Johnson has a tendency to say what a given audience wanted to hear
Posted by hkarner - 1. Juli 2016
Source: The Economist
Subject: Post-Brexit politics: Shifting sands
Britain’s political parties plunge into crises of leadership—and philosophy
“THE will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered.” With these words David Cameron, flanked by his wife Samantha, announced his resignation on the morning of June 24th. There followed a vacuum. For a couple of days, neither the prime minister nor any of his colleagues had anything to say. George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, was silent. Chaos reigned. The pound tumbled. Firms reviewed their positions.
The situation has since stabilised. But Britain is nonetheless living through a period of turmoil. Both main parties are now picking new leaders. In the Conservative fold, Mr Cameron is a lame duck; his replacement will be appointed by September 7th. In the Labour camp Jeremy Corbyn has been rejected by three-quarters of his MPs and is clinging on. Britain’s party structures are straining, and may not last. Boris Johnson, a Conservative former mayor of London, was the first out of the traps after the referendum. He had backed Brexit, probably opportunistically: Tory party members are Eurosceptic and will choose the next leader of the party from two candidates shortlisted by MPs.
Yet many Tories doubted Mr Johnson was up to the job. His spell in City Hall was marked by a lack of attention to detail, poor management and a tendency to say what a given audience wanted to hear. In recent years he has swung wildly between Europhilia and Euroscepticism.
For that reason Michael Gove, the Brexiteer justice secretary, announced on June 30th that he would stand, citing doubts about the former mayor’s abilities. Many had expected Mr Gove to back Mr Johnson. Instead, his decision to enter the race caused Mr Johnson himself to announce hours later that he would not run. That will surely benefit Theresa May. The home secretary is competent and serious, if dull.
A poll by YouGov on June 29th put her fractionally ahead of Mr Johnson among the electorate. She backed Remain, but stayed quiet about it during the campaign and melds a certain social liberalism (she backed gay marriage before most of her colleagues) with an authoritarian streak (she clamped down on immigration, making it harder for foreign students at British universities to stay in the country after graduating).
Then there is Stephen Crabb, the welfare secretary. He is backed by Sajid Javid, the free-market business secretary. Both have impeccable personal stories: they grew up in tough circumstances and are self-made men. Yet Mr Crabb is unlikely to make the final two.
Meanwhile Labour is tearing itself apart. On June 28th Mr Corbyn lost a vote of no confidence among Labour MPs by 172 to 40. He is facing a leadership challenge, probably led by Angela Eagle, the former shadow business secretary, who has resigned, along with two-thirds of her shadow cabinet colleagues, in protest at their leader’s incompetent leadership and tepid role in the anti-Brexit campaign.
Whether Mr Corbyn survives depends on whether he makes the ballot. Without nominations from his MPs, his best hope is that the party’s lawyers will rule that he has an automatic place on it (the rules are vague). If he clears this hurdle he may win. That would surely produce a formal split, with moderate MPs declaring independence and electing their own leader.
In other words, Britain’s political spectrum is in flux. The left-right system is giving way to something different. For that reason the Liberal Democrats (who have laid claim to the pro-EU mantle) and the UK Independence Party (now poised to soak up popular resentment at the compromises Britain’s negotiators must reach) are upbeat. The former claims its membership has risen by 10,000 since the referendum.
Eventually the two main parties will sort themselves out. Labour may split into a pro-market, pro-EU social democratic party and a hard-left, Eurosceptic one. The Tories may end up focusing on Leave voters, and on putting UKIP out of business. Or they may seek to play up their pro-EU credentials and pitch for the centre ground. That depends on the Brexit negotiation process, and how complete a separation is agreed. In any case, the identity crises of its parties, and the uncertainty of its future role in Europe, will intermingle and influence British politics for years to come.