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Theresa May, November 2018. Photo: Flickr/Number 10

Theresa May, November 2018. Photo: Flickr/Number 10

Power concedes nothing without demand, and it's time we demand a general election to get the Tories out

The Tories have been in power for almost nine years. In that time, they have wreaked unspeakable havoc on people’s lives while all the while making the rich richer.

A fifth of Britain’s population, some 14 million people, now live in poverty, but Britain is also home to the largest number of billionaires in the world and corporate tax evasion is rife.

It is not hard to see why. The Tories are the party of the 1%. Their response to economic crisis is to make ordinary people pay for the disasters caused by the big business and banking establishment.

A study published in 2017 in BMJ Open argued that Tory austerity policies have caused the needless deaths of 120,000 people. This figure was projected to rise to 152,141 deaths by 2020.

The crisis in the NHS keeps getting worse. Headlines point to rising numbers waiting in A&E for more than 12 hours, staff facing stress and burnout rates, and deaths increasing in the winter.

Homelessness affects over 4,500 people a night. Food bank networks like the Trussel Trust are handing out millions of food packs a year, compared to just 41,000 in 2009/10.

For anyone in work, life is becoming unbearable. According to the government, over 11 million days are lost at work per year because of stress.

Indeed, three quarters of people in the UK reported feeling ‘overwhelmed or unable to cope’ over the preceding year in a survey in May 2018.

This is probably only getting worse with cuts to public services, like schools and transport, continuing. Even going to university has become a source of debt slavery instead of life opportunity.

Everywhere you turn, Tory rule has caused chaos and misery. Now, the government seems unable even to pass its flagship policies.

It has delayed multiple votes in Parliament, from the roll out of Universal Credit to Theresa May’s shambolic Brexit deal that fails to please even her own party.

Brexit has indeed unleashed the kind of civil war like no other policy debate could in the Tory party.

As a party of the establishment, the Tories do not blink twice when implementing measures that ruin ordinary people’s lives, as long as these measures serve the interests of the bosses.

But on Brexit they are divided. The majority feel they need to deliver on a Brexit vote, but they do so reluctantly. This is because large sections of big business have been opposed to Brexit - in June 2018, a record 75 percent of major British companies expressed pessimism about Brexit.

They have thus pressed for as frictionless a deal for trade and financial services as possible. And they could swallow May’s deal with the EU on that basis.

But there is a problem gathering enough votes in Parliament. May’s deal in many ways leaves the UK a rule-taker from Brussels. The proposed Irish border backstop that would facilitate no hard border in the event that the UK leaves the EU without securing an all-encompassing deal is also a sticking point.

A sizeable chunk of Tory MPs – as well as the DUP – find these compromises intolerable and think a ‘no deal’ Brexit is the only option that safeguards British sovereignty. Some hold on to a fundamentalist belief in a low-tax, low-regulation economy, which requires a total break from the EU.

A vote on May’s deal was due to take place on Tuesday, 11 December, but May postponed it for fear that she faced defeat in the Commons. Many other parties in Parliament, like the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the SNP are against Brexit and would certainly vote the deal down.

So would Labour. But, like the Tories, Labour is divided on Brexit. Although two thirds of Labour supporters voted remain in the referendum, one third backed Brexit. A majority of the Party’s constituencies voted leave, unlike those of the Lib Dems, Plaid and the SNP, which were largely in favour of remaining.

Labour therefore articulated a compromise position. Corbyn has continued to argue that Labour should respect the referendum result but also criticise the kind of Brexit offered by the Tories, since it safeguards the interests of big business, but not of workers, oppressed groups or the environment.

Were this not the position, it is not impossible that May could conjure up enough Labour MPs from strongly leave constituencies to pass her deal. But this way, May’s position is unlikely to hold. Moreover, there is no appetite for a ‘no deal’ in Parliament, which could effectively stop a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

In this context, Corbyn is right to have said that ‘no deal’ amounts to ‘Project Fear’ by May. It represents her attempt to scare MPs to vote for her deal, lest they let Britain crash out of the EU. Since ‘no deal’ is a highly improbable scenario, it is highly likely that a vote on May’s deal would still lead to her defeat.

And that would inevitably, sooner rather than later, cause a crisis for her premiership. Whether May endures a defeat in a direct vote or admits defeat by once again trying to postpone one, it is highly unlikely that the EU would give her another, better deal, which has been made clear multiple times. Thus, losing the vote would lead to a logical question: what next?

To argue in these circumstances for a second referendum to reverse Brexit – a so-called ‘People’s Vote’ – would amount to giving May and the Tories a lifeline. Without a general election, the Tories could remain in government and serve out the rest of their term, whatever the result of any new referendum. They could continue their cruel austerity programme for years.

The left has a duty to stop the Tory cuts and reverse austerity. This means that the current parliamentary impasse has got to be turned into a crisis of confidence in the Tory government. If the Tories cannot pass legislation and govern, then they should not govern. Logically, this means a return to the people – in the form of a general election.

We must be clear that only a Corbyn-led government could end austerity. But it is clear a Corbyn-led government would come under huge pressure from the establishment to be as moderate as possible by, for example, maintaining defence spending and dropping plans for large-scale nationalisation.

Such moderation would be guaranteed under EU laws and regulations if Labour were to commit to reversing Brexit. So the clamour for a ‘People’s Vote’ is in fact a pre-emptive strike not against Brexit but against a socialist government. Big business could live with May’s Brexit, but what they would most like to avoid is a Corbyn premiership.

All levers will be used, in finance, the media, the civil service and the dark arts to prevent Corbyn from taking office, and, if he is in office, from exercising real power. To get the kind of radical change we need, we need to mobilise a mass extra-parliamentary movement like the Gilets Jaunes in France to get a general election, reverse austerity and end establishment rule once and for all.

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