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  • Published in Analysis
tories out

Anti-Tory demonstration in London, 1 July 2017. Photo: Flickr/Jim Aindow

Both mainstream parties will continue their convulsive evolution in the coming year, writes Brian Heron

The Tories

As Brexit begins to open out Britain's long-term economic and social weaknesses (and Britain's PM, Teresa May, reveals that, following the instigation of her interviewer, she had 'shed a tear' when she realised her Tory Party had not won its expected landslide victory - but no tears over the Grenfell Tower tragedy) it is now time to draw an initial balance sheet of the UK's blossoming political crisis.

May should be weeping daily. Her attempt to dominate British politics via the June 8 General Election turned into its opposite. And the latest wave of Britain's political crisis starts from splits within Britain's ruling class over the EU, which are now overt. Top companies, most especially a section of the financial sector, are desperate not to find themselves marooned in the British Isles as their access to the EU ebbs away. The uberite service sector see their pools of cheap EU labour dwindling. The major cartel that is now 'further education' watches the drop in EU based applications just as their fees have been hyped to dramatic levels. Only export driven industry, responsible for a tiny proportion of the UK's GDP, welcomes sterling's fall. 

The cracks are now even cutting through single sectors. It is only one section of the financial sector that fears Brexit. Other globally based sharks, particularly US based investment funds, see a more than viable financial future (read pumped up profits) if Britain is outside the EU. Britain, as many commentators and leading politicians have now stated, might have to become the largest tax haven in the world. No deal is better than a bad deal said May. And for some, no deal is better than any deal. The US finance wizards have formed their own political bloc in the UK parliament led by Trade Minister Dr. Fox. His main work since June 8 has been to destroy his party's Chancellor, Hammond.   

These splits (and others - see below) are registering themselves front and centre in the limping minority Tory government. They currently take the form of arguments (in the Tory Party) about 'soft' and 'hard' Brexits, about possible 'transition phases', about the continuing role of the European Court of Justice and even whether the UK can manage its atomic energy via 'Euratom'. The so called 'Great Repeal Bill', designed to put all of the EU laws that the UK has adopted into solely British legislation, is already under siege right across Parliament.

As Parliament staggers into its summer recess May becomes less popular (Labour is five points ahead of the Tories at 46 per cent, stated the Sunday Times on 25 June. But May’s approval rating is at minus 17, a mirror opposite to Mr Corbyn’s plus 17.) May is significantly less popular than her party in all the polls since the General Election.

There is little doubt therefore that with Brexit getting harder and the economy weakening, that with May's descending popularity, Britain's teary PM will be first to go. An early election will then be forced by a Parliament that cannot agree on any of the key Brexit steps, also by a bumpy economic decline and by an anti-government mass movement that has already started and which wants to defend the majority against another potential economic and social disaster delivered by its rulers. 

However it would be a mistake to overestimate the fragility of the Tory Party's political life. Since the 1800s the British Tory Party has regrouped itself in the historic memory of a ruling class that came out of the 17th century revolution. And the principle in all of its various twists and turns, from the expansion of the franchise and the repeal of the Corn Laws onwards, has been to create and recreate a sovereign bloc that can resist insurgency and insurrection from 'beneath'. The Tory Party took a tremendous blow on June 8. And it has lost the political and social initiative in society. Millions of voters have taken a significant turn to the left. Nevertheless, at this moment of terrible weakness, and tortured as it is by its seething factions, the Tory Party scored 42% of the popular vote (out of the 69% of the electorate who voted.) Thatcher scored the same in 1982 and 1987, and with it destroyed the trade union movement and reordered society.

The political right in British society has not gone away. No doubt part of its general defeat in June was spun out of the initial victory of the far right in its identification of Brexit with racism - a shock across society that crystallised a left response that in turn changed the terms of the country's direction on several fronts. But the left's alternative remains untested. And as Europe's refugee crisis deepens so British racism (now led by PM May rather than the remains of UKIP) will be encouraged to rise again, if not to prevent Uber et al recruiting their workhorses, but rather to break up the momentum and coherence of the new Labour leadership's base in society - as a means to prevent radical change.

Labour

The triumph of Labour's new leadership has been, if anything, underestimated in the mainstream media. Corbyn's vote was the same as Blair's victory in the 2001 election. It was 11% higher than Gordon Brown's Labour vote in 2010 and 10% higher than Ed Miliband's Labour scored in 2015, meaning Corbyn would have won both elections. (This is not as abstract and fanciful as it sounds. For instance, imagine if Labour had fully and frontally confronted the banks in 2010 and refused to force austerity on working class people as the 'only way' to save the economy?)

Corbyn's election is aptly named. The bulk of Labour's MPs, after 18 months of hostility to Corbyn and two Party leadership elections, 'decided' that they would turn off their venom towards their Party leader while the election was on, 'to show' as several MPs explained to a cheerfully cynical media, 'that Labour's coming catastrophe was all Corbyn's fault.' When Corbyn and shadow Chancellor McDonnell left their election counts in the late evening of June 8, they went to Labour's election HQ only to find their electronic entry cards to the building no longer worked. (See the BBC's Political Editor on the BBC's election night programme who referred to the plan by party staff to remove Corbyn et al immediately following what they still believed to the bitter end would be a Tory landslide.) The bulk of the parliamentary Labour Party were more hostile towards Corbyn than to a victory by the Tories. A decisive defeat of Corbyn by the Tories meant success to most Labour MPs and was to be the signal for the proper Labour Party to re-emerge.

Instead Corbyn, and more significantly his Labour Manifesto, mobilised millions of voters and has set the political direction in the country for a different future.

The paradox here is that while the modern Tory Party is riveted with factions, intrigue and malice, is currently exhausted and totally unable to give a lead to society, it is the Labour Party that faces a real seismic breach. The divisions in the Tory Party are divisions that echo internal ruling class differences. Those between the two wings of Labour, the bulk of the membership and the Corbyn leadership on the one hand and the Party apparatus and most MPs on the other, is not an internal class matter. Labour has always uneasily represented both main social classes. Now Labour's virulent internal argument sums up nothing less than the division between those two main social classes. The Labour Party faces the clash between classes, with contradictory interests, that cannot be healed.

By way of an example; Labour Peer, Lord Sainsbury, ex supporter of Labour's last right wing split, the SDP, who has given more than £3 million to 'Progress', the Blairite wing of Labour since 2004, also provides 'core funds' to 'Policy Network'. This operation, led by Blair supporter Mandelson, runs on over £900,000 a year and reaches out beyond Labour MPs like Chuka Umunna to Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable and Tory Nicky Morgan. Umunna led the first break from Labour after the June 8 election, rounding up 50 of his fellow Labour MPs and 51 others from the Tories and the Liberals to vote for the 'EU's single market'. (In reality this vote had no other significance than the establishment of a distinct alternative 'political platform' in the new parliament.)

Blair has re-entered the British political stage with an explicit goal of the recreation of a centrist political bloc in Parliament. Jonathan Freedland, the British Guardian newspaper columnist, has published a call for a second referendum on the EU. 

A clear statement has now been made. And while the British ruling class may be at odds with itself regarding the future of physiognomy of Brexit, one thing remains inviolable. No British government can be allowed to challenge ruling class rule. The key object in the here and now of any 'centrist' regroupment in Parliament is first and foremost to block Corbyn (and the mass membership of the Labour Party - and the growing movement in the country to end austerity.) While Tories hammer away at Corbyn's 'extreme' programme, the emerging Labour 'centrists' will use the call for a new referendum to split Corbyn's new base in society.

Prospects

Taken as a whole, both the main parties, for different reasons, are unable yet to 'solve' or even moderate Britain's political crisis, and there will be further, convulsive evolution across all mainstream parties and political movements throughout Britain in the next year.

The 2016 EU Brexit referendum is now ancient news as history and Britain's political crisis speeds up. A mainstream rightwing coalesced around Brexit in 2016, using racism to build its influence and carve away traditional Labour voters within society. The new right was rapidly absorbed by the Tory government and then the new right wing's leading personnel knocked themselves to pieces in their craven ambition to 'take it all.'  May emerged as Tory leader and the saviour of the the far right's agenda. But the 2017 General Election 'over-determined' the political impact of the 2016 EU referendum. May found herself facing a reunited working class movement behind a radical Labour manifesto and, at the same time, a centrist push by big capital and its political allies to stop a tax-haven Brexit.

The potential economic restructuring emerging from Brexit will create further alarm among Britain's capitalist class. This will emerge either cautiously, with a growing number of calls to re-run the referendum (a new referendum which would now have the effect of entirely preventing radical answers to an already sick system in favour of a return to an enfeebled, failing and unwanted status quo) or instead offensively with the demand to launch the US (read tax-haven) option, where all basic work takes place under the old, Third World type conditions. Meanwhile austerity's strain on, and sometime disintegration of, public services will deepen - with increasingly dire results in larger society.

The fight among the Tories will ebb and flow while it retains its core purpose. The paradox for the Labour leadership and its party members is that they have to promote their battle within the party apparatus and break the new 'platform' emerging in Parliament. The Labour leadership and the party's membership has their 'real enemy' presiding among many of their own MPs. The struggle inside the Labour party, led by the leadership, is a crucial part of Labour's way forward if it is to guarantee Labour's radical promise to survive as an option, as an alternative choice to austerity and impoverishment.  

The arrival of the Corbyn campaign, currently in the established lead of the Labour Party, combined with mass action and huge movements in the population for basic rights and an end to the plague of inequality, are potentially the new political factors that can break the mainstream political logjam. The political moment of now, of one month, of one year, of two years, is fraught with both danger and possibility.  However history ticks away, the initiative taken up by the left must be acted on instantly. May and her sack of Tory cats must be torn away. A new election must be held. Another election cannot win for the people unless it is accompanied by an emergency Labour Party Conference, with its own internal election, that must ring the party changes needed to carry through Labour's Manifesto.

The SNP experienced a retreat in Scotland on June 8. They had fought the 2017 election on the call for another independence referendum. They were pushed back because, like the EU vote in 2016 being repeated now, it has already become the wrong referendum. Scots did not see in 2017 the overwhelming need to have a country based on a timid SNP future. But Britain and all of its nations do need new referenda, a new General Election, not on the EU, not on the prospect of an eternal mediocre SNP, but rather on the sort of society, the sort of countries that people want to have in England, Scotland, in Wales and in Northern Ireland - after facing a decade and more of living in a Britain that is progressively and rapidly and angrily - not what they want.

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