Priti Patel’s blind ambition has left Mrs May teetering – again

PUBLISHED: 13:50 09 November 2017 | UPDATED: 13:50 09 November 2017

Priti Patel and Theresa May

Priti Patel and Theresa May

PA Wire/PA Images

There is no doubting Priti Patel’s ambition.

In fact it is that blind determination to succeed that probably landed her in this mess.

There is a power vacuum in the government, Theresa May has no authority and the sharp-elbowed around the cabinet table have known this since the exit poll on June 8.

Witham MP Ms Patel spotted an opportunity to grab some of that power. She desperately wants to rise to the highest office and those meetings in Israel were, in her mind, an attempt to flex her muscles.

It was a naive thing to do. A silly thing to do. There are plenty of other ways Ms Patel could have positioned herself for a leadership bid, she would have been better spending her holiday building alliances within the Brexit wing of the Tory party.

But she aims high, driven by a work ethic instilled in her by her shopkeeper parents. And that won’t end because of this episode. Ms Patel will see this as a blip, a bump in the road that she hopes will, one day, lead her to Downing Street.

What these events have once again highlighted is the void at the top of government. Why didn’t Mrs May sack Ms Patel? Why did she allow he to resign? And why did it take so long?

Mrs May is almost paralysed by a powerlessness that has prompted ministers to go rogue time and again. The aftershocks from the almost persistent insubordination of her cabinet could well topple her premiership.

In just one week she has lost two ministers. One to claims of unwanted sexual advances and another to a mixture of hubris and ignorance. What does it say about the people who run Britain?

There seems no way out for Mrs May, other than the door with a suitcase under her arm. But she won’t go. She might well be pushed but she definitely won’t walk.

So as it stands the plan is “keep your head down and hope they all start behaving themselves”. They won’t. As long as there is a weak prime minister there will be schemes and plots being hatched.

Mrs May’s problem is that she has never been that kind of politician. Her rise to the very top has been through a mixture of extreme hard work and dedication rather than trampling on people. And looking back at the leadership race that was sparked after David Cameron fell on his Brexit sword Mrs May won by default. Had Michael Gove not launched one of the most brutal blue-on-blue incidents in Tory history and Andrea Leadsom not rammed her foot firmly in her own mouth the outcome might have been different.

Another aspect of the current political climate that should worry Mrs May is the lack of a Labour Party. Where are they? Shouldn’t they be trying to lob more grenades at the retreating government? The truth is they don’t need to.

There is an old trick journalists use when interviewing people they are trying to prise a confession from: silence. Often that weapon makes the interviewee uncomfortable and they implicate themselves. If you want an example watch David Frost nailing Richard Nixon.

That is Labour’s strategy – let’s keep our hands clean and watch from a distance as the cabinet rips itself to pieces before imploding.

I have not been alone among the political commentariat in recent months in suggesting things can’t get much worse for Mrs May. I’ve changed my mind.

There is clearly some kind of voodoo at play here, a curse upon Number 10 that can only be lifted by the removal of the tenant.

I now predict that things are going to get worse for Mrs May. Expect the Budget to bomb. Expect a by-election. Even expect the Number 10 Christmas tree to collapse on top of her as she wanders along Downing Street.

We can now be sure that if it can go wrong for the prime minister it will.

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