The fundamental key to parliamentary politics is the ability to command a majority. This is so basic, one would hardly expect to need to point it out. However, judging by Theresa May's performance in the House of Commons today, she is apparently blissfully unaware of this necessity.
Prime Minister May commended to the House the text of her negotiated deal for exiting the European Union. There was no majority for the deal. This should have been obvious even before she rose to address the House. The previous day, she had had a difficult cabinet meeting. The cabinet had, eventually, agreed to the text. However, this morning saw minister after minister resign.
As MP after MP rose to speak, it was immediately obvious that there was even less support for the text in the House. Remainers were opposed to the proposed deal and Leavers were opposed. As I listened, I could only count fifteen MPs who expressed even luke warm support. The lack of support was so obvious that MP after MP pointed out that there was no majority for the prime minister's position. The Scottish Nationalists opposed. The Welsh nationalists opposed. The Liberal Democrats opposed. The Green opposed. The Labour Party (both Remainers and Leavers) opposed. The Democratic Unionists opposed. And a substantial number the Conservatives opposed. The arithmetic was obvious.
It was obvious to everyone that the proposed deal was dead. Everyone that is, except apparently the prime minister. When MP after MP pointed out what was obvious to everyone and asked what she intended to do, she responded as though she thought parliament would vote for the proposed deal. This was so bizarre, one MP felt moved point out that she was a psychologist and to assert that the prime minister was in denial.
Frankly, the prime minister's performance was worse: she was clearly delusional. She repeatedly made factual assertions that were not just false, but blatantly so.
Jacob Rees Mogg referred to the prime minister's prior commitments (commitments she apparently believes she has honoured) and pointed out how they were each abandoned in the proposed deal. He concluded by asking if he should send a letter of no confidence. Apparently, she was unable to appreciate the significance of the question and simply claimed she had maintained her red lines: something the text proved false.
Shortly after Rees Mogg's question, a substantial number of Conservative MPs left the chamber. One can easily infer that they were having a strategy meeting and, shortly thereafter, Jacob Rees Mogg submitted his letter of no confidence and held a press conference. The clear implication is that shortly there will be enough letters of no confidence to trigger a leadership contest.
Such a contest would seriously muddy the waters.
Prior to Mogg's intervention, the United Kingdom was heading inexorably towards leaving the European Union without any deal. The deal May had negotiated was dead, but she was clearly unable to even recognise it. Thus, the deal would fail and the country would leave in March 2019 without any deal. However, if a leadership contest is triggered, any, and every, candidate would have to offer a positive solution to the problem. The very notion that a candidate standing on the platform of leaving with no deal winning such an election seems unlikely. Whilst such a platform might well appeal to the party at large, it is unlikely that the parliamentary party would short-list such a candidate. Ironically, Rees Mogg's intervention might just have provided those who want a deal a last life-line.