June 24, 2016
Following the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union FTI Consulting looks at the impact of the result on the UK politics.
Defeat in yesterday’s referendum irreparably undermined the Prime Minister’s authority: his decision to resign this morning opens up the leadership race for the Conservative Party. In his Downing St statement, he made it clear that there should be a new leader in place by the time of the Conservative Party Conference in October. So – whilst he faces a difficult three months, as he remains in post but with his authority completely undermined – the focus now switches to who will succeed him.
The Tory Parliamentary Party will narrow the field of candidates to two, on whom the members of the Party then vote. It is inconceivable that Boris Johnson will not be one of those candidates; the real interest is in who he will face. At this point, figures who have previously been touted as possible leadership contenders all supported the remain campaign, making it all but impossible for them to succeed – there is no appetite to elect a new leader who does not reflect the political will of the country and a very significant part of the Conservative party itself.
George Osborne, Sajid Javid, Ruth Davidson, Theresa May and Stephen Crabb have been mentioned – but all backed the losing side. Some commentators believe that Theresa May’s low profile during the campaign might give her a chance, although whilst she has been actively building grassroots support she would need to significantly increase her support base with backbench MPs. Unlike the conventional leadership aspirant, May never “works the tearooms” to charm her colleagues and seldom sends notes of congratulations on speeches, committee work and the like. The fact that this crop of candidates are unlikely to win does not mean that they will not run, to show life in their own ambitions and their side of the Party and to manoeuvre for senior positions after the leadership is decided.
On the Brexit side, Michael Gove – whilst having been a strong double act with Boris – is unlikely to have the broader appeal with party activists or the public, and perhaps more importantly would be very unlikely to undermine Boris’s chances. Andrea Leadsom is a star performer, who gave a strong and confident performance during the campaign – she clearly has a key role (some think as a possible Chancellor) in a future Cabinet, but doesn’t have the broader Party support needed for the Leadership. And there is one further possibility: that Boris stands unopposed. There are some who believe that he is unbeatable and therefore will not be challenged.
Against this context, there is now an increased likelihood that there will be a second general election within the next six months. David Cameron’s successor as Prime Minister will have been elected by only 150,000 Conservative party members. Gordon Brown’s big mistake was not to secure his legitimacy as Prime Minister by calling a general election after he took office in 2007. The mandate he lacked as a result would make a poor precedent for Cameron’s successor, whoever he or she may be. Without an election, many argue there is a democratic deficit. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act includes two provisions that can be used to trigger an election other than at five year intervals. The two provisions are two thirds of MPs call for a motion for an early general election or a no confidence motion is passed in the current government and no alternative government is confirmed within 14 days.
There are also implications for Scotland. The Scottish National Party’s case for a new referendum on Scottish independence is significantly strengthened after all 32 Scottish Local Authorities delivered remain victories against the trend in England. Speaking this morning, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that she is preparing the legislation for a second referendum. Political division in Northern Ireland were also reflected in the vote and Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister has already called for a border poll vote raising concerns that the result could increase tensions and cause uncertainty.
I want to make it absolutely clear that I intend to take all possible steps and explore all options to give effect to how people in Scotland voted, in other words to secure our continued place in the EU and in the single market in particular
– Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland
This referendum result does not just impact the Tory party. Whilst it was often portrayed as a blue on blue war the vote also has implications for the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
The Labour Party has been overwhelmingly supportive of continued EU membership, even if Labour voters themselves were less certain. The Remain campaign united the various factions of the party from Blairites to the unions. The party membership wanted its leader to lead the charge for remaining in the EU, not least as polling suggested Northern traditional Labour voters were overwhelmingly undecided, were not loyal to the stance of the party and votes risked being lost to UKIP. Corbyn’s fairly obvious reluctance to go all out to favour remaining in Europe has angered many, not least his already sceptical parliamentary colleagues. Indeed, in the end, this proved a tipping point – many of those Labour voters did vote for Leave.
The Remain campaign believes it would have won the vote if it had received full support from Corbyn and his supporters, rather than his luke warm approach which had an impact on votes in the North.
And the pressure is mounting on Jeremy Corbyn with news that a motion of no confidence will be tabled at Monday’s Parliamentary Labour Party meeting, by Margareth Hodge and Anne Coffey. It is no secret that the Parliamentary Labour Party is broadly opposed to Jeremy Corbyn and many with existing disapproval will see his role in the referendum outcome as a trigger point for challenging his leadership. Those who refused to even serve in his shadow government will be first in line to sign up to motions against him (for example Rachel Reeves, Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis), as will those who were sacked or stood down from roles earlier this year (such as Michael Dugher, Pat McFadden and Kevan Jones). There are then the likes of Ian Austin and John Mann with their overt hostility to Corbyn from the moment he was elected, as well as MPs such as Stephen Kinnock who are close allies of Angela Eagle, widely tipped to be preparing to stand as leader.
So it is possible, that we could have not just one but two new party leaders by Christmas.