Euro­pean Union vote leaves a pro­found mark on Bri­tish pol­i­tics

China Daily (Canada) - - ANALYSIS -

UK Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron’s elec­tion pledge was made be­fore the 2015 gen­eral elec­tion as a means of unit­ing the Con­ser­va­tive Party in or­der to gain a clear vic­tory over Labour’s Ed Miliband and rid it­self of the in­creas­ing frac­tious Lib­eral Democrats, with whom his party had been in an un­easy rul­ing coali­tion since fail­ing to gain a ma­jor­ity at the polls in 2010.

Well, that de­ci­sion, also aimed at keep­ing at bay the then per­ceived threat of Nigel Farage’s UKIP party, which was seek­ing to curb im­mi­gra­tion and quit the Euro­pean Union, has now come back to haunt Cameron with a vengeance.

Al­though it achieved its short-term goal — a clear work­ing ma­jor­ity for the Con­ser­va­tive Party in the House of Com­mons, and crush­ing UKIP’s chances of a se­ri­ous pres­ence in Par­lia­ment, plus the an­ni­hi­la­tion of the Labour Party — it has raised other, far more se­ri­ous is­sues.

It does not mat­ter whether it is a yes or no vote to June 23’s sim­ple ques­tion, the dam­age to Bri­tish pol­i­tics and in par­tic­u­lar the Con­ser­va­tive Party has been done.

Yes, it is true that Cameron vowed he would only serve one more term as Prime Min­is­ter un­til 2020, thus be­com­ing in mod­ern po­lit­i­cal terminology a lame-duck leader, but by pledg­ing a ref­er­en­dum he has man­aged, in the eyes of many, to shoot him­self in the foot, if you don’t mind me mix­ing my metaphors.

Much of the pop­u­la­tion are an­gry that this ref­er­en­dum, which Cameron and his col­leagues, per­haps naively, be­lieved would be car­ried out with re­serve and Bri­tish phlegm, has de­vel­oped into a bit­ter shout­ing match, and a sort of early lead­er­ship bat­tle for the Con­ser­va­tives postCameron.

In­deed, many peo­ple I have spo­ken to are an­gry that the real is­sue of whether or not the UK should re­main in the EU has been drowned in the ever-in­creas­ing yelling match over who is to be­come the next leader of the Con­ser­va­tive Party.

Many, and I in­clude my­self in this, feel Boris John­son, the for­mer Lon­don Mayor, as well as Iain Dun­can-Smith, failed leader of the Con­ser­va­tives when they were in op­po­si­tion and Chris Grayling, the for­mer Justice Sec­re­tary, have made a huge er­ror in jump­ing on the Leave band­wagon, thus align­ing them­selves with Nigel Farage and Ge­orge Gal­loway.

John­son in par­tic­u­lar is seen by many as hav­ing taken an op­por­tunis­tic and cyn­i­cal leap onto the band­wagon to en­hance what he sees are his chances for a crack at the lead­er­ship of both the Con­ser­va­tive Party and the coun­try.

So the smoke from the burn­ing bon­fire that is a de facto lead­er­ship bat­tle has, for many, ob­scured the real rea­son for the ref­er­en­dum.

I sus­pect that san­ity will pre­vail, and the Great Bri­tish pub­lic, as Winston Churchill once called the elec­torate, will opt to re­main.

But it still leaves Cameron with the ma­jor headache of re­pair­ing the huge schism that has re­opened in the Con­ser­va­tives over Europe, to en­able them to con­tinue in of­fice.

There is an­other scary prospect — much-re­viled Labour Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn has been at best luke­warm in lead­ing his party’s sup­port for the Re­main cam­paign. This has led many to be­lieve that he is play­ing some sort of wait­ing game, hop­ing the Con­ser­va­tives will self­de­struct and al­low him and his for­mer col­leagues to take over. Cor­byn’s crit­ics rightly point out that he has never been in charge of any­thing un­til now, not even a lo­cal party com­mit­tee.

So Cameron’s high-flown ideal of al­low­ing the peo­ple a demo­cratic right to have their say on Europe has opened up a huge can of worms.

Buckle up, be­cause it is go­ing to be a bumpy ride.

The au­thor is the man­ag­ing ed­i­tor at China Daily Europe.

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