Theresa May narrowly survived an internal Tory party coup attempt last week in one of the worst weeks of her leadership so far.
Former party chairman Grant Shapps had been organising against May since June. He needed the signatures of 48 MPs to trigger a vote of no confidence.
But rebel MPs were told the coup would only be launched once Shapps had enough support—and most balked when he was prematurely outed as a ringleader.
Backbencher Nadine Dorries MP was the first to publicly call for May to resign. But many MPs saw May’s disastrous conference speech as an opportunity to get rid of her.
The calamitous speech—where part of the stage fell away and a comedian handed her a P45—continued what has been an undeniably terrible year for May.
The Shapps coup attempt follows a disastrous snap election in June.
It was supposed to strengthen May’s authority in Brexit negotiations.
Instead it led to her losing her majority and shaking the “magic money tree” to go into coalition with the bigoted Democratic Unionist Party.
Behind the comedic mishaps are tensions in the Tory party that go much deeper than a bad speech or the personal qualities of May.
The biggest divide is over Brexit. The negotiations are likely to be drawn out, difficult and divisive at every level of the party.
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has pitched himself into the battle, using every opportunity to undermine May. When not covering his back telling MPs to “circle the wagons”, he’s selling himself as a leader in waiting who can deliver a “hard Brexit”.
May is under pressure to sack him in a cabinet reshuffle. But Johnson isn’t alone in the attacks.
And on the opposite side there are calls to sack chancellor Philip Hammond because he wants to remain close to the European Union after Brexit.
The Tories also can’t agree on how to address the growing resentment and frustration after seven years of austerity—or the growing support for Labour.
May’s “success” in hanging on as leader is itself a sign of Tory weakness. There is simply no obvious candidate to replace her.
Many Tories will be reluctant to launch a potentially lengthy and damaging leadership contest.
Rivalries between senior members of the cabinet meant they couldn’t agree on a successor after the general election. Even if they had, that candidate could struggle to defeat a hard right wing backbencher such as Jacob Rees-Mogg.
May still has people loyal to her—or at least more firmly opposed to her rivals.
Prominent figures such as Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson have focused their fire on Johnson.
But despite all that one Tory minister told the Sunday Times newspaper that May’s leadership would be “over before Christmas”.
May is hanging on by a thread. The Tories are in disarray—mass resistance could finish them off.