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With Britain's Political Parties In Turmoil After Brexit Vote, Who Will Lead?


Americans thought we had a lot of political high jinks going on. Both of Britain's major political parties are topsy turvy in the aftermath of the U.K.'s vote to leave the European Union. The Conservatives are in power, but Prime Minister Cameron said he'll resign but not quite yet. Half a dozen people contend to replace him, but Boris Johnson, who'd been the leading candidate, said this week he won't run. The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is currently about as popular in Britain as Iceland's national soccer team. Mr. Corbyn said he won't resign. Who's going to succeed them?

Kevin Maguire's associate editor of the Daily Mirror and a long time reporter at Westminster. Thanks so much for being with us.

KEVIN MAGUIRE: Pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: Let's start with the Conservative line up. We hear a couple of names over here - Michael Gove and Theresa May.

MAGUIRE: Yeah, absolutely, Theresa May, the home secretary, the interior minister, is the favorite now after the shock withdrawal of Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London. He was the clear front-runner, but he pulled out after Michael Gove, the justice secretary who was his campaign manager, actually decided he wanted to run himself. And in the Conservative Party, which, of course, they're not just electing a leader, they're electing the next prime minister of the United Kingdom.

SIMON: And Boris Johnson withdrew because...

MAGUIRE: Because he lost support. He's been sacked twice in his career for lying, once as a journalist and once over a rather messy affair he had with a woman who wasn't his wife. For 40 years, he's been aiming for the top job. When he was a schoolboy, he said he wanted to be king of the world. But because he backed the exit campaign and the European Union referendum when he'd previously been in favor of Britain remaining in Europe, he lost a lot of support 'cause he was seen as untrustworthy.

SIMON: We should inform our listeners, by the way, that the Mirror is considered a liberal newspaper, right?

MAGUIRE: The Daily Mirror, yes, yeah, we are center-left, I suppose. If we were in the states we'd be supporting the Democrats.

SIMON: Theresa May, the home secretary, as you note, is the favorite, but she was on the other side. She wanted Britain to stay in the EU. She'd have to be changing her opinion and perhaps her conscience.

MAGUIRE: Yeah, which politicians are able to do when required. She was very much a quiet remainer. She made one speech at the beginning and then vanished. It was almost as if she too was calculating and looking at the greater prize at the end.

SIMON: Let's turn to the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader, has been accused of campaigning to stay in the EU just about as enthusiastically as speaker Paul Ryan in the U.S. has been campaigning for Donald Trump.

MAGUIRE: Yeah. I think that's a - it's a perfect analogy. And he was a long-term euro skeptic, but his campaign was so (unintelligible). And he was asked on a tv show how important Britain remain in the European was, and this was at the height of the campaign. And he said, well, seven - seven and a half, and that went down very, very badly. You're not going to win votes like that, and he didn't. And there was a revolt in the Labour heartlands, in the industrial north areas, which have not done particularly well in recent years as manufacturing declines. And as a result, there was a huge uprising in the Westminster party and the houses of Parliament against him.

SIMON: Yeah, his members of his shadow cabinet have been stepping up to resign.

MAGUIRE: They have. About 40-plus have gone, probably as we talk, a number of them have left.

SIMON: He's not considered a good candidate to lead the party to victory in a general election, I gather.

MAGUIRE: No, no, he's not. The leadership's come to him very late in life. He's a poor communicator. And that makes it very difficult to win over votes. He excites a section of Britain young people who will turn out in their thousands for his rallies and his meet and...

SIMON: They feel the Bern.

MAGUIRE: They feel the Bern. The comparisons, again, you can see parallels between what is happening in Britain with what is happening in America. And they're not false. They're not invented.

SIMON: Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror who joined us on Skype, thanks very much for being with us.

MAGUIRE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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