Perhaps predictably we are seeing reaction from the Conservative government against its in-house detractors. This really kicked-off after the party conference in Manchester last week and has built up this stylised wall of defence around Theresa May. Curiously, the Labour camp are seeming to keep quite a low profile rather than exploiting the potential political advantage. Maybe something is brewing there also ?
The very fact that the PM is under a leadership challenge at all is evidence that all is not well in the government ranks, with questions being raised but seldom answered - and we have known this for some time. The Tory mistake has been in not rectifying the problem from the outset. Poor management, poor leadership, poor strategy formulation, poor understanding of the fundamental issues and, in the case of Brexit negotiations, a poor appraisal of the impact upon the EU and its most probable responses.
All of these have been springboards for the catalogue of disasters and errors of judgement that the Conservatives have made since the Brexit referendum. Their complete mis-reading of the electoral mood led them into a disastrous general election campaign and a grim result which shows at every twist and turn the government now makes. It has, for them, been a self-made hole that has just got deeper and deeper. So, no wonder there is much talk of a leadership challenge - the PM has little achievement to boast about.
But there are, as a result of this mess, choices to be made and, as usual, choices are rarely cut and dry selections of better or worse. Regrettably, we have our 50 shades of grey to unravel in-between. As we have posted before, a leadership change will create a good measure of uncertainty, at least a wobble, possibly a collapse - with the EU, with the financial sector and with business, not to mention quite a few of the British electorate. That is not to say it should not occur, for a continuance of poor leadership will also create uncertainty, lack of confidence and a sense that whatever deals are entered into will be less favourable than those that a competent leader would likely achieve. So, we need to make a choice. Insofar as the Tory leadership is concerned, that will be decided not by us, the unwashed masses, but by the Tories themselves. And that is why a defensive wall is being built around Mrs May - the Tory fear of a challenge and a change is a danger to their own status, career and influence - for any new leader worth his/her salt would likely shake up the cabinet seating plan with vigour. There is self preservation at work, not just an outward display of PM loyalty.
The alternative reaction to strong and persistent leadership challenges is for the PM to dissolve parliament and call yet another general election. Now Mrs May doesn't have a good track record here so she would need to firmly believe that this was the only way she could avoid not being publicly ousted by her own party and put her trust in convincing the electorate that a continuation of Conservative governance was the only realistic way forward. And that's a big question mark for the PM because many of us suspect both her and her senior colleagues actually don't know how to measure the public mood right now. A pretty big gamble, as a general election would also create all the uncertainties of a leadership challenge. A real Catch 22, you might say.
The saying, 'Between a rock and a hard place' is what the Tories are currently facing. There is no easy escape route. Whatever they choose to do will rock the boat considerably and likely be to the country's disadvantage as far as Brexit is concerned. Mrs May's announcement to ring-fence a considerable amount of money to prepare the country for a no-deal outcome for Brexit is her first twitch of reaction to this political dilemma. Whilst it is sensible to have a Plan B all set-up and ready, just in case, what she is telling the country (by action rather than actually telling us) is that Brexit is odds-on to fail as a negotiated process because of the parlous position the government finds itself in. In short, she is not going to succumb to a leadership challenge, she is not going to call an election so her only alternative is to beef up her Brexit strategy by admitting that the government aren't going to win that one so we might as well gird our loins and prepare for a clinical separation from the EU with few or no strings attached.
This is a sensible move in the context of preparing a contingency plan for a hard exit but it is also a huge political gamble for the Conservative government as it is also telling the EU that beyond a certain point (notionally December, 2017) Britain will acknowledge the improbability of a trade deal being struck and just leave. Some of the electorate will view this option as good, others less so. Therein lies the gamble, the choice and the challenge all wrapped up in one.
We'll need to watch that space carefully...