Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: MPs may say Prime Minister has their support but backstabbing to Tories is second nature

Theresa May to address Conservative MPs

By Suzanne Breen, Political Editor

If MPs say what they mean and mean what they say, Theresa May is on course to win tonight’s no confidence vote.

The Prime Minister needs 158 MPs behind her to survive and a Sky News tally shows 171 have so far have publicly made statements of support. But this is the Tory Party where looking your leader in the eye one minute and stabbing her in the back the next is second nature.

As Mrs May pledged to contest this evening’s vote “with everything I’ve got”, it’s worth recounting that the first female Conservative leader vowed to do the same when challenged by Michael Heseltine.

Margaret Thatcher secured 55% support but quit days later. Conventional wisdom has it that a similarly narrow win would so damage Mrs May’s authority that she’d also have to resign.

But we’re hardly living in conventional times. There are no set precedents as to what happens next and who would be surprised that, with a not so handsome win, the Prime Minister might just limp on?

Heavy hints have come from team May in the past few hours that if MPs back her tonight she will not lead the Tories into another election. That suggests her side aren’t as confident of victory as they’re saying. You don’t give throw out something like that unless you’re desperate.

If the Prime Minster wins well, her hand is hugely strengthened with the Brexiteers and she’ll be immune from another challenge for a year.

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She’s not a woman given to passion or rhetorical flourishes but she’ll have to make the speech of her life to the backbench 1922 Committee before the vote.

Margaret Thatcher had won three general elections but that couldn’t save her and she departed from Downing Street in tears.

Theresa May has no great political successes under her belt. But she’s not hated on the streets like her female predecessor was, and the Brexit clock is ticking on.

The huge instability caused by her departure, in already politically precarious times, is the best argument she can make tonight to keep her job.

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