The Tories are in crisis and are not fit to govern, argues Katherine Connelly
In the last 24 hours it has become apparent that the Tory rebels, the Brexiteers who were always a minority group among the MPs, have not yet gained nearly enough support to trigger a vote of no confidence in Theresa May. Worse still for them, key Brexit supporting MPs Michael Gove and Liam Fox have extended carefully worded support for the Prime Minister... for now.
The EU referendum plunged the Conservative Party into an existential crisis. Most leading Conservative MPs were fully supportive of EU membership, with its facilitation of globalised neoliberal capitalism and successful intimidation of the Greek Syriza government when it dared to contemplate resistance to austerity. The EU referendum was Cameron’s attempt to discipline the maverick MPs within his own party and quash UKIP, who were proving increasingly attractive to the membership of the Conservative Party.
Cameron thought he could re-enact the Scottish referendum over the EU: he assumed he’d win and then he could justify shelving the issue. What actually happened has been a nightmare for the Conservative leadership as they were left to implement a referendum decision they fundamentally disagreed with and which, crucially, put the party of British capitalism at odds with the interests of big business in this country.
May has negotiated a deal that keeps much of the economic control of the EU and allows for a repressive approach towards immigration, which will appeal to much of Tory Party but will also alienate the most ardent Brexiteers including the arch-reactionary Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who are propping up her government. This is a gamble to try and realign the Conservative Party with big business by ensuring leaving the EU is as much like remaining in the EU as possible. Although yesterday it seemed as though the whole deal might be torn up by a Tory rebellion, the failure of that to unfold so far has strengthened the establishment who are now signalling their support for the deal.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has leant its support to the deal and business leaders in Northern Ireland have started to exert pressure on the DUP to revise its position. May’s gamble is to rework Project Fear: uncertainty (for capitalism), cliff edges, chaos are all being conjured up in a desperate attempt to scare the House of Commons into voting for the deal. The EU is strengthening her hand by insisting that this is the only deal that Britain will be ‘offered’.
It’s not just a no-deal Brexit that the establishment are afraid of. They are desperately afraid that the fall of May could result in a Corbyn government and therefore desperately want to avoid a general election. There is, however, a real possibility that May’s Project Fear approach to the deal will either backfire, with a Tory rebellion forcing her resignation, or that the deal will be voted down in Parliament. In that case, the establishment’s Plan B will clearly be to back the call for a second referendum, already loudly promoted by an unedifying coalition including Tony Blair, a collection of Tory MPs, Blairite Labour MPs who are intent on removing Corbyn, and the Liberal Democrats. A second referendum would be a profound injustice: it would deeply alienate a large number of working-class voters who supported Leave and it would salvage this wreckage of a government.
That would be unforgivable. Under the mantra of austerity and economic responsibility, this government are waging a huge assault on working-class people. The UN poverty envoy’s report released today has judged that poverty in the UK is a “political choice” by a government that has inflicted “great misery” on its people. The welfare state is under sustained attack while food banks and other emergency charitable measures are becoming institutionalised. The austerity cuts have exacerbated existing oppressions, the UN envoy stating that it breaches four UN human rights agreements with regards to economic and social rights, disabled people, children and women, commenting “If you got a group of misogynists in a room and said how can we make this system work for men and not for women they would not have come up with too many ideas that are not already in place”. The group in the room is our government.
Today, Theresa May has been filling the Cabinet posts made vacant by yesterday’s resignations. The new Work and Pensions Secretary is Amber Rudd. That is the same Amber Rudd who herself resigned over the appalling treatment of the Windrush generation. Due to government blunders and the racist ‘hostile environment’ the government fostered, the generation that helped rebuild Britain after the Second World War found themselves objects of suspicion and the victims of injustices, with some being unlawfully deported. The Windrush generation are now all pensioners – it is outrageously insulting that, to save May’s career, Rudd has been brought back into government and made responsible for pensions.
If the treatment of the Windrush generation became a symbol of government callousness inflicting injustice, so too has Universal Credit – a new welfare payment which is currently being rolled out across the country despite the fact that it has been widely criticised for leaving so many people destitute, relying on food banks and fearing eviction while they wait for money to which they are entitled. Upon her appointment Rudd described Universal Credit as doing “some fantastic things”.
These people are not fit to govern. We should reject the establishment’s selfish solutions which will only perpetuate misery for the vast majority of us. We should demand nothing less than a general election and back Corbyn’s plans for a ‘people’s Brexit’ that prioritises the needs of ordinary people. The current deal and the second referendum plans are intended to maintain the status quo – and we cannot afford that.
Kate Connelly is a writer and historian. She led school student strikes in the British anti-war movement in 2003, co-ordinated the Emily Wilding Davison Memorial Campaign in 2013 and is a leading member of Counterfire. She wrote the acclaimed biography, 'Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire' and recently edited and introduced 'A Suffragette in America: Reflections on Prisoners, Pickets and Political Change'.
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