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  • Lawrence Bailey

The sound of knives sharpening

I’ve been told off by a reader for steering away from politics in this column in recent weeks.

I’m inclined to plead that political commentary is a tough gig these days with too much unpredictability. In truth though, the main reason is the absence of real meat during recess.

Admittedly, there’s been a minor rash of policy sound-bites from the parties. But whether it’s Labour shifting its position over Brexit or Conservative equivocation on executive pay, it’s all holiday window-dressing that will be overtaken once real business resumes.

Something that won’t be quickly forgotten though is the declaration by Theresa May, during a tour of Japan, that she intends leading her party into the next election.

Last month, a cabinet colleague dismissed gossip about the PM’s fragile future as the result of “too much warm Prosecco" at summer drinks parties. So you have to wonder if Mrs May had been at the Sake (rice wine) before blurting out her ambition.

Whatever the reason, she’s patently forgotten the circumstances under which the other woman to lead the Conservatives also voiced an intention to stay at the helm. It didn’t end well.

To her party critics, it’s another in a string of ill-judged statements. Yet does that mean she is under renewed threat?

The oracle in such matters (also known as bookies) currently reckon the prime minister will not last the year. However, the best odds available on any potential replacement is David Davis at 7/2 – a situation which in itself speaks volumes.

Politics is about perception. Theresa May was an acceptably dogged figure as Home Secretary. She exuded a strength of purpose that got her appointed as leader by default.

That has since changed drastically with very few assigning any sort of credibility to what comes out of Downing Street – or the cabinet for that matter.

Added to this are newspaper reports that it’s the corporate giants – to whom the tories are greatly beholden – who are dictating the terms of Britain’s exit from EU. That’s why the UK only wants to talk about favourable trade deals while the Brussels agenda is focused on social safeguards.

But the key asking point is would any other senior Conservative willingly take on the top job just now when the party has a flimsy mandate and can only get stuff through parliament on a contrived vote-by-vote basis?

Stupid question. Of course they would. There’s no bigger buzz in Westminster than being addressed as "Prime Minister"; even if it's just for a few months.

If trouble does come looking for May then it will probably be along traditional lines; involving a key resignation. The reason given will be less significant than the reaction it provokes because herd instinct takes over at that point.

If events combine to destabilise her tenure – and this week’s tricky EU debate could be just the catalyst – then everything is up for grabs as front runners and dark horses bustle for position. It could be a rough ride.

Parliament resumes its business this afternoon. Buckle up.

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