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Race to Power: May brings air of cool to the UK’s hot July, Bernie in Hillary’s corner (finally)

Tuesday was a particularly fascinating – and confounding – day in both British and American politics. J. BROOKS SPECTOR takes a bemused look at both, especially as Britain is about to get its second female prime minister and America may now be about to gain its first female president.

When we first started to write this story, it was going to be all about Great Britain’s amazing, unexpected moment of baton passing within the Tories and at 10 Downing Street, following the collapse of the Remainers in the face of the Brexit pirates. But then the television was on and suddenly there it was, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in Portsmouth, New Hampshire with her (and now their) slogan “Stronger Together” hung all over the place – or at least easily seen within the TV frame.

And then, without ceremony, Bernie Sanders stepped up to the podium and he said the magic words that he endorses Hillary for president and will work like crazy on her behalf. Hug hug, kiss, kiss. Well, okay, no kisses, but a good strong hug and one of those air kisses for the crowd.

In his remarks, he set out all the key themes he had been pounding away at since he entered the presidential sweepstakes back in January and had Hillary smiling and nodding right along with him, point by point. And then she stepped forward up to that same podium, whereupon she delivered a unity-victory-I-accept-my-opponent’s-concession-speech-speech that sounded almost alarmingly like the one Bernie had just finished – complete with all the required swipes at a malignant tax code, the iniquities of the richest 1%, the urgent need for healthcare fixes, free education at public universities and student debt relief, and taking on all the con artists in politics such as Donald Trump and his evil ilk and giving them what they deserve. And Sanders didn’t bob his head, but he was smiling ear to ear throughout her whole speech.

Truthfully, though, her speech was probably rather more than a little like what she must have said (or thought) when she first supported her husband’s push for the presidential nomination for the Democrats, way back in 1992. Or perhaps it is what she would have been saying back when she was working for the Children’s Defence Fund even before that time.

Regardless of the incongruities of what all the fuss was really about if the two politicians were largely going to merge their positions anyway, the chemistry between them on Tuesday seemed good. Their words were very similar, and the merciless raking of Donald Trump over the coals was sufficiently entertaining that it makes one think that it may just work out for Hillary this time around after all.

And now the game will be on with the president trying to bind up the nation’s wounds after Dallas (and all those civilians killed by police), to bring to bear a teachable moment on race and community, and how the kind of talk that drives people apart is just plain wrong. Coming in just a few days will be the two political party conventions – first in Cleveland for the Republicans and then on to Philadelphia for the Democrats.

The key thing to watch may well be how those Trumpians do, or do not, manage to bring their fractured party together and if they are capable of holding off angry demonstrations against the Donald without looking like a fascist-state-in-training. Contra-wise, of course, demonstrators (and perhaps even the Democrats) will be judged on whether or not those protesters imitate a kind of live, televised “four horsemen of the apocalypse” show, if they harass the Republican convention too raucously – and thereby give Trump really nourishing fodder for his wilder rants and the folks who are still convinced he speaks “the truth”.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the British political scene is beginning to look even less well organised than the American version of Democratic chaos – and with rather more unanticipated victims left on the stage. Just a month ago, it seemed the Remainers would edge out the Brexiteers and that David Cameron would continue on till 2020 as the country’s prime minister.

But, instead, the Brexit referendum showed a nation (save for London and Scotland) in thrall to the shysters and chancers who had promised the millennium and the second coming wrapped in one if the exit-the-EU side won that referendum. A crestfallen Cameron was forced to face the music and he promised to resign as prime minister by October.

And then, suddenly, as the Tory Party’s machinery for selecting a new prime minister began to run forward, it first seemed that Boris Johnson would seize the post, riding on his victory in the Brexit vote. Just as suddenly he took himself out of the running and a much more open race ensued, but then a whole list of potential candidates quickly dropped by the wayside as a result of backroom double-crosses among themselves or self-inflicted wounds as with Andrea Leadsom and her remarks about the need to have children to be a good prime minister.

By the time it was all over, Theresa May, currently minister of home affairs in Cameron’s cabinet, was the last candidate left standing, after Leadsom withdrew her name from further consideration. With only one candidate left, the need to send the two top candidates to the party’s membership for a final choice became a moot point.

Theresa May – Essential Facts

Most Recent Position: Home Secretary

Theresa Mary May is a British politician who is Prime Minister-in-waiting and Leader of the Conservative Party since 11 July 2016, the Home Secretary since 2010, and the Member of Parliament for Maidenhead since 1997.

Born: 1 October 1956 (age 59), Eastbourne, United Kingdom

Political party: Conservative Party

Spouse: Philip John May (m. 1980); profession: banker

Parents: Zaidee Brasier, Hubert Brasier

Education: St Hugh’s College, Oxford (1977), University of Oxford

And so, on Wednesday, a most likely rather lachrymose David Cameron will face his final – but, up until a few weeks ago, entirely unexpected – prime minister’s question time at parliament, and then have his audience with the queen where he will offer her his resignation as prime minister. On Tuesday he had chaired his final cabinet meeting. The AP, reporting on this, said, “Culture Secretary John Whittingdale said there had been a ‘touch of sadness’ to the meeting, which saw May and Treasury chief George Osborne lead tributes to Cameron. Cameron’s spokeswoman, Helen Bower, said ministers banged the cabinet table in approval and tribute at the end of the ‘warm and reflective’ meeting. Osborne and May cited Cameron’s achievements including legalising same-sex marriage, reform of schools and an increased minimum wage – but Britain’s relationship with Europe looks set to define his legacy.”

Once Cameron meets with the queen, the new prime minister designate, Theresa May, will have her own meeting with Elizabeth II who will then ask May to form her new government. The moving vans have already moved the Cameron’s personal effects out of 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence, and May’s effects are poised to be unpacked instead. Fortunately for the residence, the house cat and champion mouser is staying on, according to the media. All of this has taken far less time than a single decent primary election in the US, just by the way.

It is unlikely the government will call for an early election before the legally required one in 2020, although with everything that has gone on in the past several weeks, who really knows. And May has committed her new government to carrying out the Brexit, to not having a second referendum, and to not allowing parliament to reverse the decision from the country’s population.

Meanwhile, in the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn’s troubled control over his party has been increasingly shaky since the Brexit referendum. Many of his party’s cohort feel he was so lacklustre in his support for remaining in the EU that they are trying to figure out how to push him out into the cold for sheer ineptitude, lassitude or sloth.

A few days after the referendum, he lost a vote of no confidence by an overwhelming 172 to 40 vote among Labour MPs. Now he is facing a rising challenge around the person of fellow MP Angela Eagle, although not everyone in Labour’s circle seems entirely convinced she’s fit for purpose to replace Corbyn, regardless of his failings.

Writing in the staunchly left-leaning Guardian, editor-at-large Gary Younge wrote of her, “… Significantly missing from Eagle’s announcement was a single idea about what she would actually do. ‘I’m not a Blairite. I’m not a Brownite. I’m not a Corbynista. I am my own woman,’ she said. Quite what that means for the rest of us is difficult to tell. She supported the Iraq war, voted against every effort to investigate it; she voted for the bombing of Syria, she voted for the introduction of tuition fees and for raising them to £3,000, and abstained on welfare cuts. That sounds pretty Blairite to me.” Not a ringing endorsement, that.

And another Guardian writer, Anne Perkins, helpfully added, “Labour is in the depths of a crisis that is potentially terminal. It has become irrelevant – not just to the broadcasters anticipating a new prime minister, but to great swathes of the country too. This is different from the early 1980s, when Labour nearly came third to the SDP/Liberal alliance in share of the vote in the 1983 general election. Now it feels as if politics itself is crumbling. It was striking that one of the commitments that Theresa May made in a speech that already feels several aeons ago (but was in fact just an hour before Angela Eagle’s) was to restore public confidence in government’s motives.” The Labour Party’s governing National Executive Committee met on Tuesday to decide on whether or not Corbyn should automatically be on the ballot in a party leadership contest, or whether he will actually need to obtain nominations from 51 lawmakers. Given the outcome of that recent no confidence vote, this may be something he has real trouble with accomplishing. Stay tuned on this one.

Theresa May’s new government will inevitably be preoccupied with the intense fallout from the Brexit vote. She will have to lead the grand divorce from the EU, and, most especially, find some way through the voter-sensitive thicket of the immigration issue as well as, simultaneously, fleshing out and then implementing economic policies. These must offset the effects of a plummeting pound and growing threats that international financial services organisations now domiciled in Britain will quit London’s “The City”, and move somewhere else in Europe instead.

As the AP noted, “May is already facing pressure from the 27 remaining EU countries to invoke Article 50 of the bloc’s constitution, which sets the clock ticking on two years of formal exit talks. She has not said when she plans to do it. She is also facing calls from opposition politicians to call an early election, before the next scheduled vote in 2020. May might be tempted to go to the polls to confirm her own mandate, and because the main opposition Labour Party is in the midst of a leadership struggle that puts it in a weak position.” But all of this is still up in the air.

One key early decision will be whether or not she keeps George Osborne on as Chancellor of the Exchequer; particularly as banks and markets still appear to have confidence in him in that position. Others within the party are arguing that this key job should go to someone who favoured leaving the EU. May was a remainer, but she has promised she will give prominent “leave” campaigners important cabinet roles in an effort to paper over the party’s longstanding division over being in or out of Europe. Then, of course, there will be the challenge of figuring out what to do with Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, prominent Brexiteers who, briefly, were rising stars within the new prime minister sweepstakes.

All of this will mean that for the next number of years, Britain will be consumed with whether it remains united, how it negotiates a new relationship with Europe, and how it sorts out its new-style economic policies. And that means it will be that much less likely to be fully engaged in that special relationship with America or with the US in its partnership with its European allies facing a twitchy Russia and the continuing crises of the Middle East. At a time when Nato is coming under some stresses, this could be an important, heretofore hidden outcome of that Brexit vote. Lots to come on all this. DM

Photo: (Left) British Home Secretary Theresa May waves on her arrival at Number 10 Downing Street to attend the last cabinet meeting hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron in Westminster, central London, England, 12 July 2016. Cameron will resign on 13 July 2016 with Theresa May due to take over as Prime Minister later that day. EPA/WILL OLIVER (Right) Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (L) and former Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (R) hug as they appear together at an event at Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, US, 11 July 2016. Sanders, who had run against Clinton in the Democratic Primary, endorsed Clinton at the event. EPA/CJ GUNTHER

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