Grim uncertainty envelopes the potential outcome of a referendum to determine Britain’s continued membership of European Union. Never in the country’s history has any voting exercise, not even in a normal general election, portended calamity for the losing side, as in the coming referendum.
The polling, which takes place next Thursday (June 23rd) is in fulfillment of the manifesto of the ruling Conservatives (also fondly known as Tories) at last year’s general elections, which returned the party to power with a more resounding majority largely at the expense of erstwhile coalition partner, the Liberals, which was virtually wiped out of any political relevance. Initially, the vast majority of the Tories in the new parliament induced what turned out a premature over-confidence of the government that the referendum would re-affirm Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. But the campaigns sprang out of the control of Prime Minister David Cameron. An irony. When he took office in 2010, Cameron introduced a tenured term of five years, which was renewed for him in last year’s general elections for another five years.
So triumphant was Prime Minister Cameron that he promised not to seek re-election in 2020, which is statesman–like for a man of his age. If polls forecasts for the coming referendum are correct, David Cameron’s survival, as Prime Minister raises serious doubt, not so much as a result of possible exit of Britain from European Union (which he opposes) but the campaigns, which generated such bitterness, turning not only friends against friends within the political parties (especially the Tories) but also father against son.
That disturbing situation was beyond Prime Minister Cameron’s expectation when, obviously with the best of intention, he allowed his party members, including all cabinet members the freedom of choice and to openly campaign for or against Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. That latitude enabled some of his ministers to impute Cameron’s incompetence and lack of integrity, as Prime Minister. In return, especially as that imputation seemed to be catching on British public, Cameron’s other ministers (who would pass for their master’s voices) insinuated desperate ambition for the tenancies (Nos. 10 and 11) of Downing Street, as the driving force of top government party members vigorously campaigning for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.
In Britain’s history, it was never possible for the combatants to return from such political bloodbath for any sincere reconciliation. At various stages, Margaret Thatcher, as education secretary never made it up with Prime Minister Edward Heath nor did she (Thatcher) subsequently, as Prime Minister reconcile with her deputy, Michael Heseltine, successive chancellors Nigel Lawson and Geoffery Howe. The Labour Party under Prime Minister Harold Wilson also never re-absorbed Europe membership enthusiasts, Roy Jenkins and David Owen. Another Labour ex-prime minister till today talks down on his chancellor of exchequer and successor, Gordon Brown.
The campaigns for Britain’s future in the European Union brought to the fore the rising political profile of Boris Johnson, a ruling Conservative Party member of the House of Commons and until a few weeks ago, the Mayor of London. Generally speculated as his party’s future leader and, in effect, a potential prime minister, he is more of a maverick well adored for his antics. Boris Johnson, however, is far far above the rabble-rousing Donald Trump of the United States. Boris Johnson attended the best schools – Eton College and Oxford University. More of an educated maverick, Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, endeared himself to Londoners by riding on bicycle to and from office. But his major political distinction is his capacity for overcoming a seeming invincible.
How Boris Johnson unseated a prominent Labour left winger, Ken Livingtone, to become Mayor of London remains one of the biggest upsets in British political history. If that was a fluke, Boris Johnson repeated the feat in a re-election for another term, as London Mayor and, at least for now, rested Ken Livingtone’s political career. Fast assuming the status of the glamour boy of British politics, Boris Johnson is idolised by the media on a scale bestowed only on the royal family. In another vein, Boris Johnson is portrayed by the media, as the Jose Mourhino of politics – pampered, admired and faultless, not bothering about possible shortcomings, the very synonymn of success.
Well, that success will be determined by the outcome of next week’s referendum on future of British membership of European Union. Whether for patriotism, passion or sheer political opportunism for achieving the much-speculated prime ministerial ambition, Boris Johnson chose to lead the campaign for Britain’s withdrawal from European Union, in open and direct opposition to the self-imposed task of Prime Minister David Cameron, who supports continued membership for Britain. Depending on the outcome of the referendum, Boris Johnson is at crossroads to political power in the immediate future or consignment to political oblivion.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s indulgence for cabinet ministers to publicly campaign for their stand on Britain’s future membership of the European Union inadvertently produced a twin brother for Boris Johnson in opposition to David Cameron. Former education secretary, Michael Gove, currently justice minister, emerged the brightest star in the series of television debates to enlighten voters on the referendum. In fact, the case for withdrawing Britain from the European Union, which he ably made throughout the country was so widely acknowledged that the man had to be denying any immediate future plans as Prime Minister. Michael Gove and Boris Johnson have so mobilised the country throughout the campaigns such that now puts the government, Prime Minister David Cameron and all other pro-Europe supporters on the defensive.
However, Michael Gove’s potential stardom has just been checked. In a television interview during the campaigns, the justice minister claimed that agricultural policy of the European Union killed the fishing industry in Britain and confidently cited his foster father’s fishing industry as one of the losses. In an embarrassing twist, the said foster father (obviously in support of the continued membership of the European Union) faulted that submission and explained that on the contrary, he voluntarily wound up his fishing business for greener pastures. A case of father against son.
A major weapon for those campaigning for Britain’s withdrawal from European Union is the emotive issue of seeming uncontrollable immigration into Britain, mainly from Middle-east and East European member-countries of the European Union unlike in the past from Africa and Asia. Midway through the campaigns came the latest figures, which showed a net figure of almost four hundred thousand new immigrants from member-nations of the European Union. Britons became alarmed. Public protest against this development partly explained the sudden surge in support of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. Provided much is placed on the credibility of opinion polls, giving Prime Minister David Cameron a gap of seven points behind his opponents in the coming referendum.
In May 2010, the opinion polls, which forecast an uncertain victory for any of the parties in the British general elections, went completely off mark, as David Cameron’s party swept back to power with increased and overwhelming majority. The same opinion polls similarly failed in Israel, as Benjamin Netanyahu returned as Prime Minister contrary to all forecasts for his defeat.
Another major factor, which militated against pro-Europe enthusiasts among Britons in the coming referendum was outside interference, more of a scarcely veiled threat unless Britons discarded the thoughts of withdrawing membership of European Union. Most irritating was America’s President Barack Obama, who vowed that any withdrawal from membership of European Union would put Britain at the rear of future economic collaboration with the United States.
The modern day iron Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, also did much to swing support for the anti-Europeans in the coming British referendum. Merkel is widely known to be most obstructionist in all negotiations by Britain for better terms. However, when it became obvious voters might opt for Britain’s withdrawal from Europe, the authoritative German publication, DER SPIEGEL, piped down with a desperate front page plea to Briton’s captioned: “Please, don’t go.” How timely that plea, was, will be determined by the result of the referendum.
Whether Britons vote to withdraw or retain their country’s membership of the European Union, there are bound to be heavy casualties either in the loss of political career, personal prospects or professional credibility. The front-liners are Prime Minister David Cameron as well as his strong rivals, Boris Johnson, and justice secretary, Michael Gove.
By the way, a fortnight to the referendum, Britain’s biggest selling newspaper, the SUN, took a stand on the front page that Britons should vote to leave Europe. That surely expressed the wish of its publisher, Rupert Murdoch, world’s most influential publisher well-known for installing and dismissing governments in Europe, Britain South-east Asia and United States. Spread in these continents are his various media outfits – London Times, European Times, the SUN, Sky News, Australia Herald, New York Post, Wall Street Journal, Fox News, etc.
Should Britons vote to stay in Europe, for once, Rupert Murdoch’s media influence would have been checked.
Another major potential fatal casualty is the opinion polls system should Britons vote to stay in Europe. Virtually, all opinion polls are not only predicting withdrawal from Europe but also by a wide margin of seven points. No credible explanation can be offered if the predictions fail, even though as a former British prime minister, Harold Wilson, once said, “A week is a long time in politics.”
On the other side as potential casualties should Britons vote to end membership of European Union are former prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair, who were so acerbic in their campaigns, never mind the dignity of their previous office. Tony Blair in particular made no positive impact. What, with the blur of his disaster at the Iraq war. He has also emerged the Obasanjo of British politics in running down all his successors, as Labour Party leader – Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and the current Jeremy Corbyn.
Ironically, when all failed, another rejected Labour leader applied last minute injection into the campaigns of the pro-Europe enthusiasts. Only a vote to remain in Europe can do him any credit.
Under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party throughout the campaigns was half-hearted under the pretence of supporting Britain’s stay in Europe. Should that fail, Jeremy Corbyn is another casualty.