The drama in the Labor Party, with Jeremy Corbyn clinging by his nails and teeth to the leadership in spite of the fact that, by now, all his deputies have turned their shoulders to him, is tearing the organization apart to the point that secession should not be excluded. But Thursday did not yield the kind of surprises we’ve grown accustomed to this week.
Maria Eagle, the Brown-era shadow minister of commerce and one of the first fissures in the Corbyn dam — her pitiful resignation was one of the saga’s dramatic peaks — was expected to announce her candidacy as party leader, but didn’t do it, hoping that the latest defections (we’re no longer counting them) from the embattled secretary would induce him to throw in the towel.
The unions are still supporting him for now, but we don’t know for how long. The more Corbyn desperately resists, the more the rebel Labour Party deputies — who arrived in Westminster before he was elected as leader and, afraid of losing their place in case of anticipated elections — are trembling.
They stab each other in the same way on the conservative side, but in a more discrete way. Faced with the prospect of coming to power, friendships dissolve. But the Tory sauce of succession is made by mixing two parts Machiavelli, two parts Shakespeare and a pinch of Cesare Borgia, without the blood of course. And from whom could they have expected so many emotions, if none other than the national Boris?
Thursday, the term for the candidacy to the leadership expired. The histrionic Johnson, the super-favorite, maybe the first Tory with a sense of humor from the times of Walpole, used the highly awaited press conference to announce his own candidacy only to reveal his own withdrawal from the race, in a turn of events that left everybody surprised. Some people were even in tears.
Behind this, there’s a classic palace plot. Johnson had prepared a speech, from which he spectacularly deviated at the last curve. After having highlighted his own vision as party leader, he textually said: “That is the agenda for the next prime minister of this country. Well, I must tell you, my friends, you who have waited faithfully for the punchline of this speech, that having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me.”
Then the man of letters alluded to the treason made by Michael Gove, the friend, former minister of justice, ally in the campaign for Leave and party ideologist, made straight from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. It’s Brutus speech to Cassius: Boris Johnson’s last act on the stage of the political scene.
The familiar background of a respectable power couple is not lacking. A few hours before, Gove himself, a Leave partisan, son of traders, former education secretary and a fanatic supporter of hybrid national-neo-laissez faire who was about to destroy what was left of public education before Cameron took it away from his hand, surprisingly announced his candidature, after having repeatedly said that he didn’t want to be premier and that he would have supported fellow brexiteer Johnson.
The evening before, a private correspondence from Sarah Vine, Gove’s wife, journalist at the Daily Mail, was leaked to the press, in which, in a memorandum related to the premiership race, she reminded her husband to make sure that Johnson — who, initially, was for Remain, and used the referendum campaign as a highway toward 10 Downing Street and, therefore, is not considered reliable by press moguls like Murdoch and Rothermere — would supply specific guarantees on controlling immigration before Gove would give him his official support.
What convinced Johnson to recuse himself is still not known: Maybe his awareness of the fact that he doesn’t have the necessary qualities to be a premier. Maybe Gove’s announcement related to his candidacy and the implicit lack of trust in his own. Many in the party don’t see it as advisable that the former mayor, photographed on a zipline with tiny flags in his hands, should have access to the country’s nuclear arsenal. Someone like Lord Heseltine, with Ken Clarke, the last pro-European in the party, considers him the main force responsible for Leave’s disastrous victory and for what he considers as the darkest moment in the party’s history.
Having removed Gove, whose candidacy is now shrouded in conspiracy, the most electable candidate is Theresa May, the veteran minister of internal affairs. She was a Remain supporter, but she appears more credible and respectable than the former tandem Gove-Johnson. The votes will be cast on Sept. 9.
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