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Post-Brexit, Political Drama Has Been All The Rage In Britain


This is a good moment to remember that "House Of Cards" was a British TV show before it was an American one. Britain's Conservative Party is in the middle of a leadership fight. Boris Johnson, the former London mayor, the take our country back politician with the notable hair, has decided not to seek the prime ministership. Johnson had just been a leader of the campaign to withdraw the U.K. from the European Union. He was then seen as a candidate to lead the country after Prime Minister David Cameron said he would resign. And then - well, let's discuss this with Michael White who's written for 30 years for The Guardian, and he's on the line. Welcome the program, sir.


INSKEEP: Why didn't Johnson reach for the prize?

WHITE: Because the man he thought had his back, fellow cabinet minister Michael Gove, whom your listeners will be forgiven for not having heard of, he thought he had Gove's back. And then Gove decided, on the basis of their experience together running the Brexit campaign - the campaign to get British out of the European Union - that Boris simply wasn't up to it.

INSKEEP: I've been reading all sorts of conspiracy theories that Michael Gove had set up Boris Johnson to use him to try to get the Brexit, and now he's trying to get him out of the way. Any evidence to suggest that could possibly be true?

WHITE: Well, there are bits of evidence. And your point about "House Of Cards" - we always thought "House Of Cards" was more realistic than "West Wing," which is too full of high-mindednes. An email sent by Mr. Gove's wife, who is a prominent tabloid columnist here, just happened to fall into the hands of Sky TV, which is the Murdoch television station. And it set out in quite good reasons - she's quite a lively columnist - what was wrong with Johnson, why he was unreliable. He couldn't organize people. He certainly couldn't. He couldn't run a bath.

But most of us knew that who know - have known him for many years. She set it all out, fell into the hands of Sky, and then Gove himself delivered the coup at the last minute by issuing a text message, which Johnson got along with the rest of us. Johnson holds his own press conference due to launch in a rival hotel, a hotel associated with his hero, Winston Churchill incidentally. And he discovers at the last minute that he's been stabbed in the back.

INSKEEP: They broke up by text message. Did you say that?

WHITE: Well, Gove says he tried to get hold of Johnson on the telephone. We have cellphones too over here, you know. But he couldn't get through. But as every listener knows, if you try to call someone, there's a missed call...


WHITE: ...Note on your cellphone, so - and the Boris side, it doesn't matter. It's all farce. It's embarrassing. It's deeply embarrassing. And that means that someone your audience won't have heard of either, our interior secretary, we call them the home secretary, Theresa May - very quiet, very calm woman - is setting herself up to be the new Margaret Thatcher.


WHITE: That's the game plan.

INSKEEP: So she is the leading candidate. Can she run anything?

WHITE: Yes, she's run the British home department for six years without much trouble. She's taken on misbehaving police forces, which is always a brave thing to do in that job because they can ruin your life. And, you know, she's not a charismatic figure like Mrs. Thatcher, but many of us would think we've had enough revolving eyes in British politics. But she's calm and she's competent.

And people compare her with Angela Merkel in Germany - quite interesting because they're two women who turned out not have any children. They've got husbands who are professionals. Merkel's is a scientist. You never see him. May's is an investment banker. Well, that's not his fault that you don't see him either. They're just quietly competent, a bit dull, but maybe dull is what we need after this Boris Johnson nonsense. Boris was born in New York, by the way. He's one of yours.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK, we'll be glad to take credit for him I suppose.

WHITE: He could run for the presidency. He's still eligible.

INSKEEP: Well, let's...

WHITE: I gather there's a vacancy.

INSKEEP: There are people saying that they wish they had other candidates, so we will keep Boris Johnson in mind. Now, let me ask - this is all a leadership fight within the Conservative Party. The winner gets to be prime minister. It's not actually an election. Is there any chance of Britain calling a general election to sort this out?

WHITE: The trouble with having an election - there are lots of technical reasons I won't go into - is that the British Labour Party is in as much disorder as the conservatives, except they're out of power so people don't care so much. And they've got a guy leading the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn - nice chap - who makes Bernie Sanders look like a quiet, sober statesman from one of the old families in Boston. So not a good time for British politics. It certainly isn't boring. It reminds...

INSKEEP: I was going to say...

WHITE: ...Me of the old Chinese curse - may you live in interesting times. My God, they're interesting.

INSKEEP: Well, you certainly get to write about interesting times. Michael White of The Guardian, thanks very much.

WHITE: OK. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.