It’s been more than two weeks since the shock of Britain’s referendum result going in favour of leaving Europe, yet the country is still reeling from the aftershocks, and it is still struggling to come to terms with the way its national politics seems to be changed for ever.
Following the referendum result and David Cameron’s announcement that he would be stepping down as prime minister once the Conservatives elected a new leader, the drama of treachery and political intrigue is played out across the top ranks of both the main political parties. The dramatic withdrawal from the race of the man who had long been considered as on track for the prime ministerial slot, the former London Mayor Boris Johnson, was brought about by his Brexit ally Michael Gove.
Gove had previously said he would not be a contender and was with Boris Johnson, but he announced his candidacy just a couple of hours before Johnson was to formally announce his, and he did so on the basis that Boris could not be trusted to do the job.
No wonder then that this prompted comments of ‘Et tu Gove’ and remarks to the effect that Gove had “stabbed Boris in the front”.
The nastiness was visible too in the Labour Party — which now appears to be breaking into a million pieces. The leader, Jeremy Corbyn was undermined dramatically by his own parliamentary party, in a slightly pointless campaign that many of the revolting Labour MPs insisted was justified because the leader had failed to campaign effectively for the Remain campaign. The usual slurs of ‘leftist’ were directed his way and of course the ‘anti-semitism’ card was useful too…
With the main parliamentary parties in total disarray, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas did warn that there was now a real danger that the right-wing forces would triumph, so it was now crucial for progressive parties to come together… but who was listening?
Betrayal, treachery, uncertainty… the country hurtling forward towards an unknown future, and the tragedy is that this could all have easily been avoided.
David Cameron made a catastrophic miscalculation when he promised the referendum in 2013, two years before the general election. That election gave the Conservatives a clear majority, surprising everybody, not least the Conservatives and indeed David Cameron himself. But he had already, under pressure from the Eurosceptics in his party, made the referendum into an election pledge, and so the referendum was finally held.
If only he had not made that election pledge! But presumably he, like so many of us here, thought that — as in the Scottish referendum — people would choose the status quo over change. And perhaps he thought this would reduce the increasing pressure being brought on him not just by the Eurosceptics in his own party but by Nigel Farage and UKIP.
The question of Europe has always been a problem for the Conservatives, and it has divided the party for years. A referendum on Europe has long been a demand, but very few people actually thought it would ever happen. Not many people today remember the Referendum Party which was set up on just this one demand by the billionaire Sir James Goldsmith (father of Jemima Goldsmith) in 1994.
The Referendum Party was a single issue political group bankrolled and cheer-led by Sir James and various other wealthy people. Although it fielded candidates in the 1997 general election, none of its candidates were elected, their candidature merely cut into the Conservative vote. The party fizzled out in 1997 soon after Sir James Goldsmith’s death, and the fact that nobody really remembered the Referendum Party all these years later had probably signalled to David Cameron, that it was safe to now go for a referendum. What an error of judgement that was!
And, of course, another error was to have no party discipline on the matter of the EU referendum. Once the party whip was removed, it was chaos — party members appeared on opposite platforms, fighting against each other in a vicious, increasingly nasty debate.
Alas, it’s been a real tragedy of errors.