British politics: not chaos, but real democracy in action

An awful lot has happened in the last week or so. But it isn’t chaos, says Merryn Somerset Webb. Politics is resetting – just as it should in an active and enthusiastic democracy like ours.


It's been an extremeley busy week in politics.

I'm going to admit to having found last week a bit confusing an awful lot of new names, and an awful lot of things going on. The declaration by Boris Johnson that he would stand; Gove's betrayal (he is now almost universally referred to as a "political psychopath"); Johnson's withdrawal. The decision from Theresa May to stand, and the speed at which a team assembled around her; the emergence of Angela Leadsom as a real contender followed at the weekend by comments on her being "the worst minister we've ever had", and today by accusations that she is part of a UKIP plot (and that she intends to have Nigel Farage in her government).

Over at the Labour Party things looked even more nuts: more than 60 front-benchers resigned in a week and no one is stepping up to take their places; Corbyn isn't resigning, and no one has officially challenged him. And Lord Prescott the man who everyone credits with preventing Blair and Brown from actually killing each other is apparently planning an intervention.

It's an awful lot of information so much so that even by Friday I was still finding myself getting confused between Andrea and Angela, and having to look all the Tory candidates up to see which jobs they had had in the past, and feeling mildly sorry for anyone on holiday (they will never catch up).

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But this isn't chaos. It really isn't. Within a week of a the stunning referendum result ("more people voted for Brexit than anything else in the history of British democracy" noted The Times) the Conservative party has what looks like two good leading candidates Gove and May both of whom look like they'd be capable of finding a reasonable way to Brexit.

Perhaps Gove a genuine creative thinker will end up as PM with May as his deputy. That might work it keeps UKIP from fretting that Brexit is being thwarted and might mean that we actually see some of the radical policies we need to change Britain (cutting corporation tax isn't going to be enough).

At the same time the Labour Party is progressing in an oddly democratic way and we may soon find we have a Corbyn party and a new centre left party of some kind. The newspapers are filled with stories of the collapse of the UK political world and of the way that the UK has somehow become more divisive and scary since the vote.

This isn't true. For all of last week the stockmarket did exactly what it is supposed to do: it was hugely volatile as it tried to find the new correct prices for assets given the added risks and opportunities. Then it reset and it settled.

This is pretty much what is happening in politics. It's resetting just as it should in an active and enthusiastic democracy like ours. And in the meantime the actual government of the country continues as usual.

He might not be saying much these days but we do still have a prime minister. We also have a chancellor who is now trying to make it clear, as the FT puts it that he "is ready for the fight." Not chaotic. Thrilling.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.