Brexit and the meltdown of UK democracy
The June 23 Brexit referendum signalled the beginning of a political meltdown in the UK which culminated in the enthronement of Theresa May and a leadership election in the Labour Party less than a year after Jeremy Corbyn was swept into power. Can the UK recover from the fallout of the Brexit referendum.
The United Kingdom woke up on Friday 23 June to new realities: the Kingdom was no longer ‘united’ and its constituent parts had broken rank and were wooing new suitors. Scotland voted by 62-38 to remain in Europe while Northern Ireland voted 55.8 – 44.2 to remain. Whilst England returned home, Scotland stayed behind to parley with the rest of EU.
No one could have predicted the political meltdown that followed the Brexit vote. The fracas that broke out within the political ranks was totally unprecedented and looked more like the usual macabre offering from an episode of Game of Thrones, except that these are the real political classes of Great Britain. Cameron immediately resigned as the leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister, and stayed on merely as a caretaker until a new Prime Minister was installed.
It was as if the Brexit vote caused a convulsion in the political classes and provided an unprecedented opportunity for self aggrandizement and self promotion of less capable politicians who would not have stood a chance before a general electorate.
Take self-righteous Andrea Leadsom, who would have been unlikely to even make it to the selection to lead a Tory party – now collects around her a rag tag mob who chanted her praises – only to fall on her own self-righteous sword thinking her motherliness, the only thing with which she could beat her opponent, made her right for the job of prime minister.
Or take Boris Johnson, now Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. His opportunism propelled him to the cheerleader for the Leave voters and was eventually wasted by his compatriot/foe, Michael Gove. And the latest Prime Minister rewarded Michael Gove’s desperate dash for the leadership with a sacking. Mr Johnson’s rise is not unfamiliar to those who have been watching the Netflix series – House of Cards. Throughout his career, Mr Johnson has been described by those who know him as “ineffably duplicitous”, “thoroughly irresponsible”, racist and bigoted, and sacked on two occasions for lying or making up things, he now represents England as its foreign secretary. The Economist described his appointment as “putting a baboon at the wheels of a Rolls Royce”. Besides branding Johnson a liar, France’s foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said of Johnson’s appointment, “It’s a sign of the British political crisis that has come out of the referendum vote.”
The opposition will not be outdone. It was the night of the long knives across the floor. Labour MPs seized on Brexit as an opportunity for self-promotion. Those who had been unable to persuade the party in September 2015 that they were fit for the job now saw it as an opportunity to advance their ambitions. Angela Eagle did not make it to the last 4 in the leadership election in September 2015. And while she put her name in the hat for the deputy leadership election she came 4th out of 5 candidates. Now she thinks she is more capable than the elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn. When a vote of no confidence by the parliamentary labour party could not remove him, they tried to no avail to keep him off the ballot. And when that failed, in time honoured democratic style, the Labour party changed the voting rules and swiftly disenfranchised about 100,000 registered voters. As they say in former British colonies: The white man who made the pencil also made the eraser. Long live our British parliamentary democracy!
Original article first published in The European Business Review on July 1, 2016.