The political campaigns of both sides of the European Union referendum debate used increasingly low methods to achieve their objectives, to the point where the referendum became a very ugly campaign. Party divisions were magnified, mud was slung and no subject was untouched in the rush to win the vote.
Now that the referendum has been settled, the British public can be forgiven for expecting the frantic politics to stop and for everyone involved to take a breath.
Unfortunately, the divisiveness of the campaign and its subsequent fallout has infected each of the two main political parties, prompting a positively Shakespearean world where political loyalties are cheaper than House of Commons toilet paper and everyone is fair game.
It is a world of power broking, sudden political shifts and betrayal. It is a world of kingmakers and fall guys with backroom dealing becoming the practical exercise of political power. This is a world seldom seen by the ordinary voter and often only alluded to in the press but it exists just below the surface of political society.
In the aftermath of the referendum this hidden world has been thrust into daylight for all to see with the fall of the Cameron premiership.
In a scene reminiscent of Julius Caesar, Michael Gove has like Brutus betrayed his Brexit campaign brother in arms Boris Johnson publicly and finally. With one motion the Justice Secretary has seemingly dealt a fatal blow to the Prime Ministerial ambitions and political career of Boris Johnson.
However, like Brutus at Philippi, he will not be able to enjoy his victory as the perceived betrayal will not engender him to the Conservative hierarchy and membership. So Boris Johnson may have the last laugh as Gove becomes gradually ostracised from his own party.
Despite suggestions that the field of candidates be drawn directly from those who campaigned for Brexit, the defeated remainers were able to field three main candidates: Stephen Crabbe, Theresa May and Liam Fox.
Crabbe’s inexperience and status as an unknown quantity has led to his early withdrawal from the contest, but he remains a candidate for the future and could potentially form part of the new Prime Minister’s cabinet.
May remains a strong figure within the Conservative party and has garnered strong support from Ministers and backbench MP’s since she declared her candidacy last week. She has come into this campaign with a good record as Home Secretary and is the candidate to beat. It remains to be seen if she will survive the new climate of backroom alliances and skullduggery, but she stands a very good chance of succeeding Cameron if she does.
Although Liam Fox is an experienced political operator, he’s also been forced to withdraw early from the contest due to lack of support within the party. He has been keen to support Theresa May and will like Crabbe, look to be involved within her cabinet should she be elected.
With the excommunication of Gove and the demise of Johnson, Andrea Leadsom has moved forward as the only Brexit campaigner present since day one. A popular figure during the campaigns and debates, she should command a strong vote from the Brexit contingent of the Conservative party. That vote may not be enough in the contest against such a strong opposition figure as Theresa May.
Any prospective leader of the Conservative party must have a strong beneficial presence in the media, because the media is the most powerful tool to aid the success or failure of the candidate in the leadership contest and afterward in their government. The principle individual to negotiate with in this instance is Rupert Murdoch, owner of two of the UK’s biggest newspapers The Sun and The Times. Candidates must have his support be it covertly or publicly, but great care must be taken in obtaining this support as Mr Murdoch has had a very fractured relationship with both the British public and political classes. That being said, an endorsement of this sort would carry great weight in the days to come.
While the travails affecting the Conservative party have been aired publicly, the problems within the Labour party have largely been confined to private infighting. Mass resignations have rendered the shadow cabinet a shadow of its former self and severely affected its ability to function as a political opposition.
These resignations and the subsequent activity in the media by those who have resigned have at their heart one aim: the removal of Jeremy Corbyn from his post as party leader. Many of these individuals were unhappy with the appointment of Corbyn as leader, but could not be seen to air their distaste for his appointment due to the groundswell of support from ordinary party members and the trade unions.
Using Labour’s lack of definite activity in the referendum as a catalyst, these individuals have finally found a platform on which they can attack Mr Corbyn’s leadership with any certainty of success, staging a coup d’état against him. The party has conducted a vote of no confidence, (the traditional signal for a candidate to resign) which he soundly lost. Perceptually Corbyn’s position as leader is becoming more and more untenable by the day.
But like a barnacle on the hull of a ship, Jeremy Corbyn remains unmovable because of two key elements: the aforementioned popular support of the ordinary party members (numbering almost 200,000) and the support of the largest trade union in the UK: Unite and its chief Len McCluskey.
The trade unions, being the kingmakers of the Labour party remain its strongest constituent part and as recent history has shown, if you have the support of the unions you get to be leader. In this fractured environment, McCluskey’s unwavering support of Corbyn remains his greatest political weapon, which he can wield to crush any opposition from within the party. If the support disappears, Mr Corbyn will undoubtedly be cast into the political wilderness.
This sort of dog eat dog environment can challenge even the stoutest of political heart and doesn’t exude an image of trustworthiness to the average voting age individual. The candidate who emerges from this sort of contest will undoubtedly face even tougher challenges as they step up to the top job in their respective party.
However, in a world where a media mogul can change the destiny of an incumbent government with a few well-placed stories or a union leader can push an entire body of workers to favour one candidate over another, it is important to stay ahead of the game, otherwise you risk becoming the next casualty of the great political turkey shoot.
© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.