One of the exciting moments of my boyhood was when the circus came to town. All those horses, donkeys, clowns, magicians. But the one I really responded to was a man – can’t remember what he was called – who had the ability to escape from a series of locked chains that should have left him scarcely able to breathe, let alone escape. But by rearranging the parts of his body as though they were made of rubber – his right leg behind his neck while his left arm fiddled with chains half-way down his back – he would finally break free and with a huge bounce stand triumphant, arms aloft.
I don’t think Theresa May would be particularly successful as a circus escapologist. But she certainly knows how to do political limb manipulation to an astonishing degree.
Just think about it. During the referendum campaign, she preached the virtues of staying in the EU and warned of the serious economic and social implications of leaving. Then, when the UK left, she pushed to the front and told the English people that she would lead them to achieve Brexit – the same Brexit which she’d been denouncing for several months before.
Then she went to Brussels and, with the speed of an amputated hedgehog, negotiated a deal with the EU which she took back to Westminster . There she told the MPs that this was the one and only deal possible to get, that she’d done a great job getting it, and please vote it through. When they didn’t, she didn’t say “OK, that’s it, my sole and solitary plan over which I’ve laboured for so long and which I told you was the only possible one – it’s gone, and so am I.” You underestimate the flexibility of Mrs May’s political thinking and principles. Instead of quitting the stage, May joined others to vote down her own agreement with Europe, and is at this moment strapping on her battle armour to go back and get a better, backstopless deal from the EU – something which she said was impossible and the EU confirms will remain impossible.
If Theresa is not careful, she’s going to end up performing the political equivalent of swallowing her own head.