Following Britain’s shock decision to leave the European Union, Britain’s two largest political parties seem on the verge of implosion.
British prime minister David Cameron resigned following the vote, leaving a political vacuum at the heart of the British establishment that rivals are desperate to fill, using tactics that have been described as an episode of Game of Thrones “with drizzle and no dragons“
Cameron’s Conservative Party, which was divided on the question of the EU in the run-up to the referendum, has just launched a leadership contest to replace him. On the other side, the Labour Party is about to be dragged into a bitter leadership contest, too, as a result of an attempted coup following the Brexit vote.
Boris Johnson, former London mayor and leader of the Leave campaign, was—up until this morning—the most formidable candidate to replace Cameron as prime minister. (With Cameron stepping down, a contest is being held to elect the leader of the Conservative Party, who will then be prime minister as a result of its majority in Parliament.)
Johnson led the campaign to leave the EU with gusto—and no shortage of controversy. Since Brexit, Johnson has spent the last few days mustering support from his party, but it ended up all being for nothing. He announced today (June 30) that he won’t be running after all—at his supposed campaign launch.
That may have something to do with the candidacy today of Michael Gove, the former education secretary who campaigned fiercely for Brexit (and was widely seen as Johnson’s right-hand man). The move has sent shock waves through Westminster with his “sensational entry” to the leadership contest. In a move that’s widely been seeing as a stab in Johnson’s back, Gove said he does not believe Boris Johnson can “provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”
It was less than a month ago that Gove ruled himself out as a potential leader of the Conservative government. On numerous occasions, Gove told the press that he didn’t have what it takes to lead the party and the country. So what suddenly changed his mind?
It may have something to do with Johnson’s lackluster response to winning the vote. In his column in the Telegraph, Johnson appeared to be backtracking on some important Brexit campaign promises on immigration and Britain’s relationship to the EU. With Gove’s “betrayal,” it now looks like it’ll be a showdown between Gove and Theresa May.
May, the current home secretary, also officially launched her campaign today to replace Cameron. She positioned herself as the “unity” candidate that can bring together members of her party who campaigned on opposite sides during the run up to the referendum. Though May campaigned to stay in the EU, she insisted that she would respect the result of the referendum.
“Brexit means Brexit… the public gave their verdict,” she said at a press conference. “There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the backdoor, and no second referendum.”
May laid out her plan if elected leader of the Conservative Party, which includes waiting until next year to invoke Article 50—the official process to begin Brexit. She would also not hold another general election. May described herself as as a strong, stable candidate that could lead Britain out of uncertainty and political turmoil.
She is widely seen as the firm favorite to be the next Conservative leader.
…or turn left
Jeremy Corbyn, the self-described socialist politician, was elected as the leader of the Labour Party last year, obliterating his more mainstream opponents in the contest and causing shockwaves in global politics (paywall). It was as if Bernie Sanders had seized control of the Democrats and was able to dictate policy. Less than a year at the job, he has plunged into one of its worst crises in modern history.
Following what some believed to be a lackluster performance from Corbyn during the run up to the referendum, and a growing suspicion that he was among those on the left who wanted to leave the EU, the Labour Party has revolted against their leader.
After more than 40 MPs either resigned or were sacked from Labour’s shadow cabinet following the Brexit vote. Earlier this week, Corbyn lost a no-confidence vote by Labour MPs, by an overwhelming 176-40 margin. One of the biggest name to abandon Corbyn—and Labour—is French economist Thomas Piketty, acclaimed author of Capital in the 21st Century. Even Cameron told him in the House of Commons: “For heaven’s sake man, go!”
But Corbyn refuses to budge. “I was democratically elected leader of our party by 60% of Labour members and supporters, and I will not betray them by resigning,” he said in a statement. With Corbyn refusing to resign, the Labour Party will now brace itself for a “bruising leadership contest“ that could lead to a devastating split.
Angela Eagle is now preparing to fight Corbyn for the Labour leadership and is said to be announcing her candidacy today. But while Eagle has widespread support from MPs, Corbyn appears to still hold sway over a large majority of rank-and-file members in the Labour Party.
In the midst of all this, the Scottish Nationalist Party cheekily attempted to be made the official opposition to the Conservatives in the House of Commons, arguing that its Commons leader enjoyed the support of more MPs than Corbyn. This move was rejected.
But the idea of Scottish Nationalists—who oppose leaving the EU—becoming the official opposition to the divided Tories while Labour argues with itself about what was right or wrong about Marxism sums up the state of British politics.
And some of these people will be responsible for leading the country out of the EU.