The EU referendum is just one of many problems facing our rulers
The cruellest attacks often come from one’s own side. Cameron already knew this, but Michael Portillo’s blast from the Andrew Neil sofa must have stung. Portillo’s reinvention after the devastating defeat of 1997 helped set the tone for Cameron’s hug-a-husky makeover of the Conservative party.
His denunciation of the government as being in a state of “total paralysis” and its only objective now was to rescue the career and reputation of its hapless leader had more truth in it than at first meets the eye.
He rounded off his attack by saying that “the government has nothing to do, nothing to say and thinks nothing”. If only that was true. The Tories are pressing ahead with attacks on housing, the NHS and education trying to complete the work of Thatcher.
But these are all increasingly misfiring, for all Cameron and Co. are doing is pushing tired nostrums from a neo-liberal philosophy whose appeal has long since waned.
The people of this country in fact decisively rejected Thatcherism in 1997. New Labour revived and reheated it, but was then only able to get people to swallow it by sugaring the pill with big public spending increases.
The Tories thought they would get a chance to complete the “Thatcher ‘revolution” in 2010 in the wake of the Great Recession and the collapse of New Labour’s Faustian Pact. And they did indeed inflict massive suffering with their roll back of public spending.
But mass revulsion at the effects of austerity is now starting to be felt even amongst the Tories’ own ranks.
It has also started to unravel, with Corbyn’s leadership of the party, what Thatcher called her greatest achievement: the shift massive to the right by Labour.
Mass rejection of the entire neo-liberal project is also being felt in the referendum. Millions of working class people will vote to leave because they think that the EU is distant, beyond their control and basically undemocratic. All these things are true, which is why the left of the Labour Party long backed leaving. The failure of the left to give leadership over this issue will damage Labour and threatens to open up a space for UKIP and the populist right.
But Portillo is right. The current Conservative leadership has been lucky – they have been getting away with it. They do not have a radical new project as Thatcher did (even if its aim was a return to good old fashioned exploitation). They are the fag end of the failed and corrupt elite which Thatcherism produced. The last Caesars, the accidental leaders of a decadent and decaying regime.
Resistance in Britain has been slower to develop than elsewhere, the cancer of social liberalism and class collaboration having spread far through the labour movement during many years of defeat, but the fight back has clearly began with teachers and health workers leading the way.
This explains the establishment’s turn to scapegoating and the media’s obsession with migrants and the threat they supposedly pose to us.
This is part of a Europe-wide strategy. Resistance to austerity is growing and the parties that implement it are seeing their core votes being eroded.
The left bounces back
The media drums out the message about the migrants and refugees day after day telling us that this is causing a rise of the right, and thus also creating it themselves. But they ignore the challenge from the left which is growing.
Syriza’s rise to power was a massive challenge to the EU and the powers that be, but they thought they saw it off when they forced the party’s surrender last summer. Not quite. Working class resistance has continued and the movements have bounced back more, and are more radical than ever.
France is seeing a rebirth of resistance amongst youth, and strikes against the government are growing. The Socialist Party government is making one last throw of the neo-liberal dice pushing through labour reform with draconian powers and backed by repression. But if the economy fails to revive, which seems likely as such policies have failed nearly everywhere else, they risk Pasokifacation in the next election, opening a massive space on the left.
In Spain the Unidos Podemos alliance of the left may be on the verge of a breakthrough similar to Syriza’s in 2012, but in a country five times larger than Greece.
Fortunately things are looking brighter than that decade. In much of Western Europe at least it is the left which is growing again. In the US Sanders is also spurring a rebirth of the left. The Greek debacle though also shows us why we cannot just depend on the winning elections. Mass movements have to be built in communities, on the streets and in the workplace.
After half a decade of failed austerity it is the right’s ideological cupboard which is looking bare.
All they are left with to defend their unjust and unequal system is fear and division. The campaign against migrants, which fits hand in glove with the Islamophobia which Western states have been fermenting for two decades, is the cutting edge. The result is the rise of parties like the the National Front in France, AfD in Germany and the Freedom Party in Austria. The parallels with the 1930s are too great to ignore.
The lessons from then are clear: the movements have to unite in the face of the evil of racism and defend those scapegoated. The right cannot be out-bid in such matters. Pandering to prejudice only further fans the flames of bigotry.
That is why initiatives such as the the People’s Convoy is so important. In opposition to their Fortress Europe we stand for a Europe united by the struggle of its peoples and for unity built across borders from below.
We live in dangerous times. The old order is dying and in its death throes it is calling up all the evils of the past. To create a better world we need to go to the root of things. We need radical ideas and unity in action.