George Osborne famously described our Prime Minister as a ‘Dead woman walking’ following the General Election that backfired so spectacularly on her a year ago. It is undeniably impressive how long this dead woman has continued to stumble along, but this week it has become increasingly apparent there are many vultures circling.
One after another, Cabinet Ministers have begun flexing their muscles in what is starting to look like an informal leadership contest. First off we had Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who following a dispute with the PM on military funding, allegedly boasted to military chiefs ‘I made her – and I can break her.’ It is a claim he has not denied. Jeremy Hunt has been on manoeuvres as well, organising meetings behind the scenes with colleagues seeking their opinions on the National Health Service and his management of it. Then there is Liz Truss, who made a remarkably candid speech in London this week attacking her Cabinet colleagues for grappling over cash, and positioning herself as the ‘candidate’ of fiscal responsibility. Ironically, her speech telling off her colleagues for their flexing of muscles was a muscle flexing exercise in itself; the speech was a clear statement of intent from Truss, who has not been considered a likely candidate until now.
It is precisely this that will be worrying the PM and her allies. It isn’t just the usual suspects seeking to usurp her anymore. Every Prime Minister has to manage a few big beasts in their cabinet. With Blair came Brown; with Cameron came Johnson and Osborne. But in the case of May, it isn’t just big beasts she needs to control – even the little critters are sharpening their knives. The likes of Williamson and Truss should not be a threat, and yet the weakness of May means that she will be fearing every opponent in her way. The Prime Minister remains walking for now, but when she finally comes to a halt, background manoeuvring will become open warfare, and more blood will spill.