History / Politics

After the Referendum: a long month in politics

The month since the referendum has been an extraordinary time for politics and for the news. The full impact won’t be understood for years, but in case you’ve been away for the last thirty days, this is some of what you’ve missed.

Friday 24 June

The votes are counted in the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union: 51.9 per cent voted to Leave; 48.1 per cent to Remain.

The stock market and the pound fall dramatically; excited headlines tell us that over a trillion pounds has been ‘wiped off’ the value of shares.

Nigel Farage – the man whose referendum this has been – proclaims this to be Britain’s Independence Day.

At 7 am, even before the final result is known, Jeremy Corbyn calls for the government to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty immediately, to set in train Britain’s exit from the EU. This is not party policy and he hasn’t discussed it with his shadow cabinet. Given the enormity of this process, doubts over his leadership increase. Dissident Labour MPs let it be known that they blame Corbyn’s lacklustre campaigning for the referendum result.

David Cameron announces that he’s resigning as Conservative leader and prime minister. Boris Johnson is immediately installed as the bookies’ and commentators’ favourite for the succession.

At a press conference, Johnson and Michael Gove – the most prominent Tories in the Leave campaign – look sombre, rather than jubilant, as though the full reality of the situation they’ve helped create is only just dawning. Both praise Cameron to the skies, seemingly wishing he’d stayed on to deal with some of this himself.

Mirror 25-7-2016Saturday 25 June

The Daily Mirror‘s front-page headline sums up the general feeling of bewilderment: ‘So what the hell happens now?’

Remain campaigners are in a state of shock. Among them, David Lammy strikes a particularly panicky response by suggesting that Parliament should overturn the referendum result. Meanwhile, Tim Farron speaks up for liberal England, saying he’s ‘angry and disappointed’ with the vote to leave.

Former British cabinet minister Baron Hill of Oareford hands in his notice as the EU Commissioner for economic stability.

In the best and most succinct analysis of Britain’s problems with Europe, Peter Hennessy explains that the European project ‘was set up by clever, Catholic, left-wing, French bureaucrats’. And, he adds: ‘Most Brits have got problems with at least three of those five.’

 Justine Greening takes the opportunity of it being Gay Pride today to tweet that she’s in a ‘happy same-sex relationship’. Everyone agrees that this is just the sort of feelgood fillip that the nation needs right now.

Sunday 26 June

An Observer article claims that Hilary Benn is plotting a parliamentary coup against Jeremy Corbyn; the plan, apparently, is for him and other shadow ministers to resign their posts in protest at Corbyn’s lack of leadership. After the article appears online, Corbyn sacks Benn in the early hours of the morning. This sparks the resignation of several Opposition frontbenchers – which is what they were plotting to do anyway. Andy Burnham doesn’t resign.

Stephen Kinnock sums up the rebel MPs’ line of attack. ‘We need a leader who is a hard-headed negotiator,’ he explains, not someone whose only qualification is ‘a record based on protest’.

Racially motivated offences are reported in various places. Baroness Warsi of Dewsbury blames the ‘divisive and xenophobic’ Leave campaign for the ‘really disturbing’ incidents.

Monday 27 June

Boris Johnson, in his regular Daily Telegraph column, aims for a tone of calm and healing: ‘I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe, and always will be.’ The piece receives poor notices and is widely considered pretty pathetic in the circumstances.

There are further resignations from Labour’s frontbench. Andy Burnham, however, hangs on in there.

The England national football team go down to an heroic 2-1 defeat at the hands of mighty Iceland in Euro 2016. Roy Hodgson announces his resignation as England manager: ‘I’m sorry it will have to end this way, but these things happen.’ Some feel the words would sound better coming from Jeremy Corbyn.daily mirror 28-06-2016

Tuesday 28 June

The front page of the Daily Mirror reads: ‘Britain is in crisis and we need a strong & united Labour Party. So today, after 46 MPs quit his frontbench, we send this heartfelt message to Jeremy Corbyn. You are a decent man. But for the sake of your party and your country… GO NOW.’

The Parliamentary Labour Party holds a vote of no-confidence in Corbyn as leader – 172 MPs vote against Corbyn, 40 vote for him. Labour is now officially at war with itself. There are further resignations from the frontbench. But Andy Burnham is still shadow home secretary.

Among the names being touted as possible successors to David Cameron are: Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom, Theresa May, Nicky Morgan and George Osborne. Of these, L&U suggests that the only serious candidate is Theresa May.

Nicola Sturgeon goes to Brussels, looking for people with whom she can discuss Scotland’s future relationship with the EU. She is not, however, granted her dream meeting with Donald Tusk, president of the European Council: ‘He is grateful for the invitation,’ says a presidential spokesperson, but ‘he feels it is not appropriate.’

Forty-five people are killed in a terrorist attack on Atatürk Airport in Istanbul.

Wednesday 29 June

The exodus from Labour’s frontbench has almost come to an end, though today does see the departure of Pat Glass, who was only appointed two days ago after the resignation of Lucy Powell.

Despite his own problems, David Cameron finds time at Prime Minister’s Questions to give Jeremy Corbyn some advice: ‘For heaven’s sake, man, go.’ Others agree with the prime minister that Corbyn should resign, including all of Labour’s living ex-leaders: Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband. Impressively, Corbyn refuses to yield to the continuing pressure. Tom Watson says the leader’s position is ‘untenable’, and pretty much everyone agrees – except Corbyn, his team, and his army of supporters.

Peter Wishart of the SNP points out that parliamentary rules say the official opposition should be ‘the largest minority party which is prepared, in the event of the resignation of the government, to assume office’. If Labour are unable to play that role, Wishart suggests, they should be stripped of the title. John Bercow, the Speaker, says he has given ‘thought to the matter and … benefited from expert advice’, but that he’s prepared to let the situation remain as it is for now.

Cameras are invited in to record the first meeting of the new-look shadow cabinet, though the ranks seem decidedly depleted. Corbyn is recorded muttering to Seamus Milne, the man directing the Labour leader’s strategy and communications, ‘I’m not sure this is a great idea.’

Angela Eagle calls a press conference for tomorrow; this is assumed to be the launch of a leadership challenge.

An email from journalist Sarah Vine to her husband Michael Gove is leaked to the media. He is seen as Boris Johnson’s chief ally in the leadership race, and she urges him that ‘You MUST have SPECIFIC assurances from Boris OTHERWISE you cannot guarantee your support’. She adds that Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch ‘instinctively dislike Boris’.Express 30-6-2016

Following a stock-market revival, the FTSE 100 is now higher than it was pre-referendum.

Thursday 30 June

Nominations for the Conservative leadership close. Michael Gove stages an unexpected theatrical coup when he announces he’s no longer part of Boris Johnson’s team, and is instead – despite all previous protestations to the contrary – standing as a candidate himself. In his launch speech, he admits: ‘Whatever charisma is, I don’t have it; whatever glamour may be, no one could associate me with it.’

Johnson – recognizing when he’s been stabbed in the back – withdraws from the contest at the last moment. The Daily Mirror quotes an anonymous Tory: ‘He fucked the country. There’s poetic justice in him being shafted.’

Five candidates are standing: Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May. For the first time in British history, the prime minister will be chosen not by the electorate, nor by the electorate’s representatives in parliament, but by the activists of a single party.

Nominations for the leadership of the Green Party of England and Wales also close. Jonathan Bartley and Caroline Lucas are standing on  a joint ticket, against five other candidates: Simon Cross, Clive Lord, David Malone, Martie Warin and David Williams. The result will be announced on 2 September.

At a press conference to launch Shami Chakrabarti’s report on alleged anti-semitism in the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn causes some offence by equating the government of Israel with ‘various self-styled Islamic states or organizations’. The Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth claims that at the same event she was racially abused, with Corbyn failing to intervene; she concludes: ‘a Labour Party under his stewardship cannot be a safe space for British Jews.’

The last of the resignations from Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. Andy Burnham has stood, solid as a rock, throughout the whole episode.

Angela Eagle’s press conference is cancelled.

Friday 1 July

With Angela Eagle yet to declare that she’s going for the Labour leadership, the gossip is that Owen Smith is planning his own bid. Meanwhile Tom Watson is trying to find a compromise between the MPs and the leadership.

On being told by a Harry Potter fan that Jeremy Corbyn is the political incarnation of Professor Dumbledore, JK Rowling responds sarcastically: ‘I forgot Dumbledore trashed Hogwarts, refused to resign and ran off to the forest to make speeches to angry trolls.’

Sky News releases footage of Kenneth Clarke and Malcolm Rifkind reflecting on the ‘fiasco’ of the Tories’ position, unaware that the camera is rolling. They agree that neither Andrea Leadsom nor Boris Johnson ‘cared very much either way’ about whether Britain left the EU. Theresa May, says Clarke, is ‘a bloody difficult woman,’ but ‘she is good’, whereas if Michael Gove were prime minister, ‘we’d go to war with at least three countries at once’. But Gove is at least to be thanked for ‘getting rid of Boris. The idea of Boris as prime minister is ridiculous’.

Iain Duncan Smith declares himself a supporter of Andrea Leadsom, talking of ‘her immense compassion’.

Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP in Westminster, announces that he’ll be standing for the deputy leadership of the party. The post came vacant after MP Stewart Hosie said he was stepping down; newspapers had reported that he’d had an affair with the same journalist who’d previously had an affair with Angus MacNeil, another SNP member.

Saturday 2 July

A pro-EU demonstration in London attracts an estimated 30,000 people; it’s the largest of several such events since the referendum that have been staged in the capital and elsewhere.

Express 3-7-2016Speaking at the official opening of the fifth Scottish Parliament, at Holyrood, as the sense of chaos continues, the Queen observes that ‘retaining the ability to stay calm and collected can at times be hard’. This is inevitably reported in various formulations of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.

The death is announced of comedian and writer Caroline Aherne, aged 52.

Sunday 3 July

The shortage of Labour MPs prepared to work with Jeremy Corbyn means there are plenty of jobs available for those who want them. Paul Flynn was elected as an MP in 1987 and, after a brief stint in the shadow cabinet, left the frontbench in 1990. Now, at the age of 81, he is both shadow Welsh secretary and shadow leader of the House. ‘The dispatch box is a surprisingly adequate substitute for a Zimmer frame,’ he reflects.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, is furious at the attempted removal of Corbyn by the PLP. He says it’s an ‘unedifying coup’ and that it’s being orchestrated by ‘sinister forces’, including Portland Communications, a PR company. ‘This has been a political lynching of a decent man; undermined, humiliated, attacked in order to push him out.’ The coup has failed, he says, only because Corbyn is, in a not very reassuring phrase from Soviet history, ‘a man of steel.’

McCluskey also dismisses the comments of former leaders, correctly pointing out that Neil Kinnock, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband failed to win a general election between them. Oddly, he doesn’t follow his logic through to welcome the contribution of Tony Blair, who won three elections.

An anonymous ‘senior ally’ of Corbyn says that the Labour leader is revelling in the battle: ‘Jeremy is saying he is enjoying it, in the sense that he enjoys a fight.’

Boris Johnson backs Andrea Leadsom for the Tory leadership. Michael Gove is generally agreed to be a busted flush, with many on the Right angry at his behaviour; he had ‘acted like a political psychopath run by his wife,’ according to, er, Rachel Johnson, sister of Boris.

Two hundred and forty-five people are killed in a series of suicide bombings in Baghdad.

Monday 4 July

Nigel Farage announces his resignation as UKIP leader: ‘I said I want my country back. What I’m saying today is I want my life back.’

Jeremy Corbyn appears in front of the Commons’ home affairs select committee to discuss anti-Semitism. He takes the opportunity to dissociate himself from Ken Livingstone’s most recent references to Hitler: ‘I think we have to condemn the way in which he made the remarks and the remarks themselves.’

Tory leadership candidates appear in front of the 1922 Committee. Theresa May gets a good press, Andrea Leadsom doesn’t; according to one MP, quoted by Buzzfeed, her pitch was a ‘fucking shambles… She babbled on about the importance of the frontal cortex for emotional development.’ At least one journalist stands by her woman, though; Allison Pearson tweets: ‘Much male mockery of Andrea Leadsom talking about development of a baby’s brain at 1922 Committee. Time that a mother took charge.’ Pearson, Leadsom and motherhood will return to the story in due course.

Chris Evans announces his resignation as presenter of Top Gear: ‘I gave it my best shot, but sometimes that’s not enough.’ Some feel the words would sound better coming from Jeremy Corbyn.

Tuesday 5 July

The accuracy of some of the claims made by Andrea Leadsom on her CV comes into question.

In the first ballot of MPs for the Conservative leadership election, Theresa May secures over 50 per cent of the votes and goes through to the next round of voting, along with Andrea Leadsom and Michael Gove. Liam Fox comes last and is eliminated, just failing to break the record as the least successful Tory leadership candidate ever. Stephen Crabb (second to last) withdraws.

Although he has yet to declare his candidature, Steven Woolfe is Ladbrokes’ favourite to become UKIP leader. The Times does its bit to help his cause by publishing some lines of his poetry: ‘Freeborn men and women should cry / oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why.’

Guardian 7-7-2016Wednesday 6 July

Sir John Chilcot publishes the report of the Iraq Inquiry, set up six years and three weeks ago. The stand-out phrase comes from a message sent by Tony Blair eight months before the invasion of Iraq, in which he promised George W. Bush: ‘I will be with you, whatever.’ Looking appropriately haggard, Blair gives a press conference, appearing by turns contrite and chippy: ‘I express more sorrow,  regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe,’ he says, adding, ‘I believe I made the right decision.’

On behalf of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn apologises to ‘the people of Iraq… They have paid the greatest price for the most serious foreign policy calamity of the last sixty years.’

Wales having reached the semi-final of the European Championship, with a fine victory over Belgium in the quarter-finals, large numbers of Englishmen discover hitherto unknown Welsh antecedents and connections, look you. By 9 pm, with Portugal enjoying a 2-0 lead, that’s all forgotten.

The first mention in the mainstream media of Pokémon Go.

Thursday 7 July

In the second ballot of MPs in the Conservative leadership election, Michael Gove is eliminated, having got fewer votes than he did in the first ballot. Theresa May secures over 60 per cent and goes forward with Andrea Leadsom to a vote of the party membership. It’s the ‘Battle of the “Iron Ladies”‘, according to the Daily Express, or, as the Daily Star puts it: ‘Here come the girls’.

Friday 8 July

Neil Kinnock rolls back the years for a barnstorming speech to the Parliamentary Labour Party. He pours scorn on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and declares that he’ll fight, fight and fight again to save the party he loves: ‘There will be no split. There will be no retreat. This is our party, I’ve been in it 60 years. I’m not leaving it to anybody.’

It is alleged that ex-Tory leadership candidate Stephen Crabb has ‘sent a series of suggestive texts to a young woman’.

Times 9-7-2016In an interview in The Times,  published online late on Friday night, Andrea Leadsom says: ‘I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in our country.’ But she has thoughts too for her rival: ‘I am sure Theresa will be really sad she doesn’t have children, so I don’t want this to be “Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t”, because I think that would be really horrible.’ Opinion is split over whether she is being cruel, calculating or naïve.

Saturday 9 July

Leadsom’s initial response to the Times story is to claim that she’s been subjected to ‘the worst gutter journalism I’ve ever seen’, and to demand that a transcript of the original conversation be published. The Times publishes the transcript. Leadsom demands the audio recording be released. The Times releases the audio recording. There is nothing to contradict the original story.

Paul Nuttall announces he’s resigning as deputy leader of UKIP and won’t be standing for the leadership.

Over four million people have signed an online petition calling for a second referendum to be held. It’s the largest online petition in British history, but still some way short of the 17.4 million who voted Leave in the referendum itself.

It’s the 100th anniversary of the birth of Edward Heath – the man who took Britain into Europe in the first place.

Normality is starting to return. After fifteen straight days of political front pages, the Express retreats to more familiar ground: ‘Statins fight cancer’. Meanwhile the Daily Star goes with: ‘Seagulls in new horror attacks’.

Sunday 10 July

‘Mums’ fury at Leadsom,’ reads the front-page headline in the Sunday Express, as criticism continues over the Times interview.

UKIP’s National Executive Committee rules that leadership candidates must have been party members for at least five years, thus excluding Douglas Carswell, the party’s only MP, who was in the Conservative Party until 2014.

Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum and a key Corbyn supporter, tweets: ‘Democracy gives power to people, “Winning” is the small bit that matters to political elites who want to keep power themselves.’ Some Labour figures disagree with his analysis.

Angela Eagle sets out her stall to be Labour leader: ‘I’m a gay woman with strong, northern, working-class roots.’

Andy Murray wins his second Wimbledon title. Everyone agrees that this is just the sort of feelgood fillip that the nation needs right now.

Monday 11 July

The Daily Telegraph publishes an interview given by Andrea Leadsom to Allison Pearson; she has clearly ‘been crying’, and says she feels ‘under attack, under enormous pressure. It has been shattering.’ She doesn’t sound much like the Iron Lady Mark II at the moment. And indeed it all proves too much, so that she goes on to withdraw her candidature, in ‘the best interests of the country’.

Guardian 12-7-2016Consequently Theresa May becomes Conservative leader without any need to consult the party membership. Both Jon Trickett for Labour and Tim Farron for the LibDems call for an immediate general election. May shows no sign of having heard them.

Angela Eagle finally holds her press conference to announce that she is challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership. The event is colour-themed in pink and features a logo with her name in curly script, which attracts much mockery, as does Eagle’s striking new approach to costume and cosmetics. It looks, according to Janice Turner in The Times, ‘like a tampon launch’. Happily, not too many people notice, because news of Leadsom’s capitulation breaks at the same time, and a new prime minister is considered a more important story. Eagle is left stranded on a pink set, plaintively crying out for journalists who’ve already left the room. (‘Where are the BBC? Robert Peston? Michael Crick?’)

This is in London. Later in the day, on Merseyside, a brick is thrown through a window at Eagle’s constituency office.

Mirror 13-7-2016Tuesday 12 July

After months of speculation, six hours of discussion today, and the obtaining of several (conflicting) legal opinions, Labour’s National Executive Committee votes on what its own rulebook actually means; by 18-14 they decide that in a leadership election, the incumbent doesn’t need the support of any MPs at all. The chasm between the PLP and the party outside has never been so starkly revealed before; it now seems almost unbridgeable.

Following this good news, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell make an appearance at a rally for supporters in North London. The shadow chancellor has some warm words to say about his parliamentary comrades: ‘As plotters, they’re fucking useless.’

In a Champions’ League qualifying match, Celtic – the former champions of Europe – are beaten 1-0 by the mighty Lincoln Red Imps, a part-time club from Gibraltar. Brendan Rodgers, managing Celtic for the first time, says there’s ‘no embarrassment’ in the defeat. Everyone else agrees that this is just the sort of feelgood fillip that the nation needs right now.

Wednesday 13 July

David Cameron’s last appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions. He goes out with a variation on his best soundbite (as we suggested he should): ‘I was the future once.’ Jeremy Corbyn puts in one of his best performances, looking almost relaxed as he contemplates a fruitful summer, campaigning among the faithful. Cameron throws in one final dig at Labour, this time on the subject of women leaders: ‘Two-nil,’ he crows. ‘And not a pink bus in sight.’

The Queen duly appoints Theresa May as prime minister. In her first speech, outside 10 Downing Street, May breaks with modern custom by not mentioning hard-working families, but she does make a pitch for Labour territory: ‘If you’re from an ordinary working-class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise.’

Two publishers – Biteback and John Blake – announce that they have already commissioned biographies of May.

Len Goodman announces that he’s resigning from Strictly Come Dancing – but not until after the next series: ‘I’ve decided after this year it’s time to hand the role of head judge to someone else.’ Some feel the words would sound better coming from Jeremy Corbyn.

Mirror 14-7-2016Thursday 14 July

May’s cabinet is announced: Michael Gove is sacked, while – in the headline-grabbing announcement – the man he knifed, Boris Johnson, gets to be foreign secretary. Of the other leadership candidates, Andrea Leadsom is brought into cabinet, but only as environment secretary, and Stephen Crabb loses his frontbench place. George Osborne is also sacked, though Liam Fox (the ‘former disgraced former minister,’ as some like to call him) returns, nearly five years after his resignation as defence secretary. David Davis and Amber Rudd are the other major beneficiaries.

Elsewhere, Liz Truss becomes the youngest Lord Chancellor since George Jeffreys, the Hanging Judge of Bloody Assizes fame, back in 1685. Karen Bradley, a former tax manager and economic consultant, is appointed culture secretary. Jeremy Hunt survives as health secretary for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery: some reports suggest that no one else wanted the job.

Three weeks on from the referendum, the Conservative Party has now renewed both itself and the government. The Labour Party, on the other hand, is still engaged in its civil war.

Bookies’ favourite Steven Woolfe announces he will indeed stand for the leadership of UKIP; very much the change candidate, he says he wants to ditch the party’s name, colours and logo. Other candidates include Jonathan Arnott, Lisa Duffy and Bill Etheridge.

Daily Star front-page headline: ‘Psycho seagull girl’s horror plunge.’

Eighty-four people are killed when a truck is deliberately driven into Bastille Day crowds in Nice, France.

Friday 15 July

The funeral is held of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox. Her name has already passed into the lexicon of the Left. Earlier this month, a hand-delivered letter was received by a director of Portland Communications (as denounced by Len McCluskey): ‘hello comrade, we’ve watched you leave this building,’ it read, ‘your blood is the price of your treachery, prepare to be coxed :-)’.

An attempted military coup is staged in Turkey. Labour MP Chris Bryant tweets that one of the causes is the ‘Ludicrous Brexit lies’.

Daily Star front-page headline: ‘Seagulls batter your fish & chips.’

Saturday 16 July

Angela Eagle says that sexist, homophobic and racist abuse between the comrades means Labour runs the risk of becoming ‘the new nasty party’; she calls for ‘a kinder politics in reality’.

MP Tommy Sheppard announces he’s standing for the deputy leadership of the SNP.

The Turkish coup attempt is defeated, with President Erdogan remaining in office.

The death is announced of singer Alan Vega, aged 78.

Sunday 17 July

At the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival, Jeremy Corbyn is in confident mood: ‘Could Labour win a general election? Yes. Could I lead Labour to win a general election victory? Yes of course.’

Owen Smith launches his campaign to become Labour leader. Among his proposals are increased taxation, the return of wages councils, and the rewriting (again) of Clause IV of the party constitution to include a commitment to tackle inequality. He says that Corbyn is ‘great on slogans, but not so good on solutions’.

England lose the First Test to Pakistan at Lord’s.

Monday 18 July

The House of Commons debates the renewal of Trident. This is official Labour policy, but apparently it’s not an important enough issue to have a three-line whip, so Opposition MPs have a free vote. Among those voting against the party’s position is the leader Jeremy Corbyn, who gets heckled by his own MPs when he speaks. Parliament decides in favour of renewal by 472-117.

Corbyn, Angela Eagle and Owen Smith speak at a hustings for Labour MPs. Wednesday is the closing day for MPs to nominate a candidate, and it’s agreed that either Eagle or Smith – whoever receives the fewer nominations – will stand down in favour of the other. As Lisa Nandy explains: ‘You can’t have two people standing on a unity ticket.’

In an interview, Owen Smith says he’s a ‘normal’ person: ‘I grew up in a normal household. I’ve got a wife and three children. My wife is a primary school teacher.’ Some uncharitably interpret this as being a Leadsom-style dig at his rival for being a childless lesbian.

Downing Street announces that Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox will share Chevening, the country house usually reserved for the foreign secretary. It’s hoped that selling the sitcom rights will help deal with the deficit.

At the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump’s current wife, Melania, delivers a speech that appears to borrow heavily from an address made by Michelle Obama in 2008.

Tuesday 19 July

Angela Eagle withdraws from the Labour leadership race, a day before nominations close, having recognized that Owen Smith has built an unassailable lead. She says she’s supporting him against Jeremy Corbyn. The all-male shortlist will now spend two months campaigning, and the result will be announced on 24 September.

At a joint-press conference with US secretary of state John Kerry, Boris Johnson’s columnist past begins to catch up with him. American journalists challenge him on some of his previous comments: all that stuff about Barack Obama’s ‘part-Kenyan’ ancestry and Hilary Clinton looking like ‘a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital’. He offers no apology, dismissing his columns as being ‘obiter dicta’.

Donald Trump is officially adopted (in absentia) as the Republican Party’s candidate for the American presidency.

i 21-7-2016Wednesday 20 July

Theresa May’s first appearance at PMQs. The consensus opinion is that she wipes the floor with Jeremy Corbyn, and that she’s got the hang of the withering put-down delivered in Thatcherian tones.

May undertakes her first overseas trip as PM, visiting Angela Merkel.

Under rules drawn up by Labour’s NEC, people have had a window of 48 hours to sign up as registered supporters of the party and – for the price of £25 – buy themselves a vote in the leadership election. That window has now closed and well over 180,000 have signed up, bringing in more than £4.5 million.

Nigel Farage suggests that he may want to come back as leader of UKIP before the 2020 election. His third resignation may prove to be no more convincing than either of the first two. As he might put it: ‘I want my party back.’

The government announces that the implementation of Universal Credit will not be completed until March 2022; it is now five years behind its original schedule.

The media report that ‘Big’ Sam Allardyce – who had a 29 per cent win rate when saving Sunderland from relegation in 2015-16 – has been chosen to manage the England football team. Everyone agrees that this is just the sort of feelgood fillip … etc.

Thursday 21 July

Theresa May continues her European tour with a visit to see Francois Hollande.

Jeremy Corbyn launches his re-election campaign alongside John McDonnell. They say that the five evils identified in the Beveridge Report in 1942 (squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease) are not the pressing issues of today; instead the problems are inequality, neglect, insecurity, prejudice and discrimination. Corbyn also launches a new policy: ‘medical research shouldn’t be farmed out to big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and others but should be funded through the Medical Research Council.’ This may be a serious lurch towards a policy, or it may just be an attack on Owen Smith, who used to work for Pfizer.

Mandatory reselection of Labour MPs is not official party policy, but Corbyn leaves the door open anyway: ‘If this parliament runs to the full term, then the new boundaries will be the basis on which the elections take place and in that case there would be a full selection process in every constituency.’

As Britain seeks to reclaim its non-European identity, English Heritage launch a petition to have jousting included in the Olympic Games. Meanwhile, in the pages of the Daily Telegraph, there are calls for croquet to be reinstated in the Olympics; it’s been absent since 1900.

Friday 22 July

In a very odd story, MP Conor McGinn alleges that when he had a falling-out with Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader threatened to tell his dad on him. McGinn’s father is a Sinn Fein councillor, and it’s unclear whether the threat was primarily aimed at father or son. But anyway Corbyn insists no such incident happened. Elsewhere, stories about  bullying and threatening behaviour by Corbynites continue to dominate the leadership election. Forty-four women MPs write to the leader complaining about the ‘threats, undue vilification, intimidation, abuse and vitriolic rhetoric’ they’ve faced, and say that it is ‘being done in his name’.

Angela Eagle says Corbyn is ‘stirring’ the trouble, and Owen Smith claims: ‘we didn’t have this kind of abuse, intolerance, misogyny and anti-Semitism in the party before Jeremy Corbyn became leader.’ Len McCluskey, on the other hand, thinks that the online abuse is the covert work of the security services, trying to undermine Labour: ‘Do you think that there’s not all kinds of rightwingers who are not secretly able to disguise themselves and stir up trouble? I find it amazing if people think that isn’t happening.’

Elsewhere, Owen Smith lets it be known that – should he become leader – he’ll be seeking gender balance in the PLP, the shadow cabinet, and among those shadowing the four great offices of state. To assist this goal, he proposes all-women shortlists in winnable seats.

The BBC reports on the IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index: ‘Britain’s decision to leave the EU has led to a “dramatic deterioration” in economic activity, not seen since the aftermath of the financial crisis.’

Nine people are killed in a mass-shooting in Munich, after which the murderer kills himself.

Saturday 23 July

It is today a month since the referendum, and it’s been the most breath-taking month for domestic politics since the war. At times, even the existence of non-stop news channels seemed like a reasonable thing, so swift were the developments as stories unfolded simultaneously; it felt like a soap opera that had been given notice of its cancellation and was desperately trying to tie up every narrative thread at once.

In fact, we’re still a long way off from a resolution to most of the major storylines. There has been plotting and counter-plotting, there have been briefings, knifings and dirty tricks, there has been a shocking collapse of courtesy in public debate. There has also been a level of public interest in politics that hasn’t been seen since the triumphant entry of Tony Blair into Downing Street in 1997.

But despite all the heat and fury of the last thirty days, only one major conclusion has been reached: there’s a new prime minister, and a substantially new cabinet. Right now, Theresa May looks convincing. But she has only a very small Commons majority, and the most daunting in-tray of any PM since Winston Churchill in 1940.

By the autumn there will also be new leaders of UKIP and of the Green Party of England and Wales (though the latter is not related to the referendum result – Natalie Bennett announced her departure before that). There may be a new Labour leader as well, or, if there isn’t, it’s possible that the party will be on its way to an irrevocable split: certainly it cannot continue as it is now. The SNP have seemed somewhat irrelevant since the referendum, but the large Remain vote in Scotland means that the Union will return to the national agenda at some point.

And the biggest of all the open questions hasn’t even begun to get an answer. ‘Brexit means Brexit,’ explained Theresa May helpfully, but what the leaving of the EU actually entails is, at present, as clear as mud.

In other news today: 80 people are killed in a bomb attack in Kabul. Islamic State claim responsibility; the Taliban accuse IS of trying to start a civil war.


You have been watching…


4 thoughts on “After the Referendum: a long month in politics

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