Tue, Jul 05, 2016 - Page 9 News List

The Tory party has probably now passed peak chaos. Not so Labour

Conservatives are ready to mop up the blood and restore order; the opposition is still trapped in its agonies

By Andrew Rawnsley  /  The Observer

Illustration: Yusha

The world gapes at Britain in amazement and arrives at the conclusion that it must be having some sort of national nervous breakdown. The most dramatic expression of that view has come from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, a disappointed Anglophile, who declared: “England has collapsed politically, monetarily, constitutionally and economically.”

That was over-saucing the language of apocalypse, but you can understand why even level-headed Dutchmen turn hyperbolic when they gaze across the English Channel. Stability is supposed to be one of Britain’s strongest national brands. Over the past 11 days, Britain has behaved like a country without either a government or an opposition, as both of its major parties have been convulsed by cascading crises. If the climate were a bit warmer, people would be calling it a banana republic.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, elected just a year ago, has been toppled by a referendum-cum-coup. Cameron was astonishingly cool when he faced British parliament and the meltdown of his government was somewhat disguised by the simultaneous civil war devouring the Labour Party, but he is a dead prime minister walking, a man decapitated by his fatal miscalculations and the treacherous ambitions of people he mistook for friends.

Humiliation has also been heaped on British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Not so long ago, the chancellor was many a pundit’s favorite to be the next prime minister. He will not even be a candidate for succession and his fiscal plans are being consigned to the shredder.

You might recall that the Tories spent the election campaign last year telling Britons to sign up for their deficit-reduction program or risk economic Armageddon. Those same Tories are now binning their commitments as if they were old shopping lists. This might be sensible when the governor of the Bank of England is warning that Brexit Britain faces “economic post-traumatic stress.”

However, such sudden lurches in policy are not likely to instill confidence in British economic decisionmaking. As for what is actually intended by Brexit, the nation is still no closer to an answer to that towering question than on the night of the referendum.

“Can we get back to you on that?” has been the message to the world from the government as the Tory party has descended into an orgy of political assassination.

Former London mayor Boris Johnson knifed Cameron in the back, only then to be stabbed in the front by his erstwhile comrade, British Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove. That was poetic justice for the former mayor, who destroyed his leader and unleashed turmoil on his country by championing a cause in which he never believed. As for Gove, in a matter of days he has ruined the premiership of Cameron and then wrecked Johnson’s ambition to succeed to No. 10 Downing Street.

To murder the two largest figures in the Tory firmament is quite a double. To the bitter delight of both, Gove seems to have been mortally wounded in the process. Only a handful of Tory lawmakers turned up to cheer him on when he launched his bid for the job he has often declared himself incapable of doing. The Conservative Party can live with a rat, but even it recoils from a double rat.

“Who can ever trust him again?” one Tory lawmaker asked.

Many others simply preface his name with words beginning with a “c” or an “f.”

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