They say there are only really seven types of narrative, only a limited number of stories to be told. Voyage and return, rags to riches, tragedy and rebirth etc. Theresa May is a quester – like the hobbits of Middle Earth she faces a series of challenges and upsets and tests, in pursuit of a final goal. Today – against expectations, despite the hysteria – she overcame another obstacle. The Cabinet have let her live to fight onwards, for now.
There may still be resignations. Penny Mordaunt demanded a free vote, a classic invented red line; David Mundell will be awaiting instructions from his Leader in the North (maternity leave notwithstanding) but they didn’t demand her head and they have not collectively junked her deal. Nonetheless, she has made it through with enough of her cabinet to credibly assert that a Government exists and that it has a position.
But what a position. To the left, to the right and to the centre there are MPs in her party that cannot endorse this deal. How can Scottish Tory MPs, their entire position founded in a principled argument for unionism, defend a deal that effectively divides Ulster from the Kingdom? How can Rees-Mogg, so concerned about vassalage, vote for an agreement that subjugates Britain permanently (potentially) to EU regulation? How can either Johnson now back down?
And then there is the DUP. Out the blocks to oppose. Their agreement dissolved, the money already having been paid. Waiting to destroy this as an agreement that unites Ireland in economic regulation and divides the U.K. in practice.
Our quester – battered and bruised – survives to march on into another chapter. But as is the way with quests, each new page brings fresh horror and bigger obstacles. The Cabinet was a challenge. The Commons will be a battle.