Another week, another Cabinet resignation coming just seven days after the previous. No sex scandal this time, but a rather bizarre story of the International Development Secretary taking a family holiday which turned into what appears to be a diplomatic mission to Israel, with meetings up to and including the Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The facts of what No 10 and the Foreign Office knew and when continue to be contested, but the whole fiasco has poured more fuel onto the fire of feeling that this Government is descending chaotically from one disjointed shambles to another, like some sort of latter day political Fawlty Towers.
For those of us who worked in politics through the 1992-97 Parliament this seems so reminiscent. A Government without a majority, paralysed by Europe and led by a Prime Minister whose personal authority seems to dissipate by the day. Just when you think it cannot get any worse, it finds a way to do so. With big question marks still hanging over Boris Johnson and Damian Green, and ongoing mutterings about more sex scandals to come, there are few in government who expect it to get better before its gets still worse. While strong reforming Governments can cope with bad weeks or even months, May’s continuing and ongoing lack of any real domestic agenda after her disastrous 2017 Manifesto and campaign highlights a Government trapped in what seems like a terminal drift toward the rocks.
But the two big differences with the ’92 Parliament lies in the opposition and Brexit. Whilst Tony Blair continually sought to reassure Conservative voters and offered a cautious manifesto of incremental change, Jeremy Corbyn is a different prospect entirely. However badly most people think this Government is performing, they continue to hit 40% in the polls, with large numbers of people preferring a shambolic Conservative government to what they view as a terrifying Labour one. In addition, outside London, data shows the number one reason to vote Conservative this year was Brexit, and many Tory voters will be sticking with this Government to deliver a version of it.
Where this ends is impossible to forecast with confidence. Theresa May’s life expectancy as Prime Minister erodes by the day, but don’t mistake that for thinking an early General Election and a Corbyn Government is imminent. The only people who can force that to happen are Conservative MPs. And the worse things get, the more determined they are to defer an election as long as possible. The Tory hope is that by hanging on, Corbyn implodes, some version of Brexit succeeds, and a new domestic agenda can be agreed upon. We shall see. In any case, this episode of Fawlty Towers has a long way to run.