The ironies just keep piling up in this madcap British political season.
When Andrea Leadsom withdrew yesterday from the Conservative Party leadership contest she became the third Brexiteer to be put to the sword – or in one instance the dagger. There are shades of Alexandre Dumas here. Add Nigel Farage as d’Artagnan and the literary analogy is complete. But not quite complete. We would have to overlook, as Michael Gove did, the musketeers’ motto: “All for one and one for all”.
Four of them, these leading lights of the Brexit campaign and a would-be prime minister, are now consigned to the scrapheap. “What happened here?” they may well be asking themselves in the mirror this morning, as non-Mother Theresa sweeps into Downing Street, and the mirror will answer bluntly, “You all screwed up, that’s what happened”.
And their legacy, these outspoken critics of the European Union and all that it stands for? A prime minister who voted Remain (though had the good sense to keep quiet about it) and may yet add insult to their injuries by selling out the Brexit result in the forthcoming negotiations.
Ten short days ago we were expecting Boris Johnson to be swept into 10 Downing Street on a surge of public adulation. Now he will be lucky if he gets a government job of any kind. Michael Gove, having struck Johnson the mortal blow, must have thought his time had come but was howled down by the mob and forced to slink away from the scene of his crime. As for Leadsom, she was just a chancer trying to capitalise on one impressive performance during a televised referendum debate.
David Cameron had been thinking that he had until September to vacate home and office. Now the outgoing prime minister will have to get out in a hurry. He has still had enough time to reflect on the irony of his own position.
He pledged a referendum on Europe for no other reason than to calm the turbulent right wing of his own party and to stem the growing popularity of UKIP, not for one moment believing that he would actually win the general election outright and be held to the promise. Even in fulfilling it, not for one moment did he anticipate that the referendum might go the wrong way. He has lost everything now, and in doing so offers yet more substance to the old maxim that all political careers end badly.
Theresa May would not have been the first choice of many citizens, Leavers or Remainers, and was not even regarded as a second choice by many of her Conservative colleagues in parliament. In any other political season she might still be burning the midnight oil in the Home Office, happy in her job, her ambitions on hold. But not a season in which nothing is on hold.
She has much to do to restore Britain’s reputation, save its economy, all the while consolidating her political base. A new Thatcher? Heaven forfend! But then an original May might just be even more formidable.
Politics, as Cicero probably said in Latin, can be a funny old game. Ask Dave, Theresa, Boris, Michael, Nigel and Andrea.
Now, I promise not to write another word about Brexit for at least a week.