“We have really everything in common with America nowadays,” Oscar Wilde wrote in the Canterville Ghost, “except, of course, language.” And, apparently, political intrigue.
In the United States, the political class has been stunned by the rise of a candidate who bested more than a dozen better-qualified rivals, partly by means of rhetoric as simplistic as monikers like “Little Marco” and “Lyin’ Ted.” But that’s amateur hour. The political machinations on display across the Atlantic in the wake of Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union are far more sophisticated, and if politics is a game, America’s would be checkers to the U.K.’s three-dimensional chess.
On Thursday, Boris Johnson, the former London mayor who championed and ultimately won the vote for “Brexit,” stunned the political establishment by saying he wouldn’t seek to replace David Cameron as head of the ruling Conservative Party (and, consequently, take the prime ministership). But that only happened after Michael Gove, Johnson’s friend and ally in the “leave” campaign, put forth his own leadership bid instead. It was, as many on Twitter pointed out, a twist worthy of House of Cards (which, after all, was a British show to begin with). The British media, of course, found a way to class that reference up, with one headline saying Gove had “done a double Brutus.”
Tomorrow's Daily Telegraph front page today: 'An act of midnight treachery' pic.twitter.com/Tv2cIGI6Bn— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) June 30, 2016
“Double” because, in this account, before Gove betrayed Johnson, he betrayed Cameron, the outgoing prime minister who staked his political future on the U.K. remaining in the EU. Gove had been a close friend of Cameron’s—the two men, their wives, and children even vacationed together—but picked the other side. (On the other hand, the friendship might not have been altogether healthy to begin with; a friend of both men described as Cameron’s treatment of Gove as an “under-butler.”)