And now there are two

July 09, 2016 02:03 am | Updated November 17, 2021 05:07 am IST

The > number of prime ministerial hopefuls is down to two in the United Kingdom, lending a semblance of political normalcy in what has been a chaotic period. Till the final vote by Conservative Party members on September 9, it can at least be said with certainty that Britain will have a woman Prime Minister, either current Home Secretary Theresa May or the junior Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom. It has been a long and turbulent fortnight. “Take back control, reclaim your sovereignty,” rang the >Brexiteers’ cries before the historic June 23 referendum . In the event, chaos has reigned supreme ever since. Fast on the unexpected Brexit verdict came a brutal political betrayal, not to mention the gathering storms in Brussels, and London has not been lacking for drama or surprise. It must have come as no small relief for Conservative MPs that neither of the two women who now remain in the race for Downing Street had anything directly to do with the coldly calculated elimination of their once principal contender. Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London, had staked his prime ministerial ambitions on leading the Leave campaign to victory on a dangerously divisive platform against immigration and an imagined loss of national sovereignty. His nemesis was his friend Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, who curated Mr. Johnson’s leadership bid, till he suddenly announced his own candidature. With both the polarising men out of the reckoning, the delicate and difficult responsibility of shaping London’s exit strategy without burning too many bridges with the European Union will fall on the shoulders of either Ms. May or Ms. Leadsom.

Despite the overwhelming support she won among the Conservative MPs, Ms. May will need to reinvent her image for the sake of the party rank and file. Her support for the Remain camp during the campaign did not go down well with the sizeable Eurosceptics among them. But she can foreground her six-year stint as Home Secretary, the longest for a Conservative in over 50 years, and one in which she has been tough on matters of immigration control. Ms. May has spoken about honouring the popular will, especially after David Cameron emphasised the need for his successor to be a convinced Brexiteer. Ms. Leadsom is sure to play up her Leave credentials to the party’s strongly Eurosceptic activists at the grass roots. Whoever wins will face the challenge of knitting together a nation bruised from within — also, of negotiating with a bigger, if not stronger, Europe and a world even more distant from empire. British pragmatism and common sense may be a guide through this arduous journey. But it will certainly not be easy.

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