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  • Published in Opinion
Photo: Shabbir Lakha

Photo: Shabbir Lakha

The Tories are just about holding on out of fear for a Corbyn government, but as the crisis they're in grows they're falling apart argues Lindsey German

"Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad". The phrase is supposed to originate from Greek tragedy – most likely Sophocles’ play about the wonderful tragic heroine Antigone. It is perhaps a bit overblown then to apply it to the bunch of Gradgrinds, charlatans, bigots and failed politicians who make up the present British government. Yet any description of their present behaviour must recognise that their refusal to recognise reality is leading the Tory government towards its own destruction. This path began with David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on the EU, and the now painfully obvious fact that no planning for a Leave vote was ever made. It continued with Theresa May’s calling of an election which led to the hung parliament.

Attempts to create a façade of unity fell apart spectacularly at the Tory party conference, the nadir of which was May’s catastrophic speech. Since then, renewed civil war has broken out in the government, most recently focused on calls for the sacking of chancellor Philip Hammond. His crime is supposedly not allocating sufficient money to planning for Britain to leave the EU with no deal. We are now in a situation where there are calls for a reshuffle to replace him with Michael Gove (what could possibly go wrong?), and possibly also Boris Johnson. It is hard to see how that can lead to greater stability in the Tory party. It would probably bring about her downfall sooner rather than later.

More importantly, all this has led to complete impasse in government. The Brexit bill has been delayed, faced as it is with 300 amendments and with the government recognising that it does not have a majority to get it through parliament. A government deeply divided, lacking a majority in parliament and with a lame duck leader is incapable of getting through any major domestic legislation, and is heading towards no deal over Europe despite the intentions of some of the government. 

It seems to me that the EU negotiators original punishment beating strategy has morphed into the belief that if they just stand pat and block any deal the default position will be to remain in the EU, especially if Labour becomes the government. 

But for now, the government holds together – just – because it and its backers are terrified of an election and the very likely outcome of Corbyn as prime minister. Employers, bankers, the media, and the rich and powerful regard this as disastrous, and the Tories keep repeating (as Nicky Morgan did on the Peston show yesterday) that the country doesn’t want another election. Really? They want this lot to carry on? 

Its pathetic attempts to steal some of Jeremy Corbyn’s clothes will do nothing to deal with the problems of housing, of student fees, and of public services. A report last week on public infrastructure paints a really shameful picture. Britain was at the top of the G7 countries in terms of government infrastructure investment in 1970; now it is near the bottom. Government housing policies are leading to record construction company profits but a continued assault on council housing. 

While the Tories fixate on the issue which has divided them for decades now, there are major concerns which probably bother most people rather more. The first is the coming winter NHS crisis, now highlighted by Jeremy Hunt’s astonishing advice that you should have to visit a doctor before heading to A&E (cue raucous laughter at the thought of trying to get a doctor’s appointment when in need of urgent treatment). The second is the crisis of the benefits system, which is coming, with the introduction of universal credit. The third is continued discontent over the public sector pay cap, evidenced by demonstrations around the country this week. So, I would say the political system isn’t settling down anytime soon. 

The most open dirty secret 

The Harvey Weinstein story is so horrible at so many levels. He was so obviously and so openly what Emma Thompson called a predator, and it is all too clear that this was common knowledge right across Hollywood and in related circles. There were many victims who did not speak out, and those who did, or who rejected his advances, found their careers derailed. There were, we now know, a number of settlements to women, and there were journalistic investigations. But for years, he continued to be one of the most powerful men in the industry, influential with politicians including Clinton and Obama, and seemingly untouchable. 

It is to the credit of a number of actors that they have determined to speak out now, many of them regretting that they had not done so earlier. It is much less to the credit of many others that they stood by as all this happened. In some parts, the story reflects the culture of Hollywood, where any cursory glance at actors’ memoirs going back 70 or 80 years demonstrates similar behaviour. The highly intelligent, beautiful, and political Marilyn Monroe, who suffered much from such people, described Hollywood as ‘the most overcrowded brothel in the world’. 

Yet we know this is not confined to a small number of people in the film industry. I found particularly chilling the recorded conversation between a woman who accused him of abuse and Weinstein. He was putting real pressure on her to come to his room, saying that she shouldn’t fall out with him and promising he wouldn’t do anything. She sounded really distressed and frightened. It made me think that most women have endured some of this sort of pressure – from employers, teachers, relatives, priests. It may fall short of actual sexual assault but it is unacceptable pressure which many women can’t deal with. And especially when you are a young woman, it is often very difficult to know how to respond. If you are desperate for a job, you are also under immense pressure not to upset your actual or potential employer. 

This sort of sexual harassment will be familiar to many women, who might perhaps had thought that by the 21st century it would be a thing of the past. Not a bit of it. In a world marked by individualism on the one hand, deep levels of inequality on the other, where everyone is told that they have to sell themselves to get a job, and where people face high levels of insecurity and precarity, it is almost certainly getting worse. Power relations mean that the BBC, Miramax, and no doubt many other major corporations, turn a blind eye to what is going on among the likes of Weinstein or Jimmy Savile. Lots of people know, but it remains the most open dirty secret. 

It is a reminder that women don’t ‘have it all’, that ‘empowerment’ and ‘choice’ don’t bring liberation, and that society remains deeply sexist. Women’s oppression isn’t a lifestyle choice, it’s endemic to the rotten society in which we live.

Trump opens up on two fronts

It’s quite remarkable to listen to an average radio news programme discuss the mental health of the president of the United States. Yet that was the situation this weekend, as a serious debate occurred on Trump’s state of mind. The immediate context was his declaration on Friday that he was aiming to sabotage the nuclear deal with Iran. Such was the opposition to this that the British foreign office put out a neat little graphic showing that Iran was complying with the deal and stating categorically that it would continue to support the deal. 

The consequences of Trump's actions could be calamitous. Backed by Israel, it can lead to further conflict in the Middle East, and to an escalation of nuclear conflict. Already some in Iran will draw the conclusion that deals don't work and that Iran needs nuclear weapons. Even Hillary Clinton has expressed surprise that Trump is doing this at a time when tension over North Korea is rising. There are rumours in recent weeks that even White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is resigning. 

When Trump first took office, his warmongering didn't appear to be top of the agenda. Nine months on, it looks very different. The policy on Iran is dangerous, as is that on North Korea. The wars in Syria and Iraq are entering new phases, with the defeat of Isis on the horizon, and with clashes between the Iraqi government and the Kurds. 

These questions are central to British politics, not peripheral to them. Those in Labour who think they can be ignored - or even that more money needs to be spent on defence - are not only doing the left a disservice. They are also missing an opportunity to land some blows on Trump. And the only people that benefits are the Tories and the warmongers.

 

This week, in London, John Rees will be asking THE question of the moment - What happens if Corbyn gets elected?


Also coming up, Storming the heavens: The Russian Revolution 100 years on. Speakers include Danielle Obono, Judy Cox, Stathis Kouvelakis, John Rees and Alan Gibbons.

Lindsey German

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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