Surely the Prime Minister wasn’t kidding anyone? When she walked from her car on Friday afternoon towards the waiting media and told the nation she was ready to “provide certainty and lead Britain forward at this critical time for our country”, nobody bought it, did they?
Theresa May – by some distance the worst Prime Minister in living memory – has neither the competence nor the authority to carry out the mission she describes. Her days as the occupant of 10 Downing Street are numbered.
It would be easy to slather oneself with hindsight and say that May’s decision to call a snap general election was a mistake, that she was doomed to failure the moment she announced her plan. But we cannot say this with confidence.
What we can say is that the Prime Minister ran a spectacularly, jaw-droppingly, Bafta-winningly bad campaign. May shattered her reputation as a safe pair of hands by letting us see the real her.
Of course, the Prime Minister kept away from members of the public as often as was possible, Instead, she favoured tightly controlled events – such as, say, a meeting in a hut in a forest in the Highlands – where she would repeat the words “strong and stable” for the cameras.
When she had to interact with voters, May was comically awkward (imagine a Morningside accountant trying to talk about football with the bloke building his conservatory). She grinned and nodded and occasionally shrieked with uncomfortable laughter. In interviews, she was wooden and monotonous, delivering drab bromides and displaying a reticence to engage that further undermined the idea of her as a dynamic leader.
May asked us to trust her to deliver the best possible Brexit deal and then showed us just how unfit she is to perform that task.
The consequences for the Prime Minister will be grave (and I’ll come back to that) but she is not the only victim of her own ineptitude.
The UK does not approach Brexit negotiations holding a strong hand. The remaining members of the EU owe the UK nothing and, politically, it is in their interests to make this clear. With nationalist parties agitating across the EU for similar referendums, our former partners will be keen to show that departure from the club has consequences. There are those European leaders who think the best outcome would be the UK’s head on a stick by the city walls.
How on earth, then, could Theresa May be considered the right person to enter into these negotiations? She has been humiliated by an election disaster of her own creation. Her credibility is shot to pieces.
Every other leader across the EU knows this. They know that, in May, they are dealing with a second-rater. They know just how bad she is at this stuff.
There are other implications, too, that give cause for concern.
The political solution to years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland is young and fragile. Thus far, the most important role the UK government has been able to play is that of honest broker when things have grown fraught between unionists and nationalists at Stormont.
The neutrality of the UK government in matters devolved to Northern Ireland is self-evidently important. May’s dependence on the Democratic Unionist Party to help her minority administration get legislation through the Commons is bad news for the power-sharing agreement at Stormont. Suddenly, the DUP finds itself with considerably more political power than the republicans of Sinn Fein. This upset in the equilibrium cannot be good for Northern Ireland.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said on Friday that she had sought assurances that any dealings with the socially conservative DUP would not mean the diminution of LGBTI rights. Davidson reported that she has received the promises she required but her disdain for the arrangement was palpable.
The Conservative Party did not earn its deserved reputation for resilience without displaying a considerable degree of ruthlessness when required. Once-loved leaders are put out of their misery as soon as there’s the slightest hint they might be a liability.
This fate awaits May. Senior Tories say that she is safe until after the Tories have provided a Queen’s Speech and re-established themselves in government. After that, it will be a matter of when, not if, she is invited to step down or face a bruising leadership challenge.
I can’t imagine May having the stomach for the fight. The Prime Minister might have won most seats but she squandered a parliamentary majority and revealed herself to be incompetent.
Meanwhile, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn did not have the disastrous night many – myself included – expected. But, despite increasing Labour’s number of MPs, Corbyn still couldn’t come close to beating a useless Tory leader.
Those in the Labour Party treating the result as a victory should think carefully about what exactly they achieved. Corbyn is secure in position, but he remains a divisive figure whose appeal is lost on a significant number of those voters whose support Labour needs if it is to win a general election.
And, while she may have led the SNP to victory in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is wounded by the loss of 21 MPs and the rejection of her independence plans that represents.
The only clear winner on Thursday was Ruth Davidson, who is now – without question – the pre-eminent Tory politician of the times.
Socially liberal and pro-EU, Davidson finds herself with considerable authority in the Tory Party, both north and south of the border. We should expect her to try to influence the direction of Brexit. If such a thing as “soft” Brexit exists, then be sure it’s Davidson’s preference. Whether there’s any point in Ruth Davidson discussing this with Theresa May isn’t at all clear.
As things stand, today, the current Prime Minister won’t be involved in the Brexit negotiations. Her colleagues will see to that.