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Published in the Sunday Vanguard of July 3, 2016.
To many, the results they woke up to on June 24, was not what they expected. The leaders of the group that favoured Britain’s continued membership of the Union thought they had victory in their pockets, while the “Brexiters” were not really sure of their position. Although before the voting, opinion polls reported no clear majority, however, the balance was tilted towards victory for the Remain group.
It was no surprise when after the voting closed, Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) and a leader of the Leave group gave what seemed like a concession speech. He had feared the worst and was trying to be magnanimous in defeat.
This is the second time in a row that the British opinion polls had missed the mark. It will be recalled that the outcome of the 2015 General Elections was far off what was projected by the polls. This reveals that there is a need to broaden the “sample” subjects of these polls to get accurate results in future.
One week after the results, British politics have taken a dramatic turn. The surprise outcome has claimed many casualties and we are still counting. The first was Prime Minister David Cameron who did not hesitate, by a second, to fall on his own sword. It was him, as the leader of the ruling Conservative Party that promised an EU membership referendum if elected to power. He made good the promise in February when he announced a date for the referendum after his famed negotiations with EU leaders in Brussels.
The confidence to call the referendum was inspired by “the gains” he thought he negotiated for the UK in Brussels. It would be recalled that Cameron travelled the length and breadth of Europe convincing leaders that his country deserved better treatment in the union. After serious bargaining of “whittled down” list of demands, the EU leaders conceded a few to Cameron. The Prime Minister was condemned by the opposition and even some Tory members for celebrating his failure in getting the UK a good deal.
It was painful to watch Cameron on the steps of 10, Downing Street on the morning of June 24. Accompanied by his wife, Samantha, Cameron was a figure to pity. As he revealed his intention to resign, it was obvious that he had asked himself at various points after the results, if he took the best decision of calling for the referendum. But Cameron, just like all politicians, is a gambler. His mistake this time around was that he was overconfident that he could sell the EU project to the people.
Let us not condemn Cameron, rather let us put him aside for now and discuss an incomprehensible political loss in the UK. Welcome on stage the colourful and flamboyant former mayor of London, Boris Johnson. A man who had at no time hidden his desire to become the next Prime Minister after Cameron. In fact, he was accused severally during the referendum campaign that his membership of the Leave group was only grounded on his ambition and not on the principles.
Whatever the reasons why he came out in support of the Leave group should be left to him and his conscience. He rose to the occasion and became one of the propelling figures behind the exit. His presentations, though sometimes pedestrian and comical, inspired debates across the country. He was like Marmite – you either like him or hate him. Fortunately for Johnson, he seems to know how to work his magic on the British people.
He was quick to mount the rostrum on the morning after the referendum and congratulated the people he would soon reign over for their bravery in deciding to quit the “club”. At this stage, all roads to 10 Downing Street, seemed very clear of obstacles for the young Johnson. He must have visualised himself going to meet up with the queen to declare his preparedness to form a government. It was not a dream, it was meant to be a reality.
Along the way, a better gambler than Johnson pulled a fast one to end his ambition and bring him back to reality. His right-hand man during the BREXIT campaign, the Justice Minister Michael Gove, demonstrated once again, that in politics there are no permanent friends but allies. Gove, who until last week Wednesday was one of the biggest supporters of Johnson’s premiership, took out a long shining knife and put it through Johnson’s back.
Despite Gove’s repeated denial in the past that he had no desire to become UK Prime Minister, he surprisingly put himself forward on Thursday for the leadership contest. Mr Gove did not only go against his words but also knocked into place the nail to seal Johnson’s political future. Gove was not shy in taking Johnson to the cleaners so he could look good to the Tories. He said in the most sneering manner “I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.” This is a classic example of who not to keep as friend or ally.
On Thursday, a few minutes before the close of nominations for the leadership contest, Johnson addressed his supporters and literally agreed with Gove that he was not capable of building a team for the rigorous task of governance and of exiting the EU. He ruled himself out of the race even before it began.
Johnson’s political future was sealed by Gove, Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour leader is, however, fighting tooth and nail to keep his. The embattled leader has refused to yield to calls for his resignation aftermath of the referendum. Despite a no-confidence vote of 172 to 40 against him by the Labour MPs, and the advice of “For heaven’s sake, man, go!” by Cameron, Corbyn has been adamant, insisting that his leadership is based on the votes of the party members and not MPs. He said: “I was democratically elected leader of our party for a new kind of politics by 60% of Labour members and supporters…”
It is not looking good for Corbyn now, as the calls for his resignation become loud and louder. Will he be able to ride it through? Will Angela Eagle or Owen Smith save Labour of this lacklustre Corbyn’s leadership style? Time will tell.
No matter how the exit of Britain from the EU is reviewed, it is apparent no one predicted what’s playing out now.