Patriotism, once thought of as “the last refuge of a scoundrel” (Dr. Johnson) is now the last resort of a failed leader. The word entered the vocabulary of Theresa May for the first time yesterday. The Sunday Telegraph carried this headline over her name: WE MUST COME TOGETHER AS PATRIOTS TO VOTE DEAL THROUGH. This, from a Prime Minister who has spent nearly three years trying to hand over national sovereignty to the European Union and now calls on all true patriots to sign up to her surrender document! Hitherto, Mrs. May had always avoided speaking of “patriotism.” The word was tainted by its association with the wrong sort of people. It is next door to “nationalism,” that stigma of modish thought. Mrs. May now stands at the bar of public opinion charged with bringing patriotism into disrepute.
Her immediate prospect is to delay the vote on her Withdrawal Agreement. The numbers may not be there, and however the Whips threaten the waverers with instruments of torture forbidden in the overworld, the outcome would be in doubt. And a loss by the Government would be catastrophic. As soon as the Speaker announced the result of the vote, Jeremy Corbyn would be on his feet giving notice of a vote of no confidence in the Government. That is his right. The outcome, if a “victory” for the Government, might not save it. We should always remember that Neville Chamberlain in the debate of May 1940 actually won a majority. But the numbers of Conservatives who voted against convinced him that he had no choice but to resign. So it is likely that Theresa May will pull the Meaningful Vote on her Agreement, and head off to Brussels to try yet again for a Meaningful Concession on the part of the hierarchs.
All this may seem confusing. I suggest that it is not so. We should simply apply Lenin’s great question, “Cui bono?” and the answer is easy. The beneficiary of UK political turmoil in Britain is Theresa May. She has created and hugged all the problems, and the problems have stood by her. Office, the prime goal of leaders, is hers—for a little while longer.