“Chaotic useless bickering rudderless floundering humiliated Tories slump to six-point lead over Labour”, tweeted one of the parliamentary lobby’s wittiest members, Matt Chorley, in response to the latest YouGov poll on Monday.
Theresa May’s consistent lead over Jeremy Corbyn is one of her key sources of strength as she goes through this turbulent time.
Not only did she win the confidence motion before Christmas, but even having lost the meaningful vote on her Brexit plan this evening, her aides in Number 10 will continue to remind MPs about her lead in the polls.
One reason for this lead is undoubtedly Corbyn, who is losing his cuddly image. His lack of leadership over antisemitism in the Labour party has rightly struck home, resonating more strongly with the electorate than previous attacks, and voters are beginning to lose patience with his continued refusal to clarify Labour’s own Brexit strategy.
Were Labour to be led by a more prime ministerial figure, the Conservatives’ support would undoubtedly fall.
But another reason for the Tory lead is that, beyond the SW1 bubble, many voters respect the Prime Minister for her diligence and understand the constraints that she is working under. After all, Britain has a rich history of strong female leaders in turbulent times, women who were prepared to knuckle down and get the job done in challenging circumstances.
It is a mistake to extrapolate political trends from personal anecdotes, but I was struck over the holidays, spending time with family and friends in Yorkshire, at the warmth towards May.
One of the key political influences in my life was my late grandfather, who owned a shop after serving in the army, and imbued political opinions in me in the 1980s that you might expect from the owner of a small business.
Later in his life, when the EU issue became more prominent, he became a eurosceptic and voted Leave alongside 58 per cent of people in Yorkshire.
So when a family member recently said that he “would have thought well of Theresa May and how she’s carried a weight of responsibility”, it caught my attention. Perhaps this is one reason for the Conservative lead which those of us glued to Westminster seem to have forgotten.
As our minds inevitably focus on Brexit over the coming weeks, we should also remember that there is more to politics than Britain’s relationship with the European Union.
May announced before Christmas that she would not be fighting the 2022 election as Conservative leader. While her position is not as tenuous as many in Westminster seem to assume, speculation about who will take over from her will now become an even more dominant feature of media coverage. Already, it is the main prism through which the actions of cabinet ministers are analysed.
Some people – on both sides of the referendum divide – have suggested that the new leader has to be someone who supported Leave in 2016, if they are to command the support of Leave MPs and voters across the country.
I don’t buy this argument. Unlike the 2016 leadership election, which took place in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, the next leadership contest looks set to be a lengthier process, subjecting candidates to greater scrutiny about the detail of their various positions, and not just on Brexit.
In these circumstances, candidates such as Sajid Javid or Jeremy Hunt, who both supported Remain in 2016, would have the opportunity to set out the specifics of how they would approach Britain’s evolving relationship with the EU.
Should their Brexit plans be more appealing, more credible, or command wider support, Leave voters will not feel bound to back a candidate based on the side they took many years previously.
And – crucially – Brexit will not be the sole lens through which the leadership credentials are analysed.
In the wake of the Second World War, voters were grateful for Winston Churchill’s leadership, but they gave Labour a landslide victory in 1945 because Clement Attlee was seen to have a more compelling vision for Britain’s post-war future.
The former Brexit secretary and Leave supporter Dominic Raab set out his economic manifesto in a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies on Monday.
Cabinet ministers have also been using interviews and appearances to outline their views on issues beyond their departmental briefs. And a number of talented backbenchers are catching people’s eyes too.
Unless the leadership election takes place very soon, I suspect that Brexit will not be as central as people assume. Watching Channel 4’s Brexit: The Uncivil War last week, I was struck by how dated it felt, even though it was about events which took place only a few years ago.
Voters aren’t as critical of the Prime Minister as many in Westminster assume, and Brexit is not the central concern for the majority of the British people.
Politics is moving on, and a new generation is emerging with a broader vision for the country.