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  • Published in Opinion
Theresa May at Hampton Court in 2014. Photo: Flickr/Surrey County Council News

Theresa May at Hampton Court in 2014. Photo: Flickr/Surrey County Council News

This is the start of a new phase of the crisis, not the end of it, writes John Rees

The Tory government's existential crisis is the latest product of the single overriding contradiction at the heart of British politics. Ever since the Referendum, it's been clear that the overwhelming majority of British big business (99 out of the corporations in the FTSE 100) want to remain in the EU. But, even though the majority of Tory MPs want to remain in the EU as well, the Tories were saddled with the referendum as a product of David Cameron's hubris and their own right wing's intransigence. Once a majority took the vote as a chance to kick the political establishment there was no easy way to walk away from Brexit.

That leaves big business ranged against the government party of big business. And it leaves the Tory party irreparably divided in a way that it has never been since Robert Peel split the party over the Corn Laws in the 1840s (then as now a divide between protectionism and free-traders).

We cannot know how soon Theresa May will be toppled, but it looks like it will be sooner rather than later. Even a strong and stable Prime Minister would find it hard to carry on after losing a Foreign Secretary and three other ministers in a single day... right in the middle of the negotiations which one of those ministers is supposed to be fronting up.

Neither can we know who would then lead the Tory party. But the bookies money is all on Brexiteers- Gove, Rees-Mogg, Johnson. And given that the new leader will be chosen by the members of the Tory party (average age 70), who are likely to vote for a Brexiteer, that looks like a safe bet. But if simply deepens the fundamental chasm between big business and the Tories.

UK big business and their EU allies are increasingly looking to the Labour Party to deliver them from the chronic, systemic incompetence of the Tory party. And most Labour MPs would love to help.

Stuffed shirt lawyer Kier Starmer is signalling like a sailor lost at sea that he'd love to deliver a soft Brexit and is constantly trailing his openness to a second referendum. Chuka Umunna and his allies would love to deliver the double whammy of defeating Corbyn and defeating Brexit.

As often with Chuka, this is a terrifically dim idea. Dumping Brexit would both disappoint and enrage Leave voters by reinforcing their fear that however you vote the establishment always gets what it wants. Tommy Robinson's newly risen street movement are waiting in the wings to pounce on such disappointment and augment their ranks, just as they have already absorbed the rump of the electorally defeated UKIP.

If that were added to any defeat for Corbyn, internal or electoral, then the hope sustaining millions of working people would be extinguished and a very dark place would open up in UK politics. Think Italy.

There is no way out of this impasse in purely electoral terms. We all want a Corbyn government, but Labour in power will be constantly dragging the ball and chain of a majority Remain PLP around until it is exhausted by the effort. May's fate today can be Corbyn's after a year in government, but from the opposite side of the Brexit debate.

Labour can only win if it is bolder than it is now. It can only win if it mobilises beyond the electoral field. The mass movement against Trump will involve many Labour party members. But the Labour leader should be there too, and the story in the Guardian that he is not planning to join the protest on Friday should be shut down by his press team.

And consider this: what if Labour followed up the NHS march with organising their members to strike and protest against NHS privatisation now. Not wait until a Labour government is elected, but to actually fight now. The whole movement would be empowered and energised by such a strategy. It would be an election winning strategy as well as, and more importantly, improving working people's lives now.

That is what working people want, whether they voted leave or remain. A party that was tough on Brexit and tough on the causes of Brexit, the poverty and exclusion, the low pay and the failing services, would unite workers and reset the broken political system.

Whether or not the Labour leadership throw themselves into this, the rest of the labour movement needs to move sharply in this direction. The government is weak and failing. Now is the time to strike a decisive blow.

John Rees

John Rees

John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher) and ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German). He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.

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