Hallelujah! Theresa May survives as our prime minister! Pop the corks, punch the air, thank our lucky stars! Really? Pinch yourself, but yes indeed. Though she is the worst occupant of No 10 in living memory (bar David Cameron), though she lacks any quality to make her even tolerably competent as prime minister, her fall would have brought the rise of something far darker.
Never mind the small margin, she has seen off a pack of hungry usurpers snapping at her ankles, each swearing undying loyalty while privately cajoling and bribing colleagues with future red boxes in Westminster tearoom huddles. All that was to no avail. Though possibly the worst tactician of all time, she lives to last at least another year. She rules on, this great Brexit bungler who laid down red lines only to tear them up, who threw away her majority in an abominably fought election, who failed to compromise with the 48% or to placate her Brextreme implacables, who funked a meaningful vote and stumbled over every obstacle she put in her own path.
But compared with her enemies, she’s a strategic genius. Blinded by fury, the intemperates couldn’t restrain their urge to post those 48 letters without waiting until they had the votes to bring her down. What idiots! The boneheaded led by the numbskulls – Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Patterson, Andrea Jenkyns – oh, the list is as long as the 117 who voted against her. Jacob Rees‑Mogg and Boris Johnson are brought low, so let’s see less of them on our screens now.
Look how their stupidity has revived the moribund May, infusing her with new credibility. All the old gentlemanly conventions have long vanished from our demented remnant of a government: losing votes in the Commons or failing to win overwhelming support of your own MPs counts for nothing. Our unwritten constitution is a flexible beast and she can go on and on and on. And so can disgraced MPs who used to resign in shame, but now they only lose the whip for a little while until their votes are required to save their leader.
The only way the stupids can remove her now is to pull down their own government, by voting no confidence in themselves. Well, this rabid pack might just be mad enough to do it, Brextremists voting with all the opposition parties to force her out from sheer vindictiveness, never mind near certainty of a Corbyn government if they tried.
But for now, not only May but her Brexit plan gets a new lease of life. With the fanatics seen off as a weak force, tails between their legs, her party faces exactly the stark choice she laid out – her plan, no Brexit, no deal – referendum or not. Last weekend the Brexiteers were instructing her to go back and handbag Europe, Thatcher-style: well, she went, she gripped-and-grinned, got stuck in her car and came back apparently empty-handed – but despite European obduracy, her enemies still lost this vote. She has shown them that there is no alternative. Elect who they like in her place, the facts would not alter.
Had they defenestrated her, months would have been consumed by the awful spectacle of a rogues gallery of unspeakable candidates out-Brexiting one another for the votes of their Europhobic old-shire membership. No moderate stood a chance, so the winner would have promised the impossible, a no-deal crash-out the Commons would struggle to prevent. I am – just about – confident enough in the ultimate sanity of a majority of MPs to think they would find a procedure, whatever it takes, to ensure there is no kamikaze Brexit finale. But you could never be sure.
I am reasonably sure that Theresa May will not let that happen. Be grateful for that mercy. Otherwise, there is nothing whatever to celebrate in finding ourselves still trapped inside the austerity-stricken hostile environment created by this maladroit impersonation of a leader.
She survived by pledging not to stand again – and indeed that was unthinkable, even to her. But Brexit may not be resolved by the time a 2022 election comes around and her successor may be surrounded by the same interminable cries of “betrayal” ricocheting around the ongoing grind of EU trade negotiations as time runs out for her despicable government. Nothing may have changed.
This Tory era, her government and Cameron’s, marks a historic nadir. Where there was harmony, (well, up to a point), they brought discord. How wretchedly bad can these times be, that we needed her to stay?