Theresa May is desperately clinging to office, after suffering one crisis on top of another. Everything has seemingly turned to dust, including most of her manifesto promises. This means British politics is in a state of paralysis.
This article is the editorial from the latest issue (no.270) of Socialist Appeal. Buy your copy now, or take out a subscription today.
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Out of weakness, the Tories have been forced to jettison an array of policies on everything from fox hunting to grammar schools. Even the proposed state visit by Donald Trump has been left out.
Mrs May has had to keep her head down, hoping that the constant storms will subside. But they will not. She has entered into a desperate “deal” with the DUP to save her skin, where taxpayers will now fork out £1bn, just for starters, to secure the support of 10 DUP MPs - £100m per vote! This gerrymandering has stoked up big opposition, not least from Scotland, Wales and other regions, which still face years of Tory austerity.
But this pact will not secure the Prime Minister’s position and she will be faced with one parliamentary revolt after another as she tries to push through her Brexit plans.
A long hot summer
Already the Brexit negotiations have begun with an immediate British capitulation and the acceptance of the EU’s sequencing agenda, putting “divorce” issues before trade discussions. This display of British weakness does not bode well, especially when Brussels presents its €120bn divorce bill.
“She’s weak,” said one pro-Brexit Tory MP. “We can pretend that everything’s fine, but it clearly isn’t. I don’t see how she can get through conference without making an announcement [on her departure]. There’s very little positive goodwill.”
But Mrs May is probably safe for a few months, if only because most Tory MPs fear a leadership contest that could reignite the party’s civil war over Europe and probably lead to another general election, which they fear Corbyn could win.
Some Tories have speculated darkly on the prospect of a “long hot summer” of protest and even riots. There is even talk of “class war anger”, which has already been seen in the protests following the Grenfell Tower fire.
“She [Theresa May] is all that stands between us and the Bolsheviks,” said one pro-Brexit Tory backbencher. “It is essential that we stabilise the situation. We need to hold our nerve.” (Financial Times, 20th June 17)
Even Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, admitted that voters were “weary after seven years of hard slog” following the financial crisis, before going on to insist that austerity had to stay and that this was not the time to change course.
Capitalist criminals at large
The Tories have presided over a deepening class divide as well as growing public anger. And no wonder! After more than eight years, only four former Barclays executives have now been charged with fraud following the 2008 crisis. This is the first time criminal action has been taken against any senior bankers since the crash. No wonder that 84% say that the people who helped crash the system and caused so much misery have “got away with it” and, moreover, remain powerful.
The horrific burning alive of largely poor and marginalised people at Grenfell Tower was – like the crash of 2008 – another reminder of how vulnerable those at the bottom of society are and how out of touch and culpable those at the top are.
Those at the bottom are considered by the system to be like garbage, to be disposed of as cheaply as possible. They are to be driven out to make room for the rich and affluent, living in luxury flats on millionaire estates. It is no accident that life expectancy is 14 years longer in the well-off parts of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea than in the poorest estates nearby. Emma Dent Coad, the new Kensington Labour MP said she has seen toxic black mould on walls and five children squeezed into one room on council estates in one of the richest boroughs in the country. “The mask has dropped. We have poverty, malnutrition, overcrowding, poor maintenance - and underlying this, a lack of care,” she said.
After the biggest fall in real wages in any decade for 200 years, workers are still facing years of cuts in real pay.
“That division was made more poisonous by the fact that the elite did very well in the neoliberal years,” explained the Economist recently. “In 1980, the average CEO of a company on the FTSE All Share index earned 25 times more than the average employee. In 2016, the bosses earned 130 times more. Between 2000 and 2008 the index fell by 30% but the pay for the CEOs running the firms on the index rose by 80%.”
While this is scandalous, it is only the logical outcome of a system based on the maximisation of profit. Greed is the driving force of capitalism.
It is against this background that the Tory party finds itself mired in crisis. Faced with an electoral setback, it is turning in on itself. “If she [May] hasn’t stabilised things by then [October] and the country hasn’t shifted from its current angry mood, we may have to force a change,” said one minister. The talk is that Philip Hammond will replace her, with David Davis as his deputy prime minister, effectively blocking Boris Johnson.
All soon as she stumbles, the knives will be out. In the current volatile situation, this could easily provoke the collapse of this minority government.
Preparing for power
How quickly the wheel has turned. Jeremy Corbyn is correctly preparing for a new general election soon. In that event, given Corbyn’s popularity and left-wing programme, a Left Labour government could easily come to power. A recent Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times puts Labour on 46%, compared with 41% for the Tories. YouGov has Corbyn overtaking May for the first time as the best choice for prime minister.
The right wing nevertheless remain a Trojan horse within the Labour Party. They deliberately attempted to sabotage the recent general election, running their own local campaigns, with no mention of Corbyn, as well as carrying out a defensive national campaign from Labour HQ.
It was refreshing to hear Paul Mason, who attended a Progress (a Blairite group) annual conference debate, tell the Blairites that they should consider leaving Labour and set up their own party! “If it’s important to you to have a pro-Remain party that is in favour of illegal war, in favour of privatisation, form your own party and get on with it!”
He went on to say, “I’m not a Marxist, but real Marxists, unlike me, have a place inside Labour and always did have…”
We will certainly fight for a Labour government. But we need to go further, and that requires the implementation of a socialist programme. The reason for this is that a Left Labour government, once in office, would immediately face a campaign of vilification and sabotage on behalf of big business and the establishment. It must not surrender to this blackmail!
To counter this sabotage, Labour will need to take emergency measures to take the power out of the hands of this unelected elite minority. Labour in power should immediately take over the banks and insurance companies, without any compensation whatsoever to these rich parasites. Labour should then cancel the national debt - the capital of which has been repaid many times over - and instead use the funds for the good of the millions and not the millionaires. Providing cheap and available loans would end the crushing pressure on councils, tenants and homeowners. This would allow the public sector to build low-cost safe housing, schools and hospitals, without the burden of interest and debt hanging around their necks.
We should respond to the bosses’ “strike of capital” by taking immediate measures to bring into public ownership the major monopolies that dominate the economy and control 85% of the wealth. Labour could then introduce a socialist plan of production under democratic workers’ control and management for the benefit of everyone and not a billionaire clique.
This is the real way forward. We must take up the fight now. As Jeremy Corbyn last weekend, quoting Percy Shelley to a crowd of tens of thousands at Glastonbury:
“Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few."