Is Theresa May on the brink of facing a leadership challenge?

Theresa May leaves Downing Street Credit: PA

I’ve always been sceptical when people have told me 44 or 46 or some other number of letters have been written by Tory MPs to Graham Brady calling for a vote of no confidence in Theresa May’s leadership of Tory Party.

Because the system for deposing a Tory leader is so secret, so untransparent.

The only person who knows how many letters have been sent is Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 committee.

There is no oversight of him. And he tells no one how may letters he’s received, not even fellow members of the 1922 executive.

As for disgruntled MPs themselves, it can suit them to imply a letter has gone in when that’s not happened, and vice versa.

So keeping score is a spectacularly inaccurate art, not science.

Which is why reading runes, or Brady’s body language and intonation may be more instructive.

Graham Brady was knighted in 2018 Credit: PA

If you are still with me, this therefore may be instructive.

A number of sources have told me Brady is no longer a wholly passive recipient of letters.

When approached by MPs planning to hand in letters calling for May to go, he is reported to have said “must you? Not now. Not in the next few weeks”.They understandably draw the conclusion the tally of letters in his locked draw is perilously close to the 48 that would force him to go to Theresa May and tell her that under the rules there has to be a vote to determine whether she can stay on.

I have to say having known and observed Brady for a while, I am not sure I agree.

He has always felt entitled to express a personal view about whether a leadership contest at a particular juncture is sensible or not.

As I understand it he thinks little would be gained, and potentially much lost for the government, if May were unseated now.

But his sharing of his qualified loyalty to May (“not now”) with colleagues is not proof the fateful 48 letter moment is nigh. Though it may be nigh!