If you have ever tried to listen to a damaged 78 rpm record of Harry Lauder’s “Keep Right On To The End Of The Road”, Theresa May’s speeches since Salzburg will be familiar in both form, and content, and in their constant re-covering of the same ground as the stylus slides uncontrollably between the grooves.
It will be even more familiar if you have listened to the same record played at 45 rpm.
Theresa May is locked in a death loop of her own creation, but we are in it with her.
What the British people voted for was a Brexit some many miles this side of the Red Lines she set out in her Lancaster House speech, Red Lines which she has now gone many miles beyond in her (or rather Oliver Robbins’) Chequers Plan.
No doubt she will offer even more concessions in the “mini-summit” negotiation in mid-October, in order to secure an emergency EU summit in mid-November, at which she will offer further concessions to get a deal.
Her so-called (and self-attested) cool nerves and determination are entirely counter-productive, given the predicament she has brought about. There is nothing she can do now to row back to the startpoint where these negotiations should have begun, if they had any hope of not going beyond her (fictional) Red Lines.
Jeremy Corbyn – doing what he does best which is unprincipled opportunism – will vote against whatever comes before Parliament, in his own version of “Groundhog Day” where every day is a 1960s student sit-in with no hope of ever achieving positive change, and every day deserves the same tweed jacket and unpressed grey slacks.
What a pass we have come to when these are the two house captains of our political life.
If Jeremy Corbyn or any other Parliamentarian believes that there will be a substantive vote on whatever Theresa May brings back from the emergency summit, they have underestimated their opponent. Mrs May is nothing if not a skilled intriguer: otherwise, given her incredible mistakes, she would not still be in situ. Her most heavy-weight Brexit opponents in Cabinet – Johnson and Davis – are not there, are they?
Mrs May will, by late November, have committed the UK to a version some way short of “full Chequers” and irrevocably. Jeremy Corbyn’s idea that, after a negative Parliamentary vote, an international treaty can be unwound and we can go back to the EU and say “sorry chaps, we need to think this over some more” would be laughable if it was not coming from a senior political figure who seems to believe everything that comes out of his own mouth but nothing that comes out of anyone else’s.
Boris Johnson, meanwhile, the shop-soiled white hope of the Brexiteers, contents himself with a statement that “Chequers is the problem, not Mrs May”. This is the opposite of the truth. Mrs May is determined on Chequers, precisely because it is her plan. She is self-identified with it (which does not mean she will not water it down so as to be able to fly back to Croydon Airfield and step off a plane in late November waving a price of paper guaranteeing “Prosperity in our time”).
Mrs May has managed to get Boris Johnson to self-remove from the inner sanctum, contemporaneously with revelations about certain goings-on, which, as reported in the Independent, involved accusations of “cheating” on his wife. I wonder how the Independent found out about that. And – in common with millions – Mrs May sees through both this weakness of Boris’ and his political Achilles Heel: he wants the position of Prime Minister to fall into his lap. As Lady Macbeth said of Macbeth: “You would not play false, and yet you would wrongly win”.
Put simply, as long as Mrs May is PM, Chequers or a respray of it will be the plan. Remove her and Chequers and all variants of it go away.
There is no time to wait. The Conservative Party has had a fair few Brexiteer new joiners in mid-August: they will be eligible to vote in a leadership contest by mid-November.
Mrs May will by then be well on the way to signing the international treaty. That leaves a window of opportunity to oust Mrs May before she commits the UK, but after the new Conservative members become eligible. Let’s say that window is between 15th November and 7th December.
As long as there is a Brexiteer name on the ballot of party members, Mrs May will not win (even if her name is also on the ballot, which is no certainty).
It looks like there are about 10 weeks at most, counting from now, before the international treaty is committed to. A candidate should put themselves forward, get the European Research Group members to send their letters to the chair of the 1922 committee with the suitable words, and get the leadership contest going and now.
This is the only way to scuttle Chequers – by replacing Mrs May as Conservative leader and so as Prime Minister before she can complete her programme of self-immolation and take the rest of us down with her.