LONDON – When David Cameron announced he was stepping down from the Leadership of the Conservative Party the morning after the EU Referendum vote, it seemed that the stage was set for Boris Johnson, who was popular with Brexiteers in the parliamentary party and in the grassroots, to stand for the leadership of the Conservative Party. However, at a press conference where he was expected to announce his candidacy, he said that the next Prime Minister “cannot be me”. Just hours before, his colleague in the Leave campaigner and Justice Secretary, Michael Gove launched an attack on Mr Johnson saying that he didn’t believe Boris could “provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”
Prior to this announcement, Mr Gove was a key member of the Boris campaign team and was believed to be in line for a senior cabinet position and to be an instrumental part in the discussions between the British government and the European Union. It seems Mr Gove badly misjudged his level of support within the party, especially after alienating supporters of Mr Johnson and ‘softer’ Brexiteers and, at the time of writing, had been eliminated in the leadership election after loosing to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and Andrea Leadsom, Boris’ partner in the EU referendum debates and a darling of the party’s right wing.
After winning the support of MPs both Mrs May and Mrs Leadsom move onwards to face the members of their party, who will have the ultimate decision in who becomes the next party leader and Prime Minister. The favourite is Theresa May, who won the votes of 199 MP’s. Mrs Leadsom, considered an outsider at the beginning of the contest, has won the support of Mr Johnson and the devotion of many Leave voters. In the wake of recent events, it would be unwise to predict an easy win for Mrs May who, as a remain backer, must convince a must more sceptical membership of her Eurosceptic credentials. What is clear, however, is that the Conservative Party are going to elect their second female leader and Prime Minister.
The opposition Labour Party is facing a similar crisis, MPs angry at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership took the vote to leave as a chance to remove their leader who, at the best of times, was a reluctant campaigner for Britain to remain in the European Union. The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, was sacked amid claims he was encouraging colleagues to resign from the cabinet and called for a no confidence vote in the Labour leader. Labour MPs ultimately voted that they had no confidence in their leader 172-40. Mr Corbyn responded by saying he would not “betray” the members who had voted for him in a landslide just 10 months ago.
Regardless, a vast majority of the Labour shadow cabinet resigned their posts to oppose Mr Corbyn’s leadership. With so little support amongst the Parliamentary Labour Party, Mr Corbyn has had to give his supporters numerous shadow cabinet jobs (4 shadow cabinet members are now hold two posts each).
Rumours surround Angela Eagle and Tom Watson suggest one of them will challenge Mr Corbyn for leadership. However, with the vast majority of Labour members approving of Corbyn’s leadership it seems unlikely to pass. For the moment, it is clear that Jeremy Corbyn is comfortable in his position as leader of the Labour Party. What the 172 MPs will do next, remains to be seen.
– Cameron Martin, Correspondent (Politics)