Much as I love Verdi’s great opera La Traviata, there comes a point in the prolonged death scene when I do wish she’d get on with it. In certain productions, it seems interminable. We know the ending. Just finish. Please.
A similar feeling left me slumped while watching Prime Minister Theresa May’s performance on Tuesday evening. She had just gone down to a massive 149-vote defeat – her second humiliation.
Only on this performance, the diva’s voice had gone, her speech was reduced to a gravelly croak and her words a pitiful surrender to events. Meanwhile in the orchestra pit, it was a tuneless riot, as if each player had an individual notion of the score. No opera, this, more a cacophonous rage.
As for the audience, our ears can’t stand it, but the exit doors are blocked. Please, Theresa. Just go. Bow out. Resign. Leave. It can’t go on like this.
It will, of course – but not for long. We can respect her fortitude, admire her endurance, applaud her determination to seek a withdrawal agreement bridging the conflicted wishes of voters, and salute her persistence with constant trips to Brussels – often in the face of insult and disparagement.
But the very marks of character with which she took us to this impasse cannot take us out.
She lacks the ability to lead, let alone inspire. She is poor at communication and her assertions, falling far short of persuasion, are often mangled in hesitation. Conviction eludes her.
She is secretive by nature, retreats into vacuous repetition, and glaringly lacks the ability to engage and win over. A perverse malady seems to take hold.
And as long as she is Prime Minister, there is little prospect of the UK emerging from the rut of despair and frustration into which she has led it.
There is also a limit to how long a broken and defeated Prime Minister can endure. When our international standing has been blown, the collective responsibility of the Cabinet broken down, her command of the Commons shattered, and with it authority over events, the stage darkens and the curtain starts to fall.
For the moment, she is kept on stage only by the seeming lack of acceptable contenders. Where is the credible alternative?
There are profound divisions within both the Conservatives and Labour. Government has descended into a raucous, factious feuding. The party membership is riven, a crumbling edifice held together only by the lateral tension of the brickwork – the spectre of a Jeremy Corbyn premiership.
As for Labour, deputy leader Tom Watson is reported to have marshalled as many as a third of MPs into his Future Britain Group while the far-Left Momentum continues to hold sway in dozens of constituencies.
Yet we are at the point when the search for consensus around an alternative leader is secondary to the catharsis of a Prime Minister’s announcement of departure. It is this that sets off the tumultuous process of successor discovery, the trigger that turns speculative muttering into the serious business of selection – the imperative starting gun of change. The mood of the moment takes over.
There may be no immediate prospect of deliverance from the Brexit quagmire. But while it persists the pressure for a fresh start grows stronger by the day. Business in particular has been crippled by prolonged and corrosive uncertainty that has borne down on new investment and expansion.
But there are other areas, too, which have suffered from neglect and inattention – schools and education in particular, local government services and a searching review of vainglorious projects such as HS2. A massive agenda for change is building after three years of all-consuming Brexit fog.
And for this, a clean sweep will be demanded. And that will dictate new leadership and a general election.