With her tough talk on Brexit and cozying-up to Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May does not go out of her way to elicit sympathy from progressives. But following her disastrous speech to the Tory party conference in October, you couldn’t help but feel bad for her. A litany of mishaps left the few who could stick with it until the end watching through parted fingers.
First, a prankster who’d managed to inveigle his way into the conference center managed to interrupt May’s speech by presenting her personally with a P45—the government form that people are handed when they lose their job. Then the prime minister descended into a coughing fit that she just couldn’t shake. Finally, as May spluttered her way to the end of the speech, the letters on the board behind her started to fall off. When she’d started, the board read “Building a country that works for everyone.” By the time she finished, it read “Building a country that works or everyon.”
In the end, it was less a speech than an embarrassing surfeit of metaphors: a government that has ceased to make sense; a leader too enfeebled to get her message across; a performance so weak a heckler could steal the show. This government’s days are numbered. And while it’s not entirely clear what that number will be, it seems to get smaller and smaller with each passing day.
Still, while May could go at any moment, replacing her would not resolve the underlying crisis.
Having lost its majority following a snap election in June, the Conservative Party now limps from one self-inflicted disaster to the next. Ministers turn up to Brexit meetings without briefing papers or a clue, are laughed out of negotiations, and then come home with their tails between their legs, only to talk tough and hope nobody noticed. At home, inflation is set to reach a five-year high (in no small part thanks to Brexit) and growth has stalled, leaving much pain in the population and little room for maneuver in the polity.
All of this makes what was unthinkable just a few months ago now a distinct possibility: Jeremy Corbyn, the hard-left leader of the Labour Party, could be the next prime minister. Labour now holds a three-point lead over the Conservatives, and Corbyn’s approval ratings are better than May’s. The September 23 cover of the libertarian Economist, no fan of the Labour leader, featured a cartoon of Corbyn coming out of 10 Downing Street with the headline The Likely Lad.