This week, betting agencies finally paid out on pre-election bets over who would form the next Government after the Conservatives passed the Queen’s Speech with a majority of just 14. Yet even their day of victory required a last-minute concession, with the Government agreeing to pay for women in Northern Ireland to travel to the rest of the UK if they wanted an abortion, necessary to stop a similar amendment by Labour MP Stella Creasy being voted through. When a Government cannot even pass a Queen’s Speech without last minute concessions to stop an opposition MP’s amendment, it shows just how weak that Government has become.
Meanwhile the Government has managed to change position on the 1% public pay cap from keeping it, to scrapping it, to keeping it again, and then finally to now reviewing it all in the space of a few days. It is all reminiscent of the Major regime in the mid-90s, with a weak Prime Minister swaying in the breeze, endless leadership speculation, and splits over Europe dominating the Tory debate. Though of course May can only dream of the rising wages seen under the Major Government.
However, underneath the headline chaos and weakness, signs of normalisation are emerging. Policy is now being pushed forward, Ministers are getting on top of their briefs, advisers are largely back in place or replaced (including in some key positions within No10), and the machinery of Government is slowly rolling forward. The Government is publishing consultations, white and green papers are being discussed, and in general work is progressing as if this Government will last for the next few years rather than months.
And indeed this does seem the most likely outcome – the DUP were never likely to pull down a Conservative Government and replace it with Corbyn given his historic links to Sinn Fein. While May herself is rather weak, the Conservatives, in some form or other, are likely to be around for some time to come. Their hope is that the economy will improve, Brexit will work out, and Corbyn will self-destruct. It all seems unlikely – but politics is rather fluid these days. And so the machinery of Government creaks on – although where it is taking us all is rather less clear.