Forget about a lost voice and a backdrop to a stage falling apart. Last week’s Conservative conference is ancient history. It is Europe that torments Theresa May and will bring her down, as it was Europe that triggered her rise to the top. With the Conservative party, it is always Europe. During her statement to the Commons on Monday afternoon her demeanour was impressively calm and stable, but the evasive and contorted content pointed to impossible storms ahead.
Theresa May: 'I won't hide from a challenge'
The dynamic is familiar, like a recurring nightmare. Once again a desperate prime minister tries to please a party that is impossible to please. With all the hourly twists and turns, let us not forget the wider, deadly context. David Cameron resigned over Europe, and within days May was prime minister, walking on water, way ahead in the polls. Like Cameron she became weak because of Europe, calling an early election partly to secure a bigger majority for her multi-layered Brexit negotiations. Now she stumbles towards her final phase unable to deliver a Brexit that will unite her party. She is the fourth successive Conservative prime minister in despair over her party and Europe.
John Major was the second. He wrote an article at the weekend pleading for the “self-absorbed” critics to stop. He knows a thing or two about his party’s capacity to make leadership a form of hell. Even during the 1997 election campaign, when he was facing a slaughter, he was forced to plead with his party not to “bind my hands” over a forthcoming EU summit.