9 July 2019

Will the next Prime Minister win over the country?

In two weeks time, Theresa May will metaphorically hands over the keys of 10 Downing Street to Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt. There must be a hefty bunch of them :-) We've known there will be a new Prime Minister for a couple of months, since Theresa May's attempts to get Parliament to support her Brexit deal finally resulted in defeat.

The process for electing a new party leader depends on the political party. The Conservative and Unionist Party (to give them their full name) has a round of votes by the party's MPs to whittle the candidates down to two. Those two then go to the wider party membership in a ballot. With around 160,000 members voting for who will take on the biggest political job in the country, the question should be who will win over the 67 million members of the UK population?

Even before Theresa May announced her resignation, there has been one stand out candidate among the party's electorate: Boris Johnson. Jeremy Hunt was always likely to be the other candidate once Michael Gove was eliminated. Michael Gove being voted out could be seen as justice, after he stabbed Boris in the back in the previous leader election. Jeremy Hunt by comparison is seen as the reliable, safe pair of hands to Boris’s clumsy, unpredictable persona.

More interesting is how the debate has turned recently from who would be the best Conservative leader, to who would win over the majority of the UK population. What has come from this debate may surprise you. Why? Easy, the “B” word. Brexit has hung over this parliament like a spoilt child admonished for a minor misdemeanour. It defined Theresa May’s premiership, and will likely do the same to her successor. So with Boris Johnson virtually assured of a vote of confidence from the Conservative party members, how does that go down with the wider electorate?

The Brexit referendum perfectly illustrates the split between the UK population and the Westminster village. On the one hand 52% of the population voted to leave the EU. That demographic hides the disillusionment with Europe across the political divide. Only smaller parties like the Liberal Democrats, Greens, and nationalist parties are anti-Brexit. On the other hand, the majority of MPs from all parties voted to stay in the EU. That’s one reason why Theresa May’s determined but ultimately forelorn efforts to get her deal through Parliament failed.

So as a non-Conservative voter, who would you want as Prime Minister? With Brexit on the horizon, the answer to that probably depends on how you voted in the referendum, and what think Brexit means. If you voted leave, you’ll likely be happier with Boris. He seems to have a stronger line on leaving on 31 October. Jeremy Hunt appeals more to those from the centre ground who voted to remain. Whilst he hasn’t ruled out leaving with no deal on 31 October, he seems more likely to delay further.

Once again one of the biggest political decisions of our generation is being ruled by Brexit. Even if you voted leave but you’re not a Conservative, you’ll likely want to see Boris as our next Prime Minister. Why? Because he’ll likely leave on Halloween without a deal. Parliament don’t want this, but arguably the majority of the UK do. Therein lies the connumdrum. Do you do what you think is best for the country, or what you think the country wants? If the latter, do you really know what the country wants?

What is clear from this unholy mess, is that the question posed to us in the referendum was seriously flawed, and we’re only just having the sort of conversations we should have been having back then. If we had, would the result have been any different? I’m not sure, but it would have answered some of the questions our politicians and future Prime Minister face today.

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