Another extraordinary day in British politics was had yesterday. It rounds off an unbelievable week, the likes of which has never been seen previously. Everything has changed in a way that would have been hard to fathom seven days ago.
Just when it looked like one item was settled – who the next PM is going to be – that changed dramatically. Boris with Gove and a chastened Osborne on his side looked unstoppable. But then Gove decided, for whatever reasons, that he wanted the prize for himself. Whether Boris screwed up in some way (took Gove for granted) or this was thrust upon him through no fault of his own, it is hard to feel any sympathy for Boris. His behaviour over the past several months has been deplorable.
Theresa May had a shot against Boris, albeit a slight one. Her campaign had an obvious and basic thrust: you can choose a buffoon who has never held a real post in government before, or you can pick the person who has been the Home Secretary for the last six years to lead Britain through the most important set of negotiations in the country’s history. That had a chance to win. I still think Boris would have done it, but it would have been close.
That is not a campaign May can run against Gove. They have both had top level jobs – sure, hers has been more senior, but that’s too minor a point to make hay out of when everything else is against her: Gove was not only a Leaver but a vocal one, while May was a Remainer (albeit a quiet one); Gove will have the masterminds of the Leave campaign masterminding his leadership campaign; most of the membership wanted Gove to be leader, even when he said he would never run.
You can level the charge at Gove that he is very marmite – yes, Tory activists might like him, but a lot swing voters aren’t that keen (never mind those on the Left who despise him). But Theresa May is hardly a bastion of liberal centre-right values, is she? Both May and Gove are anathema to anyone left of centre at all. But why would the membership take that into consideration when Labour seem in tatters and the next election is all but unlosable from where we stand?
Of course, all it would take for either Gove or May to look a lot less electable from a general election perspective is for a figure the centre-left can gather around to emerge. But the idea that this politician will spring forth is far from certain. It is far from impossible, however – and the Tories could become miraculously less electable in that set of circumstances, now shorn of their most electable leader since Thatcher.
Either way, our next prime minister will almost certainly be Michael Gove. To him will fall the burden of trying to negotiate the impossible while telling Leave voters that immigration probably won’t be going down and that the £350 million a week for the NHS was an illusion. I wish him all the best with that endeavour.