As Theresa May lurched out onto the stage at this year’s Tory Party conference, swaying robotically to the sound of ABBA’s Dancing Queen, she will have been under no illusion as to the real state of the party she was about to address.
Haunted by memories of last year’s shambolic conference speech, the Prime Minister mounted the podium to deliver what she hoped was a rousing call for unity to a party in open civil war.
“Shared sacrifice”, “compromise” and the need to “come together” all featured highly in the Prime Minister’s speech, along with promises to “fix” broken markets, end austerity and tackle “burning injustices” to create “a better Britain”, not to mention the torrent of bile directed at Jeremy Corbyn and his “bogus solutions”.
In short, it was the same speech she has given since becoming Prime Minister, but this time with dancing. First as tragedy, then as farce, as Karl Marx once said.
However, beneath all the usual gloss, the message was clear: unite behind me and my Chequers deal, or the alternative will be Jeremy Corbyn in power. That threat has never been more real for the ruling class and the Tories’ fear has never been more palpable.
The Tory Party is facing its deepest ever crisis. Scenes of MPs and activists alike standing to applaud their beleaguered leader in the conference hall looked more like a panto than politics.
The real state of play could be felt outside the conference, where activists had lined the block to hear Boris Johnson lay into May for “forfeiting control” and betraying the country at his “Chuck Chequers rally”.
Johnson was not the only one. Ministers’ “keynote” speeches have been marked by low attendances, while the party faithful flocked to see the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Priti Patel and - of course - Johnson at a series of Hard Brexit fringe events.
Rumours of May’s departure by the end of next year abounded throughout the conference and were barely rejected by May’s own spokesperson.
Surrounded by adoring party activists, the leaders of the party’s powerful Hard Brexit wing vowed to “save Brexit” and condemned the government for its failure to uphold Thatcher’s “values”. Meanwhile, a number of Tory MPs attended Best for Britain’s fringe event on a second referendum: the cause celebre of Tory and Labour “moderates” alike.
And in the middle of this swirling whirlpool of mutual loathing sits Theresa May’s now infamous “Chequers compromise”, as dead a duck as ever did float, having been torpedoed by Brexiteers, Remainers, the EU and the DUP alike.
Wave of anger
So bad has the crisis become for the Tories that they can no longer even agree on their position on capitalism itself! The Maybot herself repeated word for word the same line she used a year ago, that the free market was “the greatest agent of collective human progress” ever created. But many Tories fear that their party is losing the argument to Corbyn’s popular left-wing policies. And none of them can agree on what to do about it.
Robert Halfon, a former minister, has written that, “the problem for Conservatives is that the Corbyn description of what is going on resonates with millions of people”. He has gone on to say: “If we don’t answer the growing unfairness and struggle in people’s everyday lives, Corbyn is going to sweep the board.”
The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has also talked of the need to “regenerate capitalism” - whatever that means.
That such a discussion could even be taking place at a Tory conference - barely a generation after the fall of the Soviet Union supposedly enshrined capitalism as the best of all possible worlds - is extremely telling. It shows just how deep the crisis of British capitalism is today; how much it is destroying the lives of millions of workers; and how popular Corbyn’s programme is, despite the years of slander thrown at him by Tories in parliament and the press.
May announced how proud the Tories should be of their “record” over the last eight years. After all, the deficit is down and unemployment is at record lows. But the real record of Tory rule has been one million more children in poverty than in 2010, an increase in child homelessness of over 80% since 2011, and the biggest drop in real wages of any OECD nation, to mention only a few statistics.
According to a study recently reported in the Financial Times, UK workers are now working harder than ever while productivity has stagnated. All the while, the profits of ruthless exploiters such as Amazon and Sports Direct are rising.
The introduction of universal credit, cruel in purpose and shambolic in execution, has led to parents in work skipping meals in order to ensure that their children eat three times a day.
The Tories have helped create a hell on earth for British workers, all to maintain a haven of profitability for British bosses. No wonder then, that many of Corbyn’s policies are supported by as much as 75% of people polled. This fact terrifies the Tories and the ruling class behind them even more than their growing split over Brexit.
Kick them out
This government is an empty, rudderless wreck, kept afloat only by the need to keep the Labour Party out of power and maintain the squeeze on British workers. If this proves enough to hold the Tories together, it is the responsibility of our movement to give them the final push out of Parliament and into the dustbin of history.
If we contrast the desperation of the Tories to the confidence shown at the Labour Party conference, we can see where the real power in society lies: in the millions of labour movement activists when they are mobilised to change society.
We support the call of Labour MP Laura Smith for a general strike to help bring down this government and put a socialist Labour government into power.
But the leadership of the trade union movement must begin to build for this now if it is to happen. We cannot be satisfied with simply demanding a fresh election in Parliament - we must be prepared to fight for it in the streets, in the schools and universities, and in workplaces up and down the country.
Corbyn’s most powerful weapon exists outside the Parliamentary Labour Party. It is time to use it: to democratically transform the PLP with socialist representatives of the working class in parliament; to sweep the Tories from power; and to wrest control of the economy from the hands of the bankers, the bosses, and their broken capitalist system.
This is the task facing our movement. Let us carry it out!