May faces no-confidence vote amid Brexit chaos

Members of UK Prime Minster Theresa May's own party triggered a vote of no-confidence in her leadership amid Brexit deal discussions, which could lead to her removal from office.

Posted: Dec 12, 2018 4:29 PM
Updated: Dec 12, 2018 4:56 PM

Theresa May did the right thing this week in delaying a parliamentary Brexit vote that she knew she would lose. Just one problem. What does she do now?

Her party, the Conservative Party, is hopelessly divided on Europe. The European Union has no interest in making concessions or throwing the sort of lifeline that could help her bring them 'round. And the only thing holding a bitterly disunited kingdom together appears to be contempt for the Prime Minister, who is either too pro-Europe or too anti-Europe, depending on who you consult.

Yet, still she shambles on with no end in sight nor glimmer of hope in her eyes, like the monstrosities on "The Walking Dead." I cannot watch either of them anymore. Someone -- anyone -- please put her out of her misery. That is exactly what could happen Wednesday, when her party votes on a motion of no confidence. If she loses this vote, she will no longer be the leader of her party, and she vowed to fight with "everything I've got."

This is where the past two years of topsy-turvy politics have left us: A class of politicians who simply believe they cannot be killed off. As Andrew Rawnsley put it in June 2017, "Britain has a zombie prime minister" -- and now Britain isn't the only one.

Take Angela Merkel. (Someone, please take her, as the old music hall joke about mothers-in-law goes.) She is still soldiering on through a fourth term as German Chancellor, despite hitting new levels of unpopularity over her decision to open her country's borders to immigrants and refugees. Last year, her party suffered its worst election since 1949, but she still didn't take the hint that perhaps the country had had enough of her. Finally, she stepped aside as leader of her party this month, which means she could still be stumbling along in power until 2021.

And then there's Donald Trump, whose inability to build the wall or pass much in the way of legislation has failed to dampen his own certainty that he is a born leader, whether the country wants him or not. Throughout the turmoil of his presidency, there has been just one constant: The poll ratings that suggest a majority of voters do not want him, thank you very much.

There once was a time when his constant campaign catastrophes -- the ugly ridicule of the late Sen. John McCain's war record, the public row with a Gold Star family or the boastful comments about grabbing women -- would have been enough for him to bow out under the force of public opinion before even reaching the White House.

His example illustrates the way in which that sort of politics by consensus is finished. The convention that some things are so bad that they are resigning matters seems rather quaint today. That idea that the country or even the party deserves better seems so 20th century.

Do you remember the night that Margaret Thatcher went? When I was growing up in the English Home Counties, her grip on power seemed absolute. But then she was gone, just like that, one night in November 1990.

She faced a challenge to her leadership yet had still come top of the first ballot. She won more than half the vote yet fell just short of the 15% margin required by the rules. She could have fought on, toughed it out, yet Tory grandees -- no doubt all men with grey hair and a tendency towards gout -- quietly suggested she step aside for the good of the country and for the good of the party.

Wouldn't happen today, would it?

I don't know whether Donald Trump's claim was true, that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters. But I do know this much: He certainly wouldn't resign. (Is there even anyone left in the Republican Party to have a quiet word in his shell-like?)

Then, there's the other lesson of the rise of populism, Brexit and Donald Trump. No matter how bleak it looks, no matter what the pollsters and the pundits say, there's still a chance of an upset victory.

So, no wonder Theresa May and our zombie politicians shamble on, walking towards the cliff's edge, intent on seeing their mission through to the bitter end.

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