Recent studies have demonstrated that prolonged periods of financial insecurity can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. People who live on the breadline – not knowing from one day to the next how they will feed themselves or their family – can suffer similar long-term mental health impacts to soldiers returning from the battlefield. Psychiatrists and researchers speculate that this is a product of deep, repetitive and existential uncertainty. Not knowing whether you will eat or be safe tomorrow is not dissimilar to not knowing where the enemy’s snipers are hidden. This is all very bad news for the Prime Minister.
‘Deep, repetitive and existential uncertainty’ could serve as Theresa May’s motto for government. Week after week she does not know with any confidence whether or how she will survive. Like someone living hand-to-mouth, she never has time to think about tomorrow as she is busy scrambling to feed herself today. The imperatives are all and always immediate. There is no time for strategy.
In surviving the first wave of Commons votes on the Lords’ amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill Mrs May has lived to fight another day. But has also stored up future trouble for herself.
Dominic Grieve had tabled an amendment (to an amendment) that would have given Parliament a final and flexible say on whatever deal May and Davis secure in Brussels. This mattered because it would essentially have made walking away without a deal – considered a crucial threat in the negotiations by the Government – almost impossible. There is no majority in Parliament for self-immolation. At the last minute, after a personal intervention from the Prime Minister, Grieve and his loyal band of rebels were persuaded to withdraw their amendment (which would have won) on the promise of….. well, herein lies the difficulty.
Grieve and his ally, Treasury Select Committee Chair Nicky Morgan, believe they have been promised that the substance of the amendment will be written into the Bill when it returns to the Lords. This would make a certain amount of sense. It is a way for the Government to surrender on an issue where they have no majority whilst avoiding the ignominy of actual defeat. It would mean Grieve had won without having to accidentally, potentially, bring down his own government.
But the (perennially) furious Brexiteers believe otherwise. They don’t think the PM promised any such thing and they have been given assurances (‘written in blood’, apparently) that there will be no Parliamentary veto on a no-deal Brexit. They are angry about this because they genuinely are in favour of self-immolation. Only if necessary, you understand.
Who is right? Well we shall find out one way or another quite soon when the Bill returns to the Lords. Grieve’s amendment will either – substantially – be there or it won’t. It’s hard to see how both sides can be appeased. She hasn’t so much kicked the can down the road as filled the can with petrol, lit a makeshift fuse and lobbed it at her own party.
Where are Labour in all of this? Where indeed. Looking down on the PM’s misery with all the insouciance and diffidence of a young conservative drunkenly burning twenty pound notes in front of the homeless. The opposition is refusing to interrupt their enemy while their enemy makes mistakes. This is clever enough politics but it is also, arguably, a sorry excuse for patriotism.
PTSD is often diagnosed only when the patient experiences an extreme episode. A huge panic attack, a fit of violent rage, in extreme cases sufferers may develop a split personality. Any and all of these symptoms are real possibilities now for the Conservative Party. It is hard to see how it can heal itself.