Theresa May will stand down as leader of the Conservative Party on 7 June, triggering a leadership election, the exact length of which has yet to be decided. She leaves behind one hell of a mess.
She bowed out with the rampant shamelessness that has typified her public statements: talking about compromise “not being a dirty word” in the exact same square foot where she tried to whip up an angry mob against parliament not two months ago. She also talked about making sure Grenfell doesn’t happen again, having taken two years to do anything to get the same cladding removed from private tower blocks.
It makes her the second Conservative prime minister to resign from office since the Brexit vote of 23 June 2016 and it feels like a big bet to think that her replacement will be any more likely to resolve the deadlock than she was.
Yes, she inherited a huge public policy challenge from David Cameron. But an In-Out referendum had been the settled will of much of the Conservative Party for decades and the first majority since 1992 was always going to yield a vote on our EU membership.
What wasn’t inevitable was that the politician who followed him would inject an industrial quality of vitriol and hatred by trying to use Brexit as a cudgel to reorient British politics and failing spectacularly. It wasn’t inevitable to create a weird half department in Dexeu that has, as predicted by almost every serious Whitehall watcher, created more confusion in government than it has solved. It wasn’t inevitable that a quarter of the country would regard any form of negotiated Brexit as a betrayal – “no deal is better than a bad deal”, the most harmful soundbite in British politics, was produced, repeated and endorsed by her.
She inherited a parliamentary majority with three years left to run and a comfortable opinion poll lead. She passes on a deadlocked parliament and no obvious route to an overall Conservative victory. She was bequeathed a country with a large majority for a negotiated Brexit – she passes on a nation where no outcome, be it no Brexit, no deal or a negotiated exit, can reliably command the support of more than third of the country as a desirable end state.
Nonetheless there will be upwards of 15 candidates to inherit the disaster, which says something about human optimism if nothing else.