While the weekend papers focused on who may replace Theresa May as leader of the Tory Party, and in the process become the new Prime Minister, the voters were about to deliver their own verdict on leadership of the country.
Nigel Farage, who last week had to contend with being spattered in milk shake while on the campaign trail, is today covered in glory as the public decided that he provided the leadership the public yearns. With Mr Farage’s “moral” victory now commanding the headlines, the Tory leadership battle is akin to a once mighty football club desperately searching for an end of season manager who can help save them from the ignominy of relegation.
The result of the European Elections – a de facto “People’s Vote” – is a warning to whoever is anointed Tory leader that they should not bother getting the decorators into Downing Street as their stay may be the briefest of any PM. The public have declared their frustration at the impasse over Brexit and punished the two main parties who now face the mother-of-all-campaigns to restore their reputations in time for the 2022 general election.
The British tend to revert to type in general elections, although this time it feels different. If the new Tory leader fails to delivers the Brexit deal it will probably split the party as part of a re-alignment of British politics around the European issue.
Yet the vote was not simply a result of a failure to deliver Brexit. It was a failure of the Remainers in the main parties to stop Brexit. While the Brexit Party emerged victorious across the UK, the vote actually tells us that Britain remains deeply divided with strong showings by the SNP and Liberal Democrats – second across the UK – who both advocate remaining in the EU.
The SNP’s 38% of the Scottish vote will obviously underpin calls for independence, even though the Brexit Party defied SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s regular claim to be speaking for all Scots. Despite that awkward inconvenience, the size of her vote will re-energise her supporters, particularly as her opponents failed to make any inroads into her party’s dominant position.
Where Scotland’s political landscape is similar to the rest of the UK is in the collapse of the Labour vote, leaving Jeremy Corbyn with questions to ask about how his party not only failed to make gains from a Prime Minister in crisis and a Tory Party in meltdown, but from the Scottish nationalists who seem capable of rising above any criticism or failures of their own.
Concerns over education policy, low productivity and higher taxes than the rest of the UK were swept to one side because Scottish politics has become focused around a single issue – and it is not the UK’s future relationship with Europe. Brexit is a convenient cover for Nicola Sturgeon and her supporters who were voting not for Scotland to stay in Europe, but for Scotland to leave the UK.