Whatever your views on the Prime Minister’s policies and politics, it’s almost impossible not to feel a little bit sorry for Theresa May these days.
Working under the constant and lingering threat of a leadership challenge, May has the unenviable job of bringing together Cabinet colleagues with quite disparate visions of post-Brexit Britain. On the backbenches, meanwhile, europhile and eurosceptic Tories appear to be moving towards even more sharply opposed and often extreme positions.
Out in the country, the great British public are unimpressed. Recent polling from ICM shows that just 16 per cent of people think the Brexit process is going well, with 53 per cent saying it is going badly.
It is bizarre, therefore, that February’s polls have been exceptionally good for the Conservatives and offer a breath of fresh air for the PM. The aforementioned ICM poll gives May’s party a one-point lead over Labour, while YouGov shows the lead expanding to four points. Opinium’s latest survey reveals a three-point Tory lead.
Such data may explain Downing Street’s confident decision, briefed over the weekend, to plan a series of Brexit-themed speeches in the coming weeks. While polls show May maintaining a personal lead over Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, they also reflect confusion and discontent with Brexit negotiations.
A BMG survey found that nearly three-quarters of Brits were unclear about the PM’s overall strategy for leaving the European Union.
A few strong, set-piece speeches, one might think, could reassure the voting public and open up an even bigger gap over Corbyn’s Labour. Thus, May, David Davis, Liam Fox and David Lidington will all attempt to elucidate the road ahead. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, will issue what Number 10 calls a “rallying cry to those on both sides of the Brexit debate”. Such efforts may prove to be politically astute.
However, one cannot help but wonder if it is wise to line up a series of speeches when the Cabinet remains split on key issues and is being forced to retreat to Chequers in an effort to (finally) resolve its differences.
Voters and businesses across the country are tired of the bluster from both sides of this debate. In lieu of a “rallying cry”, they would surely be more reassured if the government quietly and pragmatically got its house in order ahead of the next round of historically significant talks.