To all intents and purposes Theresa May’s Premiership looks over. The result of the General Election alone was enough to destroy her authority as the national leader and her grip on the Conservative Party. Having offered the electorate a clear message on Brexit and a robust set of manifesto promises on domestic issues, and given a clear choice between two completely different Prime Ministerial candidates, the electorate responded with the cruellest response of all – enough seats and votes to reasonably and constitutionally to form a government, but not enough to display any sense of confidence or encouragement in her as national leader. It is a very personal humiliation for the Prime Minister.
The causes will be analysed for months and years to come. There is enough blame and responsibility for all to share in. Subsequent events have only served to re-enforce the impression of a Prime Minister struggling to come to terms with her change in fortune and to grasp firmly the tiller of state. There is though, still, the chance for Theresa May to salvage something from the wreckage. She could, still, recover some of her position and offer some direction to a demoralised Conservative Party and a bewildered nation.
Theresa May has nothing politically to lose. Unless the government collapses imminently she will not fight another General Election as Leader of the Conservative Party. There is no consensus on who should succeed her. In the absence of such a consensus the Parliamentary Conservative Party is subdued into inaction. The Cabinet, at least a third of whom were due for the chop had Theresa May returned triumphantly to office with an increased majority, have proved in large part unmoveable, as have most Ministers lower down the pecking order. Cabinet discipline has broken down and Ministers take to the airwaves to issue contradictory comments on key policy areas. It appears as though the Prime Minister is being held hostage by a Cabinet who will not oust her. Parliamentary colleagues who have lost confidence in her and a party to uncertain and fearful about the consequences of replacing her. For Theresa May this represents one last and extraordinary opportunity to be the Prime Minister so many of her original backers hoped she would be.
She should move boldly and swiftly to reassert discipline over her cabinet and her Parliamentary party, by talking to them, and involving them. Discard doing a deal with the DUP – because it is unnecessary. Set out a limited but thoughtful Queen’s Speech, focussing on governing rather than legislating. Far too much legislation is pushed through Parliament.
Set a much more positive and constructive tone around Brexit – with a vibrant vision of what post Brexit Britain looks like. Build personal relationships with key people and groups inside and outside of Parliament. Above all, having been liberated from the need to worry about her own personal political future anymore so she should offer generous, thoughtful and practical leadership to the country and invite her party and Parliament to follow. Theresa May has nothing to lose, so why not go for it?