Dubbed “the bloated ballot,” the race to succeed Theresa May as Britain’s next prime minister has so far attracted 11 aspiring Members of Parliament (MPs). More may yet put themselves forward before the gates close on June 10.
Most stand little or no chance of emerging as the winner, but it is generally acknowledged that they have seized this opportunity to achieve some personal publicity in the hope of gaining a ministerial post in the new government.
Britain, a leading democratic nation, has functioned for more than a thousand years without a written constitution. This means that in some important respects, the nation runs its affairs on the basis of convention. One such that emerged just 200 years ago is that the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons becomes prime minister of the nation.
Until 1965, if a Conservative prime minister resigned while the government remained in office, a new leader would be chosen by way of private discussions between the party’s leading lights. The sovereign, informed of the name, would then “invite” that person to form a new government.
Nowadays, the party puts in place an election procedure that, when devised, seemed simple enough – and, when dealing with four or five candidates, it was. The list of names is put to the party’s MPs in a series of votes that eliminates one name each time. When only two names are left in the ballot, the party membership nationwide is invited to choose which of the two is their preferred leader.
However, eliminating 11 or more names one by one in a long, drawn-out election procedure seems far less attractive at a moment of national crisis induced by Theresa May’s failure to secure an acceptable Brexit. The body governing Conservative MPs, known as the 1922 Committee, may well decide to tweak the rules and telescope the procedure.
As for the aspiring candidates, five – all men – are generally held to be serious contenders: Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab. This is by no means a prediction that one of them will indeed emerge as the winner. Politics is unpredictable, and it is perfectly possible for a “dark horse” to break clear of the other runners and finally canter over the winning line.
It is noteworthy that every one of the top five has a strong pro-Israel stance, as indeed have most of the remaining seven. This is not surprising, given that an estimated 80% of Conservative MPs are members of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) parliamentary group.
Boris Johnson – one-time mayor of London, one-time UK foreign secretary and on excellent terms with US President Donald Trump – claims rabbinical Jewish blood on his mother’s side. He is a solid friend of, and frequent visitor to, Israel.
Michael Gove, with an impressive record of ministerial achievement, is a long-standing friend of Israel and British Jewry, and an outspoken Zionist who has called for the UK embassy to be moved to Jerusalem.
Jeremy Hunt is Britain’s foreign secretary. Speaking recently at a CFI reception, he cited Israel as an “inspiration” and a model of a successful modern country. He said that UK support for Israel’s right to self-defense is “absolutely unconditional.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid is the first Muslim to hold one of the UK’s three Great Offices of State. He is an unapologetic friend of Israel and a longstanding ally of the Jewish community. Javid stole the show at a CFI meeting by declaring that Israel was the only nation in the Middle East “that shares the same democratic values as Britain. And the only nation in the Middle East where my family would feel the warm embrace of freedom and liberty.”
Dominic Raab, briefly Brexit minister under Theresa May, inherits Jewish blood from his father. He is the son of a Holocaust survivor, and has worked and studied in Israel and the West Bank. “I will honor [my father’s] memory by fighting the scourge of antisemitism and racism until my last breath,” he said.
THERE ARE two women on the list of aspiring leaders: Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey. After the Brexit referendum, Leadsom contended for leader against Theresa May, but dropped out of the race before the ballot. Ex-cabinet minister Esther McVey has known CFI director Stuart Polak since their schooldays in Liverpool. With a stormy parliamentary career behind her, her Jewish friends nickname her “Esther Oy-Vey.”
Now health secretary, Matt Hancock during a ministerial visit to Israel some years ago announced that the UK would ban publicly funded bodies boycotting Israeli goods. Ex-minister Mark Harper visited Israel last year in coordination with the CFI and, looking out over Beersheba, wrote that “It was impossible not to marvel at Israel’s ambitious plan to turn the barren and dusty landscape into the world’s foremost center for cyberdefense.” Sam Gyimah, a former universities minister, declared that “collaboration with Israel is something we want to build on as a strategic priority.”
Amidst all the uncertainty, what seems assured is that out of the maelstrom of the Conservative Party’s power struggle – such are the conventions by which the UK rules itself – Britain’s next prime minister will emerge, and unless he or she loses a vote of confidence, will govern until the next general election in 2022.
The writer is Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is called The Chaos in the Middle East: 2014-2016. He blogs at: www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com
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