For most of the earlier part of this week, much of Britain sweltered under temperatures that left Dulwich hotter than Dubai.
It was hot. While 40 degrees Celsius might be the norm in the United Arab Emirates, in the United Kingdom, Britons were warned it could very well be the new summer norm as much of Western Europe sweltered under a scorching heat dome that had settled across Spain, France, the Benelux countries, making mid-July temperatures the hottest of record.
It was so hot in Britain that train services were stopped or severely curtained — the rails are only safe up to 27C, and above that they can buckle.
If there was anything that might provide a chill, it’s the prospect for a majority of Britons that they will have a new prime minister come September 5. Either Rishi Sunak, the recently resigned Chancellor of the Exchequer, or Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, will become the replacement for Boris Johnson.
On the day that made Britons melt, Johnson visited the Farnborough Air Show, passing on an urgent cabinet meeting to discuss that heatwave. He even took time for a video selfie flying in a Royal Air Force combat jet.
It has taken a week for Conservative MPs to whittle the field of eight candidates down to these last two. Now, Conservative party members in England, Scotland and Wales will vote on their new party leader. He or she, by virtue of the fact that the Conservatives hold a majority in the House of Commons, will automatically become the Prime Minister.
For Queen Elizabeth, who is celebrating her Platinum Jubilee this year, the new occupant of 10 Downing Street will become the 15th First Minister of her 70-year. And the way things are going, she could very well see a 16th, given that neither Truss nor Sunak have set the British public alight with their promises or politics.
While there is no need for the new PM to call a general election, the prospect of a new parliament is bound to happen sooner rather than later. As Johnson has repeatedly claimed, it was he who led the Conservatives to their 80-seat majority in a general election just 31 months ago, he who “got Brexit done”, and it was for he who 14 million voters cast ballots.
While that’s not entirely correct — the Brits use a first-past-the-post system where each constituency elects a Member of Parliament usually along party political lines — the cult of personality around Johnson did make for his doing. And undoing.
There is every likelihood that Britons will head to the polls either later in the autumn or next spring, when either Truss or Sunak will say that it’s time they sought a mandate to implement the measures and policies needed to make Britain better — or whatever other slogan the party honchos will come up with.
But right now, neither Sunak nor Truss have the standing to win a majority, according to snap polls taken when the two emerged as the heirs apparent to Johnson.
If there is a glimmer of hope, it’s that Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour Leader, is also shy when it comes to winning an overall majority in any general election. And neither Sunak nor Truss are more popular than his relatively low standings to beat him.
Put all these elements together, and there is every prospect that the next parliament will be rather like a pizza pie.
In Scotland, where the Scottish Nationalist Party are itching to hold a second referendum on independence, they remain hugely popular. Were a general election to be held anytime soon — autumn or spring seems to matter not — the SNP seem on course to win some 50 seats out of the 58 on offer there.
And any potential leader of a majority party from the Conservatives or Labour, will need to overcome or work with that bloc of votes. And the price for that is supporting a second referendum.
Under Johnson’s erratic leadership, safe Conservative seats were proven vulnerable to the Liberal-Democrats and their new leader Sir Ed Davey. Whether that anti-Tory vote can be sustained in a general election campaign rather than in by-elections remains to be seen.
But there are a lot of rank-and-file Conservative party members who will be assessing Sunak and Truss on their ability to see off any resurgent Lib-Dem vote before they cast their ballots in the coming couple of weeks in the leadership election.
What’s interesting too is that the new Prime Minister will only be chosen by Conservative party members — a group that make up less than 0.2 per cent of the UK population as a whole. And yes, that’s one reason why the new leader will be tempted to call a general election at the first time when the poll numbers will deem victory within reach.
For the SNP and Labour, the Lib-Dems and all of the other minority parties that make up the House of Commons right now, neither Sunak nor Truss can claim to be acting for the British people as a whole when they have actually been placed in 10 Downing Street by a party membership that’s grey, comparatively better off, old and likely out of touch with most issues that affect most Britons right now.