TWO years ago, Theresa May returned from a walking holiday in Wales and dropped a bombshell.
She announced a general election which, only a couple of weeks previously, she had insisted she would not call.
Theresa May must walk out of Downing Street after rambling holiday in Wales
As she returns to Downing Street this morning, once again refreshed from the Welsh hills, she needs to make an equally dramatic decision: To resign immediately as Conservative leader and to stay on as Prime Minister only as long as it takes to elect a new leader.
May is far from the first Prime Minister to have demonstrated a loosening grip on reality while ensconced in the Downing Street bunker, but surely even she can see that the game is up.
The dissent towards her in her own party is staggering.
A shocking poll for the Conservative Home website at the weekend revealed that 62 per cent of Conservative Party members are planning to vote for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the European elections. This was not a poll of wider Tory voters but of people who pay an annual subscription to the party.
If this group of around 125,000 people are not prepared to vote for their own party, then what chance have the Tories in attracting votes from the wider electorate?
But it gets worse — even elected Tory representatives are planning to rat on their party in the European elections.
A Survation poll suggests that four in ten Conservative councillors are planning to back the Brexit Party too.
Loyalty, it used to be said, was the Tories’ secret weapon.
Not any more.
The party has become like an army whose frontline troops have started burrowing beneath enemy lines — not in order to plant explosives beneath its positions, but in the hope of joining it in its trenches.
Anything would be better than being led round and round in circles by a Prime Minister who has become tired and stuck
No Conservative leader will find it easy to turn around the situation, but at least a new face, with some new ideas and a fresh perspective on how to solve the Brexit impasse, would have a chance.
Anything would be better than being led round and round in circles by a Prime Minister who has become tired and stuck.
Every time May comes to the despatch box after some new, devastating vote in the Commons, I find myself thinking: Surely she must have a fresh strategy now.
Then I find myself groaning to learn that no, still she seems to think that the answer is to keep on plugging her failed deal.
To huge numbers of British people, May has become a large part of the problem.
What was once seen as her greatest asset — resilience — is now seen as plain stubbornness.
It has become impossible to imagine any satisfactory outcome to Brexit until she is gone.
Sadly, I fear that May herself cannot see this.
Like John Major in the last, wretched years of his premiership, I fear she has convinced herself that she is an asset to her party and her country when almost everyone else can see that the opposite is true.
As with Major in the mid 1990s, every day that May remains in Downing Street is adding to the scale of defeat the party faces at the ballot box.
The only difference is that then the beneficiary was the moderate Tony Blair.
EVER DAY SHE REMAINS ADDS FUEL TO CORBYN BECOMING PM
This time around, an unpopular but stubborn Tory leader is adding rocket fuel to the chances of an unreformed Marxist, Jeremy Corbyn, becoming Prime Minister.
I know May is desperate to achieve some sort of legacy before she leaves Downing Street, but if she resists much longer her main achievement will be an indirect one — it will be to let in a Labour government which returns Britain to the sort of punitive tax rates which drove a brain drain of individuals and businesses from the country in the 1970s.
It is a great shame that May did not resign last December, when 117 of her MPs voted against her in a confidence vote.
Her margin of victory — she won 63 per cent of votes — would have constituted a substantial mandate in an open leadership contest.
But this was not a leadership contest.
It was a no-confidence vote in a sitting Prime Minister, in which anything less than a resounding victory would have been unsatisfactory.
Given that more than 100 Conservative MPs are members of the Government — and were therefore duty bound to support their Prime Minister in a confidence vote — May failed even to carry with her a majority of her backbenchers.
And that was before the multiple Commons defeats for her deal, which have led to open rebellion in the Cabinet.
Were such a vote to be held now, it is inevitable that many ministers who reluctantly backed her in December would no longer feel they needed to do so.
Under the Conservative Party’s rules, May cannot be challenged again in a no-confidence vote for a full 12 months after the last one. But there are rumblings to change this rule.
Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Committee, which represents backbenchers, is reported to be planning to visit May next week to tell her to resign before the end of June.
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But that won’t be soon enough. Before then, the Tories face twin wipeouts in the local and European elections. The latter may be utterly pointless but nevertheless, a derisory performance is still going to be deeply traumatic when it happens.
Theresa May’s ministers have dutifully supported her in the past.
Her duty is now to step aside immediately, before she accidentally ends up leading her party to an even greater humiliation in a general election than the one it suffered in 1997.
Ross Clark is a Spectator columnist.
Getty – Pool To huge numbers of British people, May has become a large part of the problem
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