“There is a great deal of ruin in a nation" (Adam Smith)
We are not yet holed below the water line; but a lot of the rigging has been shot away, and ammunition expended. Captain May had no idea how to fight the ship (who does?) but lost important early actions, and has steered us incompetently into dangerous waters. Mutiny threatens. The sharks are circling; and the depths below us are unplumbed. Brexit? That's just for starters.
How much of our present plight can fairly be laid at May's door? It is not clear to me which plausible alternative Tory PM would for certain have commenced a purposeful Brexit camapign in 2016, knowing (as we now do) that the Civil Service is not up to, nor up for, the tasks that necessarily come their way in this regard. Which of Gove, Johnson, or Leadsom (I discard Crabb, Davis and Fox) would have taken the necessary steps in the necessary timeframe - setting proper expectations; immediately hiring the best negotiators and lawyers the City has to offer; making Civil Service obstruction a pension-forfeiting offence; moving onto a 'war' footing on every front - to give the enterprise its best chance of success?
But there are two monstrous mis-steps that are May's and May's alone. The first is symbolic, the second diabolic.
One of her first acts as PM was to call in the Hinkley Point C decision. As was right and proper: this was always an Osborne project and the panicky French realised it was at risk. After years of prevaricating (and still to this day with no final design for the business end of the reactors!) they rushed to sign the draft agreements at a speed which betrayed their utter desperation. Ho ho.
So what happened next? Did May parlay this into Brexit-enabling commitments by the Frog? Did she hold Hinkley hostage against a successful Brexit outcome? Nope: Hollande told her sternly to sign without further ado and, meekly, she did. A clear omen of the awful things to come, as we confidently predicted at the time. This was a May classic, signalling to the whole of the 27 that she was there for the taking. And I really don't imagine any other PM would have enacted this craven calamity.
The second, though, could have much longer-lasting consequences. This was the 2017 GE - not the calling of it per se (for which there was a fair rationale), but her disastrous, hubristic personal conduct of it**.
Because Corbyn was there for the slaughter. Had the campaign been just one week shorter she would have returned with a majority. Had it not included several wholly avoidable faux pas, that majority could have been pretty decent. This might have been helpful in the Brexit context, or not (given that Dominic Grieve would still have been one of those MPs) - but that's not the point.
The point is that Corbyn would have been defenestrated.
At Labour HQ, the coup was ready, the locks had been changed, and the marxists would have been sent back to their rightful obscurity to rant at each other in dingy halls. By giving Corbyn a new lease of life, May has given every 'woke' bedsit dweller of whatever age to understand that there is an alternative to rolling back under their sordid duvets in apathetic political lassitude. We weren't crushed at the election. Hell, if we all glue ourselves to a bridge, we can change the world! And so every idiot malcontent is now crawling out of bed, possessed of the idea they can realise their fondest fantasies.
For ordinary folk wishing simply for the world to be competently run, it is really quite important that fantasists with too much time on their hands confine their crapulous activities to passing motions in the students union. As will always be the case in a benign democracy, if they all turn up at once there are too may of them to be restrained by reasonably peaceful means. For many a long decade, they haven't chosen to force the point (at least, not in this country), thus enabling honest people to get on with their lives.
I greatly fear that their tails are well and truly up now, and that they will be increasingly strident - and gratified - in their demands. Not, of course, that most of what they want can actually be delivered (although some of the nastiest gesture-politics can be), but that craven politicians pander to them as though it can (witness "legally binding" targets for CO2 emissions, which is only the start). Such nonsense and waste of resources can go on for years before the gig's up, as it always will be eventually.
And of course in the ranks of the politicos are not only the craven, but the unscrupulous: slavering at the prospects of enlisting these idiots as a battering-ram for their *Revolution*. If Tusk is right about there being a special place in Hell for those who pretended Brexit would be easy, there's an even hotter spot for those who would direct a Children's Crusade.
A better result in GE 2017 could have sent the innocents home sadder and wiser. By screwing up, May has put wind in their sails. Will habitual idleness, short attention-span or frustration with Corbyn's fence-sitting be enough to send them back to their games consoles? Perhaps. But maybe not.
"The impatience, bordering into contempt, for the political class and the amount of hostility and borderline violence is something we have not known for a very very long time." (Damian Green, this morning)
** and we never wish to hear again from Nick Timothy, either