domingo, 21 de fevereiro de 2016
Boris, Dave and the battle of Brexit / Campanha do "não" já tem o seu cabeça de cartaz: Boris Johnson
Boris, Dave and the battle of Brexit
Old Etonian half-friends, half-rivals face off over Britain’s future in Europe.
By ROBERT COLVILE 2/22/16, 5:30 AM CET
LONDON — After the extended drama of David Cameron’s negotiations with the European Union came a one-act coda: Johnson Agonistes. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, kept the media waiting for almost 48 hours after the conclusion of negotiations before delivering his verdict. He would be coming out for Out.
The news came not with the “deafening éclat” that Johnson promised but with hand-wringing and apologies. After a period of intense deliberation — during which he was reportedly “veering all over the place like a shopping trolley” — he spoke of his “heartache” at making an “agonizingly difficult” choice, and his reluctance at taking up arms against his fellow Tories.
But in the end, he said, the European Union “is in real danger of getting out of proper democratic control.” He paid tribute to Cameron’s negotiating efforts — “but I don’t think anybody could realistically claim this is fundamental reform of the EU or of Britain’s relationship with the EU.”
The British people, he insisted, need a better deal.
Johnson makes things fun: it’s harder to terrify people about the consequences of Brexit when you’ve got him amiably insisting that it’ll all be jolly super, really.
Johnson’s agonizing had been the focus of Westminster’s attention for one simple reason: What he chose mattered. Boris is one of the few politicians who is actually popular, and his endorsement was one of the few with the power to sway significant numbers of undecided voters.
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It’s not just about Johnson’s personal electoral appeal — it’s about the legitimacy he confers. Euroskepticism has always attracted the zealous, but the result has been a Leave campaign dominated by those who seem like they would rather discuss the iniquities of European directives than the football scores. Johnson may be a Euro-obsessive too, but he wears it lightly: Having him onside makes Leave seems like a respectable, mainstream option.
It also gives the Brexit movement what there wasn’t in the 1975 referendum on EU membership: a figurehead. Instead of Nigel Farage and George Galloway’s Enoch Powell-Tony Benn tribute act, you have a genuine heavyweight to put your case forward.
Plus, Johnson makes things fun: It’s harder to terrify people about the consequences of Brexit when you’ve got him amiably insisting that it’ll all be jolly super, really.
So Johnson joining Leave is obviously a great boost to the Brexit side and a great blow to Cameron (who was said to be “absolutely furious” over Johnson’s refusal to fall in line). It is also a boost to Vote Leave, the more moderate and Tory-heavy of the two feuding Brexit movements.
Johnson was, in many ways, the father of modern Euroskepticism.
True, his endorsement was relatively lukewarm: “I will be advocating Vote Leave, or whatever the team is called — I think there are many of them.” But until Sunday, it was looking as if Farage and Galloway (under the banner of the UKIP-friendly Grassroots Out) might be the faces of the Out campaign. Now, Vote Leave has Johnson and Michael Gove to counter them with (Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave’s divisive campaign chief, is Gove’s former lieutenant and his retention was apparently one of the justice secretary’s conditions for signing up).
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So is it all over but the voting? Not quite. Having Johnson as the figurehead for the Leave movement would be a huge win for them — but the mayor was very clear in his announcement that he does not want to be that figurehead.
I have no privileged insight into Johnson’s full calculations (full disclosure, I did edit his column at the Telegraph, and he’s said some very nice things about my forthcoming book). But it strikes me that his hemming and hawing about which side to back — and the hesitant tone of his comments Sunday — perfectly reflects his, and Britain’s, excruciating ambivalence towards the EU.
Johnson was, in many ways, the father of modern Euroskepticism. As the Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent — the post he used to make himself a journalistic star — he invented the “bendy banana” genre, making the EU a subject not just of fear but mockery.
At the same time, however, he has — as he admitted recently — “never been an Outer.” He is the son of a Europhile former MEP, the mayor of a great global city who delights in its French bankers and Italian restaurants. His demands that Cameron toughen up his negotiating position were interpreted as a way of giving himself more bargaining power. But it reads now like he was looking for an excuse to vote for Remain — even if he ultimately felt that Cameron’s deal did not give him that.
Many have, in recent days, attributed his vacillation entirely to personal ambition — to his attempting to calculate whether a future prime ministerial bid is best served by remaining loyal to Cameron (and being rewarded with the probable post of foreign secretary post-referendum) or deposing him.
There is no doubt that ambition will have played a part in Johnson’s decision. The Tory membership, who have the final say over the leadership, are viscerally Euroskeptic. But his insistence Sunday that Cameron must stay whatever happened seemed perfectly genuine.
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Johnson appears to want to be a semi-detached member of the Out camp — to lend it his voice without making it his instrument, and in the process to avoid a head-to-head confrontation with his party leader.
But will he have that choice? If the campaign starts to falter, the calls within the Out camp to use its most valuable asset — Johnson — to full advantage will grow louder. The only thing worse, politically, than being blamed by Cameron for Leave’s success would be being blamed by Leave’s supporters for its failure.
And if this great national question does come down to a personality contest between Cameron and Johnson, it will be a supreme irony. Biographers of both men have long highlighted the strange way in which their careers have woven round each other. Johnson was the star at Eton, getting into “Pop” — the set of prefects elected by their fellow students — where the younger man failed. He also dazzled at Oxford — but emerged with only a 2:1, as opposed to the First achieved by Cameron.
In the story of their lives, each seemed to incarnate the virtue the other lacked. Johnson had the brilliance, Cameron had the application.
Dave became party leader first, giving Johnson a minor job and then firing him from it, but was then forced — after exploring every other alternative — to beg Johnson to run for mayor of London, on the grounds that he was the only Tory who could win.
What made comparisons so irresistible was not only the see-sawing of their political fortunes, but that the two men had such similar backgrounds and such contrasting personalities. In the story of their lives, each seemed to incarnate the virtue the other lacked. Johnson had the brilliance, Cameron had the application. Johnson wanted to be “world king,” Dave actually made it.
Yet attempts to erect Cameron vs Johnson into the guiding psychodrama of British politics — the new Blair vs Brown — always foundered, for one simple reason: Because of their slight age difference and the differing paths their political careers took, they were never actually in direct competition. Now, suddenly, we will get the confrontation that narrative demanded but reality denied — between two half-friends, half-rivals who met on the playing fields of Eton and grew into the leading politicians of the age.
In four months’ time, the question of which of the two will go down in the history books as the superior political talent will finally be settled. And with it, their country’s future course.
Robert Colvile is a regular contributor at POLITICO.