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.
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.
The next opposition leader of Scotland’s regional parliament just might be an openly gay Conservative woman.
It sounds farfetched, but polls show that as the Scottish National Party (SNP) continues to lead by a wide margin with regional elections approaching on May 5, the Scottish Labour Party has sunk so low that Scottish Conservatives actually have a strong chance to place second — albeit a very far second behind the SNP and its popular leader, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon.
If the Tories do indeed pull off a victory in Scotland, it would be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Scottish Tories to rebrand themselves in Davidson’s image — and it would make Davidson, nearly overnight, a model figure in the modern Conservative Party.
The latest Survation/Daily Record poll conducted between April 15 and 20 gives the SNP a massive lead with 53% of the vote. Far behind in second place was Labour with 18%, but directly behind Labour? The Conservatives with 17%.
It’s virtually a law of post-Thatcher British politics that Scotland is a no-go zone for the Tories. In the 2015 general election, prime minister David Cameron’s Conservatives won just one seat (out of 59) and 14.9% of the vote, its lowest-ever vote share. The last time the Conservatives won even 25% of the Scottish vote in a general election was 1992. Since the 1997 landslide that wiped out the Conservatives, the party has elected just two MPs and, since 2005, the only Tory MP has been David Mundell, who represents Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. Since May 2015, Mundell has served as the secretary of state for Scotland.
It’s been even worse for the Scottish Tories in local elections — the region-wide Conservative vote was just 12.4% in 2011 and just 13.9% in 2007. In Scotland’s post-devolution history (it’s had a regional parliament only since 1999), the Conservatives have held no more than 18 seats (out of 129).
So it’s remarkable that, at this point, the Conservatives even have a shot at becoming the official opposition at Holyrood.
If, contrary to the United Kingdom’s new fixed parliament law, the British went to the ballot box tomorrow, most polls show that the result wouldn’t change much.
That is, a Conservative government with which Britons are less than enthusiastic.
Nearly eight months into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the opposition, center-left Labour Party, there’s no indication that the electorate has warmed to Corbyn’s hard-left policy views, nor any likelihood that Corbyn’s own critics on the back benches, populated with many of the figures who once wielded power in the ‘New Labour’ years under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, trust him as their standard-bearer.
The nearly flawless campaign of the left-wing (though not always Corbynite) Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate in London’s mayoral race, will give Corbyn at least one highlight in the coming May 5 regional elections. But Labour faces potential routs across England and, most damningly, failure to make any real progress against Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, with the Scottish National Party (SNP) apparently heading to a romp in Scottish parliamentary elections, with a nearly 30% lead over the Scottish Labour Party.
All of which will put even greater pressure on Corbyn’s leadership. Though Corbyn entered the Labour race with no hope of actually winning, there’s little that the party’s Blair/Brown/Miliband/Cooper wing (which dominates the parliamentary caucus, though not the Labour grassroots) can do unless or until Corbyn loses popularity among the Labour faithful that delivered him to the leadership last summer. It’s not an outcome that appears likely to happen anytime soon.
Nevertheless, even if Labour suffers an especially poor night on May 5, Corbyn has a tailor-made opportunity to save his leadership. In the process, Corbyn might also transform his image among a British electorate that remains highly skeptical of ever giving Corbyn the keys to 10 Downing Street.
It all rides on how Corbyn wages the Labour campaign to remain within the European Union in the coming June 23 referendum. If he succeeds, politically and substantively, Corbyn could both silence critics in his own party and, for the first time, introduce himself as truly prime ministerial material.
For a two-term incumbent mayor of London, supporting the campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union might amount to policy malpractice.
No city stands to lose more from Brexit than London, which, despite sterling’s resilience, has become the de facto financial capital of Europe and is one of three or four truly global capitals. If the British vote to leave the European Union, of course, many finance jobs could leave London, depressing many other secondary industries. While there are powerful arguments for Brexit, even among London’s residents, it’s hard to believe that Brexit would be a net positive for London as a global and European capital.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t surprising that London’s outgoing mayor, Boris Johnson, announced his support Sunday for leaving the European Union in a lengthy ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ editorial for TheTelegraph. Itfollowed a weeklong Hamlet act that left prime minister David Cameron gasping for the support of his slightly older one-time Eton classmate. Johnson couched his support for Brexit in terms of restoring democratic control to British voters, all while proclaiming his love for Europe and making the case for strong EU-UK relations in a post-Brexit world.
Be bold, Johnson urged British voters!
Now is not the time to ‘hug the skirts of Nurse in Brussels.’
‘Boris’ is one of a few British politicians known to voters by his first name, and his star power was enough to slam the British pound to a seven-year low Monday morning. Breaking ranks with most of the cabinet in David Cameron’s majority government, Johnson upended the Brexit battle, transforming what was already becoming a tough internal fight among Tories into an all-out struggle to dominate the post-referendum era. Continue reading The smart (and cynical) politics behind Boris’s Brexit decision→
A candidacy that struggled to win enough parliamentary nominations to run, and a candidate personally ambivalent about running — unsure he was up to the campaign, let along up to the job.
A nomination supported by MPs who thought the far left should have a ‘voice’ in a campaign that, like in the past, would show just how anemic Labour’s far left is — and as weak as it would always be.
A surge that everyone, from former prime minister Tony Blair on down, believed would subside as the fevers of summer cooled and Labour’s electorate focused on a leader who might deliver the party to a victory.
A frontrunner who, despite a three-decade legacy of statements and positions that might otherwise doom another candidate, somehow swatted aside the taunts of Labour and Conservative enemies alike and, in his quiet, relentlessly focused and humorless manner, kept his attention on policy, not in responding to negative attacks or engendering gauzy feel-good connections via YouTube clips or on the rope line. What you see is what you get.
Today, Jeremy Corbyn becomes the duly-elected leader of the Labour Party, and he easily won with first preferences, far outpacing his nearest competition in shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham.
Corbyn will also become a leader who now faces an outright mutiny from some of the party’s most important policy experts and rising stars. Despite his staggering win, which scrambles the very nature of postwar British politics, which created a revolution within Labour and which perhaps can begin a new epoch of British politics, the 66-year-old Corbyn must now wage a fight to consolidate his hold on the mechanisms of the party — from mollifying critics in the parliamentary caucus to reimaging the levers of policy review.
After a summer of Corbynmania, the late surge of shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, newly impassioned about economic policy and Syrian refugees, wasn’t enough to deny the leadership to an unlikely hero of the far left, a man who would make Tony Benn himself seem moderate and accommodating by contrast.
But as Corbyn takes the reins as the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, he should take to heart the hard-won lessons of those who held the office before him — stretching back to 1983, when Neil Kinnock first won the leadership.
For the first time since Corbynmania began earlier this summer, the Labour backbencher and leftist rebel — now favored to become the Labour Party’s next leader when all the votes in the leadership contest are counted on Saturday — directly challenged prime minister David Cameron in the House of Commons on Monday.
Ostensibly, it was just another question about the Conservative position on admitting more refugees from Syria and abroad (see video above).
But there’s some fascinating body language that could show us what the future of British parliamentary politics will look like — and very soon.
Corbyn, the MP from Islington North since 1983, has the distinction of bucking prior Labour leaders more than any other backbencher. But a surge of support for Corbyn, viewed by supporters as an earnest defender of British leftism, swelled the ranks of the Labour electorate. New members, presumably swept up by Corbyn’s charms, joined in the tens of thousands simply by paying a £3 membership fee. With the support of some of the country’s largest and most powerful unions, Corbyn quickly — and surprisingly — shot to the top of the pack against his three more moderate rivals.
Ironically, many of the 35 MPs who nominated Corbyn do not even support him; instead, they supported him to give Labour’s far left, previously an anemic force in party politics, a voice in the election.
There’s still a chance that shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, who won plaudits last week for her strong stand on admitting more migrants to Great Britain, could win — and there’s a sense that she emerged only too late as the most ‘prime ministerial’ of the four candidates vying for the leadership. There’s still even a chance that the former frontrunner, shadow health minister Andy Burnham, could win. But oddsmakers are still betting on Corbyn to emerge victorious on Saturday. Voting opened on August 10, though many Labour voters have only recently received their ballots. Votes are tabulated on a preference basis — so if a voter’s first choice is eliminated after the first round of counting, the vote is transferred to the second choice and so on.
While Corbyn will almost certainly win the first round, there’s a chance that, as other candidates are eliminated, the anti-Corbyn vote will consolidate behind either Burnham or Cooper. The most moderate candidate, Liz Kendall, most associated with the policies of moderate former prime minister Tony Blair, is widely predicted to finish last.
Nowhere will that political earthquake create more tremors than at Westminster, where few members of the parliamentary Labour Party support Corbyn (pictured above), who may struggle to enforce the kind of party discipline he has so often bucked. Virtually no one believes that Corbyn will survive as Labour leader until the next scheduled general election in 2020 — and that it is only a matter of time before more seasoned Labourites hatch a restoration. Many senior shadow cabinet members flatly refuse to serve in a Corbyn-led opposition. Blairites (and Brownites) on Labour’s moderate wing worry that Corbyn’s 1980s-style socialism will doom the party’s chances in the 2020 election or beyond, and fear Labour could split, as it did briefly in the 1980s under former leader Michael Foot. Continue reading Corbyn versus Cameron: The future of PMQs in Great Britain?→
Within hours of the Labour Party’s unexpectedly severe loss in the UK general election, its leader Ed Miliband had already resigned and within days, Miliband and his family were Ibiza-bound, the first step in an awkward transition back to the backbenches.
It’s been a gloomy downfall for Ed, and critics have good reason to criticize his performance between 2010 and the May elections. But what the Labour leadership contest aptly demonstrates is that Miliband nailed one thing in his five years — bridging the gap between Labour’s two factions, its union-heavy left and metropolitan, pro-business right. Miliband did such a good job maintaining Labour unity for the past five years, in fact, that no one realized just how divided Labour’s two tribes have become.
Those divisions are becoming all too clear in the emerging battle to succeed Miliband, and the surprise leader in the race is Jeremy Corbyn, a reluctant leadership contender first elected in 1983 to the British parliament, who’s now drawing the greatest support.
With the support of Unite, the most muscular of the labor unions that back the UK’s chief center-left party, Corbyn has managed to capture the imagination of a wide swath of the Labour electorate — disaffected nationalists, anti-austerity youths and old-school socialists like Corbyn (pictured above) himself, who’s bucked his party’s leadership 534 times in a 32-year parliamentary career. He bitterly opposed prime minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, he opposes the Trident nuclear deterrent and he’s an unabashedly ‘retro’ socialist. He’s not entirely committed to opposing a ‘Brexit’ from the European Union in the planned 2017 referendum. Corbyn wants to re-nationalize the UK’s train system and energy networks, and he wants to reaffirm public control over the health system.
By way of example, Corbyn makes no apologies for firmly opposing the government’s bill last week that trims social welfare benefits. Interim Labour leader Harriet Harman instructed the party’s MPs to abstain — Corbyn and 47 other Labour MPs joined the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) in voting against the legislation. It’s no exaggeration to say that a Corbyn-led Labour Party would embrace much of the 1970s and 1980s leftism that Blair worked so hard to expunge in the leadup to his 1997 landslide victory.
Corbyn’s rise is so stunning because he nearly missed the initial cut — he only barely achieved the 35 nominations from the party’s parliamentary caucus. He depended on support from legislators like Margaret Beckett, who believed that the far left deserved a voice in the campaign — if for no other reason than to show that the British far left is as weak in 2015 as in 2010 (when Diane Abbott placed last in the leadership contest) and 2007 (when John McDonnell failed to win enough nominations to advance against Gordon Brown, who won the leadership unopposed). Beckett, a former interim party leader and foreign secretary, now says she was a ‘moron’ to do so.
That’s because Corbyn, according to some polls, now holds a lead in the fight for Labour’s future. A July 17-21 YouGov/Times poll shows Corbyn leading with 43% of the vote — just 26% back shadow health secretary Andy Burnham (who held a series of ministerial profiles between 2007 and 2010), 20% back shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper (and the wife of former shadow chancellor Ed Balls and a former chief secretary to the treasury) and 11% back Liz Kendall, a shadow minister for care and older people first elected in 2010.
More alarming to the party establishment, when the choices are whittled down to the two leading candidates, Corbyn leads Burnham by a margin of 47% to 53%.
Ballots will not even be sent to Labour members until August 14, and the voting will continue through September 10 — there’s a lot of time left in the race, and it’s not clear Corbyn can sustain enthusiasm in the face of what will assuredly be a massive opposition to a Corbyn leadership.
But how, exactly, did a 66-year-old socialist become the pacesetter in Labour’s leadership contest?
Part of his rise is attributable to simple arithmetic.
It’s morning in the United Kingdom, and the BBC is projecting that the Conservative Party will win 325 seats — exactly half of the House of Commons, and an increase of 20 seats from the 305 seats that the Tories held in the prior parliament.
What’s clear is that prime minister David Cameron will keep his job, and all the talk of a hung parliament and weeks of coalition-building seems to have been wrong.
But what will Cameron face in the next five years?
The one thing that both the Conservatives and Labour agree on in the 2015 election is that deficit reduction will be a priority for the United Kingdom’s next government.
To that end, when you put aside the sideshow of the proposed European Union referendum, the red lines and pledges about the National Health Service, and the vagaries of coalition politics with Scottish nationalists or Northern Irish unionists, the central question of the British general election is how to bring the budget deficit down from around 5% of GDP today to 3% or less by the end of the next government’s scheduled term in 2020.
No matter who wins today’s election, though, the next British government will prioritize deficit reduction. Though Labour leader Ed Miliband and prime minister David Cameron have very different visions for how to accomplish that, that they both agree on this goal is notable for two reasons. First, it puts Miliband and Cameron in agreement in a way that former prime minister Gordon Brown and Cameron never were in the 2010 election. Second, it means that Miliband has largely agreed to wage the 2015 campaign on Cameron’s own territory. Miliband conceded, long before the general election campaign even began, the central premise of Cameron’s 2010 campaign and subsequent government. Continue reading No matter who wins in the UK, deficit reduction will be the top goal→
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.
It was certainly the kind of move German chancellor Angela Merkel would never have made.
Surprising reporters and many members of his own party alike, British prime minister David Cameron earlier this week announced that he will not stand for a third term — that is, if he and the ruling Conservative Party win reelection on May 7.
What’s certain is that with 42 days to go until the vote, everyone in British politics today was talking about Cameron and the future of the Tories — and not about his opponents. Cameron not only indicated that he wouldn’t stand for a third term; he named three potential successors:
Boris Johnson, the blond, floppy-haired mayor of London;
Theresa May, Cameron’s home secretary and a tough eurosceptic; and
George Osborne, the chancellor who’s taken as much heat as Cameron for the budget cuts of the past five years and who, insiders say, Cameron prefers as his successor.
It’s too soon to tell if the strategy will help Cameron and the Tories win what has become a very tight race with the center-left Labour Party. On the one hand, it’s a little presumptuous for a British prime minister to look past an election in just over five weeks’ time to proclaim that he won’t be running for reelection in five years’ time. Cameron’s shot at winning a second term is precarious enough as it is. Moreover, there’s a real question that he’s now made himself a lame duck for the second term, which promises to include a tough 2017 referendum on the country’s membership in the European Union if Cameron wins. What happens, by the way, if the Conservatives win a shaky minority government in May, lose a confidence vote in early 2016? Will Cameron resign when early elections follow? (Notwithstanding the new law purporting to establish fixed-term parliament.) Needless to say, it’s not the most intuitive step for a prime minister to launch a slow-motion leadership race so close to a general election.
On the other hand, it’s not out of character for Cameron, who’s never seemed to crave the premiership in the same way as former occupants of 10 Downing Street. It stands in contrast to Margaret Thatcher, who said he hoped to ‘go on and on’ after winning a third term and who finally left office after 11 years as a result of Tory regicide or to Labour prime minister Tony Blair, whose chancellor, Gordon Brown, pushed him out after a decade of intraparty sniping. Though the British media will spend this week talking about Cameron’s statement, the succession question will burn out by the time the real campaign begins, so you can expect relatively little off-the-record briefing about when Cameron will leave. His casual remarks end the speculation, for example, that he might resign after the 2017 referendum or in 2018. After all, if he hangs on until 2020 as he hopes, he will have served as the Conservative Party leader for fully 14 years — just as long as the Iron Lady herself.
Arguably, it frees Cameron to wage the most full-hearted campaign possible, because if he loses in five weeks’ time, his political career will end. No one doubted that would be the case (even without his remarks), but Cameron has now underlined that this is it. In a race where voters view Cameron as much more greatly suited to the office than Miliband, that could actually boost Cameron’s chances. If Cameron wins, he’ll be able to devote his full efforts to renegotiating British EU membership (and winning a referendum on EU membership) without worrying about the 2020 election. Continue reading Cameron ‘no-third-term’ bombshell launches Tory leadership intrigue→
Though it hasn’t been a great month for British prime minister David Cameron, November was quite possibly the worst month in the four-year tenure of Labour leader Ed Miliband, who was forced to endure a full-fledged crisis of confidence just six months before the next general election.
Miliband (pictured above) began the first half of the month batting away rumors that a backbencher uprising might topple him from the leadership just before the country prepares for the May 2015 general election. Miliband had already come under fire for a lackluster speech at Labour’s September party conference in which he didn’t mention the British budget deficit.
Most reports urged Alan Johnson, the widely respected former home secretary, as a potential replacement, though Johnson declaimed all interest in leading the party, thereby depriving any plotters of the most necessary ingredient to a successful putsch — the quick installation of a universally well-regarded successor.
Labour struggling to retain working-class supporters
No sooner did the ‘dump Miliband’ story quell than Miliband was forced to sack Emily Thornberry, the shadow work and pensions secretary, for a photograph (see below) posted to Twitter that seemed to mock working-class English voters — it’s a peculiar quirk of the delicate nature of class that a photo of a white van parked in front of a house with two English flags waving would stir such controversy. But it’s arguably the most damaging moment for Labour vis-à-vis the British working class since April 2010, when then-prime minister Gordon Brown was overheard calling a Labour supporter a ‘bigoted woman.’
Miliband was forced to reaffirm that Labour was founded as the party of ‘working people,’ even as Nigel Farage’s anti-Europe, populist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) now threatens to steal as many traditional supporters from Labour as from the Conservative Party.
UKIP won a November 20 by-election in Rochester and Strood, triggered by Conservative MP Mark Reckless’s decision to defect to the party — Reckless, as the newly minted UKIP candidate, easily defeated Tory challenger Kelly Tolhurst, leaving Labour far behind in third place with 16.8%. Reckless is the second Tory to defect to UKIP, joining Douglas Carswell — and quite possibly others in the months ahead.
Though you might think that’s more of a headache for Cameron than for Miliband, UKIP’s rise is just one reason why the November scare won’t be the last time between now and May that Miliband faces a surge of doubt within Labour ranks.
If it wasn’t already clear, Ed Miliband’s final conference speech before next May’s general election indicated that he intends to wage his campaign on the basis of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service — and not a full-scale attack on the ‘austerity’ anti-deficit policies of David Cameron’s coalition government.
It’s hard to believe that Miliband has now been the leader of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party one year longer than former prime minister Gordon Brown was, especially after the bravura performance that Brown delivered for the ‘Better Together’ campaign, which may have swayed enough Scottish voters to reject independence in the surprisingly close referendum.
When he won the leadership in September 2010, upsetting his opponent and brother, former foreign minister David Miliband, it was a shock. While Labour’s MPs and the party faithful narrowly preferred David, unions and other affiliated Labour groups gave Ed just enough of an edge to narrowly defeat the more seasoned Miliband, who promptly left frontline politics and moved to New York.
In the past four years, Ed Miliband has benefitted from the polling lead that Labour has consistently held against the Conservatives, who have been mired in unpopular decisions to slash the national budget after years of more permissive spending under Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair, for whom Brown served as chancellor of the exchequer.
In the first year of Tory-led government, the British economy grew by 1.7% — sluggish in absolute terms, but vigorous by what would follow. In 2012, British GDP fell to 0.3% before rebounding last year to 1.7% and a forecasted growth rate of 3.2% in 2014.
As the economy has improved, it means that it might not be enough for Miliband to attack Cameron and the current chancellor, George Osborne, for inflicting greater damage on the economy by cutting spending in a time of low economic growth. While it may be true that Osborne’s budget cuts didn’t necessarily promote growth, it’s unavoidable fact that the United Kingdom is now growing faster than the rest of the European Union, which emerged from the 2008-09 global financial crisis and the 2010-12 eurozone debt crisis to face a growing deflation threat today. Italy, which has struggled to enact reforms under its energetic new prime minister Matteo Renzi, recently entered a triple-dip recession.
Polls, meanwhile, show an increasingly tight race. Labour’s once dominant lead is shrinking, in the most recent September 18-19 YouGov/Sunday Times poll to just 4%. If the election were held today, Labour would edge out the Tories by a margin of 36% to 32%, with the eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) winning 16% and the junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, just 7%. That could result in any number of outcomes, including a Labour minority government, a Conservative minority government, or the continuation of the Tory-Liberal Democratic coalition.