The Guardian newspaper described it as “a bruising week in a difficult year” for Prime Minister Theresa May. Were I the prime minister sitting down to Sunday lunch in Downing Street or Chequers, I think I would feel rather contented at the previous seven days.
Within the party, the fragile unity of the disparate elements was retained, they might mutter and grumble, but when it comes to going into the lobbies for House of Commons votes, the whips have been effective in their role. The dozen or so Europhile members of parliament were reconciled with a form of words while Jacob Rees Mogg, leader of the Eurosceptics, will have been discomfited by Twitter feeds announcing his company’s movement of funds to Dublin, to remain within the European Union. Of course, he may be at arm’s length from the decisions of the company, but that did not prevent a stream of online accusations of hypocrisy.
Content that things have held together for another week on her own benches, Theresa May will have experienced not a little schadenfreude at developments on the opposition benches. Inside the house, moderate Labour MPs are now in open revolt against their leadership, and outside it the cult of Corbyn has stalled. The Labour Live festival this weekend became a cause for embarrassment in the closing days of the week as there was a scramble to give away tickets in order to achieve a reasonable attendance. Trade unions emailed members with codes that would allow them to go online and obtain free tickets for an event where prices had already been reduced by 70%. The so-called “Jezfest” has not the draw that was anticipated.
The real cause for delight this weekend, however, comes from a story barely noticed among the noise of Brexit. On Thursday, there was a by election in the parliamentary constituency of Lewisham East. There was a low turnout of just 33% and Labour won it with a 50% share of the vote, but there was a 19% swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats. It is a story that is bad news for hopes of a Labour victory at a general election.
The surge in the Labour vote at the 2017 general election was against a background of low support for the Liberal Democrats, it was a two-party election. Results from the local government elections last month and now the Lewisham by election suggest a revival of support for the third party, a revival, that if continued, would take substantial number of votes from Labour candidates. Theresa May must have read the result with not a little satisfaction.
All in all, it has not been a bad week for her.