is a People’s Vote candidate, who more or less admits the folly of all that has been done and says the only solution is to ask the people if they still want to do this; and that will be anathema to the Brexit faction.
It is very hard to see how any single candidate will unite the party as long as Brexit remains in contention, so whoever wins, the downfall of the government and a general election seems almost certain to follow.
Given that the Tories would enter such an election split along the lines described above, with a right-wing pro-Brexit faction seeking alliance from the other unsavoury elements and the centrists reaching out to the Liberals, will Labour be tempted to stick with Brexit in the hope of winning back their disgruntled traditional followers who voted for it, while taking for granted that they will have the support of most other anti-Tories? And in that eventuality, would the party remain united?
And don’t forget that Scotland is heartily sick of being patronised with sickly sentiment about ‘our precious union’, particularly given the way our clearly-stated view of Brexit has counted for nothing – as has Northern Ireland’s. The Republic can no longer be portrayed as a priest-ridden catholic theocracy, and a united Ireland might strike many in the North as preferable to continued alliance with Brexit-obsessed England. This could be a seismic moment in the politics of these islands.