The Corner

After Boris

As Noah Daponte-Smith has explained over on the home page, Boris Johnson has, as The Sun put it, been ‘Brexecuted’, his bid for the Conservative leadership destroyed just before lift-off by the announcement that Justice Minister Michael Gove, his ally in the battle of Brexit, had, well, decided to put in for the job for himself.

Anyone who enjoys House of Cards will enjoy the instant take by Iain Martin, writing for the splendidly named Reaction.

Here’s an extract:

 At 9am this morning, Boris Johnson was pretty sure that he was going to become Prime Minister, or at least make the final two in the leadership contest and be in with a 50-50 chance. Then, at 9.02am an email landed that signalled he was done for, ruined. Johnson and his team had no warning – no call, no text – from Michael Gove that he was about to declare Boris unfit to be Prime Minister and run himself. The explosive email went to reporters direct….

Almost instantly around forty Tory MPs switched straight to Gove. It was almost as though it had been planned…

Almost. As you will see if you read the rest of the article, Martin is good with the stiletto.

And so Johnson abandoned his bid for the leadership, a mistake: Going down with all flags flying would, over the longer term, have been seen as a more dignified exit, but there we are.

We could discuss how Johnson had left himself so vulnerable. Part of the problem was that, never the most organized of characters (although less chaotic than he pretends), Johnson had, in the confused aftermath of the unexpected win for the Brexit team, forgotten that in politics, like real estate, it’s necessary to always be closing.

Amongst Johnson’s errors was his decision to use his column in the Daily Telegraph as the venue for his first considered (too kind an adjective) comment on the referendum triumph he clearly had not expected, a column that was widely seen as a disaster. Gove, a journalist himself, apparently added a few editing touches to help his pal out. How kind.

The favorite to become the next Tory leader (and thus prime minister) now becomes Theresa May, the Home Secretary (interior minister). The Guardian’s Martin Kettle (no fan of Johnson, as you can see if you read the full piece) approves:

Johnson’s eclipse makes a May versus Gove contest in the final round likely. In the past, May’s chances tended to be dismissed because, in Westminster terms, she is like Kipling’s cat that walks by itself. She rarely works the room or the studios. She frequently does her own thing, which made Cameron suspicious. Though her leadership ambitions have never really been in doubt, she does not have much of a machine. The result is that she had relatively few committed supporters until now.

Nor is she an ideologue, as she said today. This may help in febrile times. The Angela Merkel comparison is an illuminating one, much more relevant than talk of a second Thatcher. May’s speech said the right things, especially about social justice and the abandoned working class. At present, these are just words. But she has made interesting speeches in the past, she offers competence….

In May, the Conservatives have a candidate who today looked like a prime minister, behaved like a prime minister and sounded like a prime minister. What is more, after a truly convulsive day, she very possibly could be the next prime minister.

Now that comes from the Guardian. Grounds for suspicion you might think, and you’d be right.  But take a moment to read what blogger Pete North has to say.  Pete is the son and collaborator of EU Referendum’s Richard North, the architect of the Flexcit plan, which envisages a gradual disengagement from the EU rather than an abrupt break. That will work best if the next step along the road (and, for some, the final destination) for the UK is the EU’s ‘single market’, putting it in a position roughly akin to that currently enjoyed by Norway. Negotiating that will not be easy, but Britain should at least try. Gove does not appear to agree.

North:

Gove would be the ideal general to select if we were going to war with the EU. We’re not though. We are beginning a new relationship with the EU. So the last people we need are people like Leadsom and Gove who are hostile to the EU. These are people who have already declared their opposition to the single market and freedom of movement. What we need is someone who will open doors rather than slam them in the EUs face.

Theresa May of all people knows the frustrations created by the EU but she also knows their limitations and she also knows ours. If she can get a worthwhile concession she will. What we don’t want is people who will commit a singular act of economic vandalism…

[T]hese are not normal times. In any other times as a profoundly anti-EU conservative, to the right of the party, I would probably go for someone like Gove myself. But these are unprecedented circumstances…

I am opposed to Gove and the likes not because they are different to me, but because they are like me….

This isn’t about what you want as a prime minister. It’s not even about the leadership the country needs. It’s about what a unique set of circumstances demand of us – and that means looking beyond base instincts or habitual preference. This has now become a managerial decision. When this is all sorted we can return to real politics…

I want to think this through some more for myself. I am a great admirer of Michael Gove and what he has achieved, but the single most important job in British politics at the moment is to manage the country’s break with Brussels in the most effective, efficient and painless a manner as possible. If (big if) a velvet divorce is available, Britain should go for it, even if it may involve compromises that would not otherwise be desirable. I’m unconvinced that is a task that Mr. Gove can pull off. 

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