It’s been a busy three weeks in British politics, but it’s been an especially busy 36 hours since Theresa May became the new prime minister and rolled out the key appointments of what will be the country’s government for the foreseeable future.
The most important role goes to Philip Hammond, who is now chancellor after three years as foreign secretary, and Amber Rudd will replace May as home secretary. But the biggest surprise was May’s decision yesterday to appoint former London mayor Boris Johnson as the new foreign secretary.
In one sense, it’s a perfect move for Johnson, who is perhaps the most well-known British politician abroad, who was born in New York City, and who (mostly) served as a capable ambassador for London in his two terms as mayor, most notably during the 2012 Olympics. It’s a remarkable comeback for a politician who lent his star power to the ‘Leave’ campaign, then watched as his ally, Michael Gove, brutally nudged him out of the Conservative leadership contest. Despite his humiliating withdrawal from the contest, Johnson is still one of the most potent political talents on the Tory benches.
It’s as if an entire season of Game of Thrones swept through British politics in the space of two-and-a-half weeks.
The list of political careers in ruins runs long and deep. Prime minister David Cameron himself. Chancellor George Osborne. Former London mayor Boris Johnson. Justice secretary Michael Gove. Nigel Farage, the retiring leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Maybe even Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who may enjoy the support of grassroots Labour members, but not of his parliamentary party.
Monday brought another casualty of the post-Brexit era: energy secretary Andrea Leadsom, who withdrew from the September leadership contest for the Conservative Party leadership. The decision came just four days after Tory MPs pitted Leadsom (with 84 votes) in a runoff against home secretary Theresa May (with 199 votes), eliminating Gove (with just 46 MPs supporting him).
Leadsom, who supported the Leave campaign in the June 23 referendum, had garnered the support of the eurosceptic Tory right, including endorsements from former leader Iain Duncan Smith and other Leave campaign heavy-hitters like Johnson and even Farage. But Leadsom struggled to adapt to the public stage as a figure virtually unknown outside of Westminster a week or two ago (reminiscent in some ways of Chuka Umunna’s aborted Labour leadership campaign last year).
Though she promised to bring far more rupture to Conservative government than May, Leadsom also struggled to defend against charges that she embellished her record as an executive in the financial sector before turning to politics. Over the weekend, she suffered a backlash after suggesting she would be a better leader because she (unlike May) had children.
It was always an uphill fight for Leadsom, despite the rebellious mood of a Tory electorate that voted overwhelmingly for Brexit and was clearly attracted to Leadsom’s more radical approach. May, a more cautious figure, supported the Remain campaign during the referendum, though she largely avoiding making strong statements either for or against EU membership. At one point, she argued that the United Kingdom should leave the European Court on Human Rights (a position that she has disavowed now as a leadership contender).
It was a standard assumption throughout the United Kingdom’s EU membership referendum that former London mayor Boris Johnson supported the ‘Leave’ side due in large part to his ambitions of succeeding David Cameron as Conservative Party leader and then as prime minister.
At one point, Amber Rudd, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, in a debate over Brexit, argued that the only number that Johnson was interested in was the number 10 — as in 10 Downing Street. And that was from a rising star in Johnson’s own party.
When Johnson made his high-profile decision to join the Leave camp, he did so shortly after another top figure in Tory politics made the same decision — Michael Gove, previously a close Cameron confidante and justice secretary, but whose main mark on government had been four years of tumultuous (and often divisive) reforms as Britain’s education secretary.
Gove entered politics at Cameron’s request, and he was so close to the prime minister that he served as godfather to Cameron’s severely disabled son Ivan (who sadly died in 2009). It was a blow to Cameron when Gove declared his support for the Leave campaign, and the two’s once-solid friendship is reportedly strained.
After weeks of campaigning alongside Johnson and emerging on the winning side of the referendum debate, however, Gove’s declaration this morning of his own leadership contest has strained far more than a friendship, upending British politics in a week when every hour seems to bring a shocking new twist. Indeed, Gove’s leadership challenge and his ‘more in sadness than in anger’ conclusion that Johnson wasn’t up to the task of being prime minister will now define Gove’s political future. Just as Ed Miliband never fully escaped the cloak of treachery in pipping his own brother, the far more experienced former foreign minister David Miliband, for the Labour Party leadership, Gove’s eleventh-hour change of heart will dominate the narrative of the campaign ahead. Nigel Evans said that Gove had ‘stabbed Boris in the front,’ and even Johnson, in his remarks in withdrawing from the leadership race, paraphrased Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, subtly comparing Gove to Brutus, the friend-turned-assassin.
When a private email to Gove from Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, a columnist for the Daily Mail, was accidentally leaked to the press yesterday, it showed that Gove and his private circle held considerable doubts about a Johnson government. In closing out her email, Vine advised Gove to ‘be his stubborn best.’
It seems that Gove was far more stubborn than anyone believed possible when he made a late-night decision to stand for the leadership himself — Johnson found out along with the British press this morning as Gove announced his plans:
In particular, I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future. But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead. I have, therefore, decided to put my name forward for the leadership. I want there to be an open and positive debate about the path the country will now take.
Gove will be a formidable candidate. He comes to the Tory leadership race, presumably, with many (though not all) of the MPs who were prepared to support Johnson and Gove as something of a joint ticket (with the implication that Gove would serve as Johnson’s chancellor and a guarantor that a Johnson government wouldn’t go wobbly on Brexit).
But while Johnson may have indeed been a fair-weather convert to Brexit, no one should doubt Gove’s long-held euroscepticism. It comes, in part, from Gove’s own background, watching the fishing business that his father and grandfather built destroyed by European competition in the 1970s. If Johnson brought the personality and ‘star power’ to the Leave campaign, Gove brought with him the accumulated credibility of one of the Conservative Party’s brightest and most committed reformists. Though Johnson and United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage perhaps won more headlines, Gove was also in the mix, making a credible case for Brexit, earning plaudits as the ‘brains’ of the Leave campaign.
After leaving Oxford, Gove entered the media world and quickly became one of the lights of the right-wing press. When he came to politics in 2005, winning election to parliament from the southeastern English constituency of Surrey Heath, he was part of Cameron’s original ‘Notting Hill’ set that included chancellor George Osborne, whose vigorous support for the Remain campaign eliminated his long-held wishes of succeeding Cameron as prime minister. On social policy, Gove has always been as progressive as Cameron or Osborne — he supported providing marriage equality for gays and lesbians in the 2013 landmark parliamentary vote, for example.
Upon the Conservative victory in the 2010 general election and Cameron’s governing coalition with the Liberal Democrats, Gove became secretary of state for education, and he used the position to upend the state of English education for the next four years. To this day, Gove is a figure of hatred and scorn among British teachers for the pace and extent of the policy reforms he initiated. As education secretary, he uncoupled schools from local authorities (giving them more freedom) while introducing all sorts of micromanaging revisions to the English curriculum (thereby taking away much of that freedom). He made it easier for researchers to access information about education and schools to determine which strategies are performing well.
Though Cameron, in part due to howls of protest from teachers, demoted him to chief whip in 2014, Gove was appointed secretary of state for justice in 2015, where he has had much less time to implement deep reforms. (He did, however, discontinue a court fee introduced by his predecessor Chris Grayling).
Gove will now make the case that only a Leave supporter — unlike his chief competitor, home secretary Theresa May — can credibly assume the premiership after the decision in last Thursday’s referendum. He will also argue that, unlike May, he alone is willing to hold firm in negotiations with the remaining 27 member-states of the European Union. As one of the leading voices of the Leave campaign, Gove will begin with significant support among the Tory eurosceptic backbenches. If he winds up as one of the final two contenders, he may find that his Leave support will be rewarded among those rank-and-file Tory members who will determine the winner of the runoff this summer. His starring role in the Leave campaign may have made him far more palatable to Tory rank-and-file who now see him less as an Oxbridge policy nerd and more of a crusader for their own (anti-EU) values.
But as Hugo Dixon noted earlier today, Gove is a something of a radical — more so than just a small-c conservative — and that separates him from Cameron, May and perhaps even Johnson. In light of the rapid pace of political developments, however, there’s no guarantee that Gove will even make it into the wider runoff. Work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb has already amassed several high-profile endorsements and the support of nearly 20 MPs. If Gove helped put Johnson on the pile of so many would-be prime ministers who never quite made it out of the starting gate — Michael Portillo, Kenneth Clarke, David Miliband — no one should be surprised if Gove himself winds up behind May and Crabb in the parliamentary voting that will take place in the first two weeks of July. Unlike Johnson, May or Crabb, Gove has something of an awkward, even oddball, personality, and Gove himself has many times said that he lacks the talent to be prime minister.
Then again, after getting the best of one-time mentor Cameron and one-time ally Johnson, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gove thrive, either.
Normally, when a politician — especially a president or a prime minister — resigns, he or she is met with effusive praise.
There’s the defeat. Then the stepping down. Then a deluge of pieces heralding the peaks as well as the valleys of the political career that’s just ended.
Not David Cameron, who stepped out of 10 Downing Street this morning to step down as British prime minister, a day after he narrowly lost a campaign to keep the United Kingdom inside the European Union. For Cameron, today’s political obituaries, so to speak, are absolutely brutal. The Independent called him the ‘worst prime minister in a hundred years.’
And that’s perhaps fair. He is, after all, the prime minister who managed to guide his country, accidentally, out of the European Union. His country (and, indeed all of Europe) now faces a period of massive uncertainty as a result.
The man who once hectored his party to stop ‘banging on about Europe’ has now been done in over Europe — just as the last two Conservative prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
He’ll leave behind a Scotland that wanted to stay inside the European Union by a margin of 62% to 38% and that will now have the moral and political capital to demand a fresh independence referendum to become an independent Scotland within the European Union. First minister Nicola Sturgeon, of course, knew this all along, and she wasted no time in making clear that a second vote is now her top priority.
He’ll also leave behind an awful mess as to the status of Northern Ireland, which also voted for Remain by a narrower margin. Its borders with the Republic of Ireland are now unclear, the republican Sinn Fein now wants a border poll on Irish unification and the Good Friday agreement that ended decades of sectarian violence might have to be amended.
He’ll leave behind an angry electorate in England, sharply divided by income, race, ethnicity and culture — if the divide between England Scotland looks insurmountable, so does the divide between London and the rest of England. Despite the warning signs, and the rise of Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Cameron failed to provide English voters with the devolution of regional power that voters enjoyed in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and even London.
Cameron showed, unlike Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, he was willing to accede to the wishes of Scottish nationalists and give them a say in their own self-determination. Given the corrosive nature of the eurosceptic populism within his own party and in UKIP, it wasn’t unreasonable that Cameron would force them to ‘put up or shut up’ with the first in-out vote on EU membership since 1975, when the European Union was just the European Economic Community.
Polls are now open across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where voters are deciding whether to either remain a member of the European Union or to leave the European Union. It’s home to the largest city in the European Union (London) and, with 64.9 million people, it’s the third-most populous state in the European Union, after Germany and France.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. through 10 p.m. — that means that here on the east coast of the United States, polls will be closing at 5 p.m. ET, with the first results to arrive shortly thereafter. No official exit polls are being conducted, but private hedge funds are believed to have commissioned exit polls and early financial indictors could tell us know traders believe the result will go. In any event, the final result is expected to be announced by ‘breakfast time’ on Friday morning.
Turkey is not going to become a member-state of the European Union anytime soon.
No matter what joint talks take place next week, next month or next decade between Turkish and European diplomats, it is absolutely incomprehensible that the European Union, with or without the United Kingdom, would be willing to grant membership to a state with the level of economic corruption and political authoritarianism as Turkey. Full stop.
Even if European diplomats did, though, and even if each of the other 27 member-states of the European Union wanted to admit Turkey — which today borders war-torn Syria and destabilized Iraq — all it would take is for a British prime minister to say, simply, ‘No.’
That’s because EU membership is one of a handful of issues accomplished only by unanimity of the European Union’s member-states. For example, Greece has held up Macedonia’s EU accession hopes for years over a long-simmering conflict over the name ‘Macedonia,’ and the Greeks, for the better part of the last century, have been none too keen on doing many favors for their Turkish rivals, either.
Last week, EU officials cheekily informed Turkey that the country has not yet met all of the EU conditions for visa-free travel to the European Union, one of the rewards that Turkey received as part of a controversial deal to stem the flow of Syrian and Iraqi migrants from Turkey into the European Union. Though critics of German chancellor Angela Merkel argue that she sold out EU values in exchange for a Turkish solution to the EU migration crisis, Europeans are holding firm in requiring that Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stop using ‘anti-terror’ laws to arrest journalists, academics and political opponents. This is hardly the stuff of happy Turkish-EU relations. Continue reading ‘Leave’ campaign’s immigration emphasis could trump Brexit economics→
I had a series of posts that I was planning to finalize starting today about the Brexit referendum but, of course, the news of Jo Cox’s murder has preempted everyone’s thoughts about the European Union debate today.
There will be plenty of time for more debate in the week ahead, one of the most important weeks of political debate in the United Kingdom’s postwar history and, indeed, in Europe’s postwar history.
But it will now be forever marred by Cox’s assassination, especially if, as has been widely reported, the gunman shouted out ‘Britain first!’ as he was shooting the 41-year-old Labour MP.
Cox, a wife who leaves behind a grieving husband, Brendan, and two young children, was elected to the House of Commons in 2015 after a longtime career with Oxfam and other charitable organizations. She was in particular passionate about providing relief to those suffering in war-torn Syria. As a Labour candidate and MP, she was a passionate supporter of resettling refugees from Syria in the United Kingdom. She was one just a few supporters of Liz Kendall in last summer’s Labour leadership contest, but she was also one of the MPs willing to put Jeremy Corbyn’s name on the ballot. If anyone personified the kind of rising star who could carry forward the center-left policy perspective of ‘Blairism without Blair,’ it might reasonably have been someone like Jo Cox.
She was also a passionate product of Yorkshire, and she was genuinely proud of the fact that she grew up in Bentley and that she never lost touch with her roots in that community, indeed the community where a deranged killer ended what should have been decades more of public service.
British prime minister David Cameron is gearing up to fight the toughest campaign of his life to win reelection on May 7.
Nevertheless, his announcement earlier this week that he intends to serve out two terms — and no more — has started the race to determine his successor. Despite Cameron’s efforts to signal that he will step down in 2020, there’s no guarantee that Cameron will be so lucky. The next Conservative Party leadership race could start immediately after the British election if Cameron leads the party to defeat or, possibly, after 2017 when Cameron has pledged (if reelected) to hold a referendum on continuing the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union.
But even if the Tories win a renewed mandate (an outcome that seems more likely today than at any time in the past two or three years), a second Cameron term will now become even more consumed by the debate among his would-be successors to define the party’s future. Notwithstanding the planned 2017 EU referendum, the party’s next leader will determine whether the Conservatives should be relatively more pro-Europe or anti-Europe in an era that features the rise Nigel Farage’s populist and eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP). The next Tory leader will also face a fragmenting political environment that appears to be transitioning from a two-party to a multi-party system and a growing sense of constitutional crisis in the aftermath of last September’s referendum on Scottish independence. Moreover, the next Tory leader will also have to choose between two strains of economic policy — a pro-market Thatcherite approach or the more centrist ‘one nation’ Tory approach of her predecessors that concedes a stronger role for government social welfare.
Obviously, a lot depends on timing — a leadership contest in 2015 could bring a different result than a contest in 2017 or 2019.
Cameron, in his remarks earlier this week, singled out Johnson as well as chancellor George Osborne and home secretary Theresa May as particularly strong candidates. Though Cameron almost certainly prefers Osborne, whose leadership stock is certainly on the rise as the economy improves, the two frontrunners today are clearly Johnson and May (pictured together above), whose personalities and approach to politics and government couldn’t be more different.
The results are in, and Scotland did not vote yesterday to become a sovereign, independent country.
Scottish residents — and all British citizens — will wake up today to find that, however narrowly, the United Kingdom will remain as united today as it was yesterday, from a formal standpoint.
With all 32 local councils reporting, the ‘Yes’ camp has won 1.618 million votes (44.7% of the vote) against 2.002 million votes (55.3% of the vote) in favor of remaining within the British union, capping a 19-month campaign that resulted in a staggering 84.6% turnout in Thursday’s vote.
Moreover, ‘Yes’ won four councils, including Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city:
But the close call has shaken the fundamental constitutional structure of the United Kingdom, and Scotland’s vote will now dominate the political agenda in the final eight months before the entire country votes in a general election next May, for better or worse.
So who comes out of the referendum’s marathon campaign looking better? Who comes out of the campaign bruised? Here’s Suffragio‘s tally of the winners and losers, following what must be one of the most historic elections of the 2010s in one of the world’s oldest democracies.
It wasn’t a surprise that British prime minister David Cameron sacked Kenneth Clarke, the one-time self-proclaimed ‘big beast’ of the Conservative Party from government.
At age 74, the pro-Europe former chancellor, who began his ministerial career in Edward Heath’s government of the early 1970s, had already been demoted once from justice secretary, his progressive ideas for penal reform and lighter sentencing guidelines thwarted by the Tory right two years ago.
But it was something of a surprise that Cameron sacked so many other high-profile members of his cabinet last night.
Foreign secretary William Hague (pictured above with Queen Elizabeth II), one of the most high-profile Tories inside or outside government will now become the Commons leader. Hague, once a strident eurosceptic, was elected leader of the Conservative Party in the aftermath of Tony Blair’s massive victory in 1997. He stepped down in 2001 after his failed campaign to return the Tories to power. Though just 53 years old, Hague also announced he would also leave office at the 2015 elections, cutting short what’s been a solid career, if not one that might have elevated Hague to the premiership under different conditions.
His replacement is defence secretary Philip Hammond, another Conservative firebrand, who has ably worked with chancellor George Osborne to reign in spending while the United Kingdom has reduced its role in the US-led occupation in Afghanistan. Hammond, who served as Osborne’s deputy in opposition, comes from the right wing of the party, however, having opposed Cameron’s push to legalize same-sex marriage last year. He’s not known as a particularly charismatic figure, and he’ll have a hard time shaking the notion that he’s No. 11’s man at the foreign office.
Having argued that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union without significant, additional British carve-outs, Hammond will now be tasked with salvaging the UK-EU relationship.
But the knives went longer and deeper still — David Willetts, the minister for universities and science, nicknamed ‘Two Brains’ and deemed one of the cabinet’s most thoughtful members; David Gove, the combatively conservative and stridently eurosceptic education minister; Dominic Grieve, the attorney general; Owen Patterson, the environmental secretary.
The semi-official word is that Cameron’s reshuffle represents an effort to put his cabinet and his government on footing to wage next May’s general elections, with a particular focus on elevating the number of women and younger Tories to higher positions.
To borrow a phrase from former US president Bill Clinton, a ‘cabinet that looks like Britain.’
In a static world, it’s easy to believe that UK prime minister David Cameron’s call in January 2013 for a referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership in the European Union will never come to pass — it depends upon the reelection of a Conservative-led in the 2015 general election, Cameron’s continued Tory leadership and a lengthy process of negotiation thereafter with EU leaders.
So when Cameron agreed with Scottish first minister Alex Salmond two months later to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014, he had every reason to believe that he had bought enough time to keep the European issue relatively calm. After all, poll after poll shows the pro-independence vote lagging far behind the anti-independence vote and, despite a relatively large number of undecided Scottish voters, many polls throughout 2012 and early 2013 showed the ‘no’ vote with over 50% support. One Ipsos poll earlier this month showed that 59% support union and just 31% support independence.
But what’s increasingly clear is that the two referenda are becoming inseparable — Scotland’s future role in the United Kingdom depends on the United Kingdom’s future role in Europe. With Westminster now increasingly turning to its toxic obsession with its union with Europe, a group of largely English parliamentarians may well be endangering the more longstanding three-century union with Scotland.
It’s easy to follow Cameron’s arithmetic here: Allow the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the more euroskeptic members of his own party their opportunity for an anti-Europe outlet in the May 2014 European Parliament elections. Then sail through the September 2014 Scottish referendum with both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democratic Party united against Scottish independence, maybe even by promising ‘devomax,’ a form of further devolution of tax and spending powers to the Scottish parliament that came into existence in 1999. Cameron could therefore put the specter of Scottish independence behind him before looking to the next general election and, if successfully reelected, the EU negotiations that would precede the long-promised EU referendum.
UKIP’s rise hasn’t helped, and Nigel Farage’s insistence at contesting a Scottish by-election led to the somewhat humorous result of his being chased out of a pub in Edinburgh last week (pictured above). Though it’s a safe bet that Farage and UKIP won’t make many inroads in Scotland, it’s hard to see how his active presence in Scotland could do anything but make things worse for unionist supporters. His party is currently polling as much as 20% in national polls, outpacing the Liberal Democrats and, in some cases, pulling to within single digits of the Conservatives (giving Labour a sizable lead). Even if Labour wins in 2015, if UKIP wins the support of one out of every five UK voters, it will pull not only the Tories, but probably even Labour, further toward euroskepticism and eventual rupture with Europe. Continue reading A tale of two referenda: How the EU debate could poison the Scotland debate→