Dif­fi­cult, or just dif­fi­cult to get rid of? May clings on

The Guardian - - NATIONAL POLITICS - The PM’s favoura­bil­ity poll fig­ure has plum­meted to -34 as Cor­byn’s has risen

or that she has been given “10 days to save her pre­mier­ship”. But the idea that the prime min­is­ter is fac­ing an im­mi­nent lead­er­ship chal­lenge is be­ing dis­missed as hy­per­bole by se­nior Tories. One MP who would ex­pect to be aware of a plot if there was one said he was mys­ti­fied by the re­ports, and said No 10 does not be­lieve that any coup is im­mi­nent.

The Sun­day Tele­graph said that Tory Euroscep­tics were pre­par­ing to launch a lead­er­ship chal­lenge in the event of May wa­ter­ing down her plans for Brexit. But the Euro­pean Re­search Group, the in­flu­en­tial and well or­gan­ised cau­cus push­ing for a rel­a­tively hard Brexit, is said by one source to be “ab­so­lutely solidly be­hind Theresa”, not least be­cause the Brex­iters are wor­ried that if May were to go, she could be re­place by some­one more pro-re­main.

On Wed­nes­day, May will have to de­liver a ma­jor speech at the start of the Queen’s speech de­bate, and the crunch will come when MPs come to vote on it about a week later. But, for all the spec­u­la­tion about this be­ing a make-or-break mo­ment, Down­ing Street is very con­fi­dent of win­ning the vote and, with the DUP ex­pected to vote with the Con­ser­va­tives, May should get her Queen’s speech through with a ma­jor­ity of about 13.

May took steps to­wards restor­ing her post-elec­tion rep­u­ta­tion with her party last week by giv­ing a sin­cere and con­trite speech to MPs at the back­bench 1922 com­mit­tee, but since then the Gren­fell Tower tragedy, and her ap­par­ently tardy and emo­tion­ally wooden pub­lic re­sponses to what hap­pened, fears have been re­newed in the party that she is tem­per­a­men­tally un­suited to be prime min­is­ter.

“It has un­der­lined that Theresa is aloof, im­per­sonal, and finds it dif­fi­cult to em­pathise. She has not re­acted in a way that would have come eas­ily to Tony Blair or David Cameron,” said one back­bencher.

Some of those who work with May ac­cept that she just does not con­nect emo­tion­ally with the pub­lic in the same way that many other politi­cians do. But they also be­lieve that some of the crit­i­cism lev­elled against her over the Gren­fell Tower dis­as­ter has been ou­tra­geous, say­ing that when she met fire­fight­ers, not vic­tims, on the Thurs­day, she was only fol­low­ing prece­dent and act­ing on the best ad­vice of her se­cu­rity team.

May’s plight is high­lighted by YouGov favoura­bil­ity polling fig­ures pub­lished on Wed­nes­day. In April, the prime min­is­ter had a net favoura­bil­ity rat­ing of +10 – a fig­ure cal­cu­lated as those who say they have a favourable opin­ion of her, mi­nus those who say they have an un­favourable opin­ion. Mean­while, the Labour leader, Jeremy Cor­byn, was lan­guish­ing on -42. But now Cor­byn is up to 0, and May’s rat­ings have col­lapsed to -34.

Much as the Con­ser­va­tive party might like to re­place May with a pop­u­lar and dy­namic leader, the prob­lem re­mains, as one MPs put it, “that there’s no ob­vi­ous suc­ces­sor”. Un­less May were to re­sign, a lead­er­ship con­test would only hap­pen if 15% of Tory MPs – 48 of them – write to the chair­man of the 1922 Com­mit­tee de­mand­ing one, and there is no ev­i­dence that any­thing like that num­ber are in favour.

Boris John­son, the for­eign sec­re­tary, is the most high-profile po­ten­tial lead­er­ship can­di­date and, un­like some of his ri­vals, he does have the rem­nants of a cam­paign team that could be ac­ti­vated on his be­half. But, mind­ful of what hap­pened when his pre­de­ces­sor as the mem­ber of par­lia­ment for Hen­ley, Michael He­sel­tine, chal­lenged Mar­garet Thatcher, he is acutely aware that dis­loy­alty gets pun­ished in the Con­ser­va­tive party and has been urg­ing MPs to get be­hind May.

It is also un­clear how any suc­ces­sor could shift party pol­icy on Brexit with­out trig­ger­ing a dam­ag­ing party split. May’s pre­mier­ship could still have some time left to run.

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