After the catastrophic loss in Parliament, it's clear the Tories are unable to govern and Theresa May should already have resigned, argues Chris Nineham
The defeat was record breaking. Easily. Nothing comparable has ever happened to a government in the whole history of parliament. The previous biggest margin of defeat was 166 for the MacDonald Labour government in 1924. But that was over the government's decision to drop criminal proceedings against John Ross Campbell, editor of the Communist newspaper Workers' Weekly, not over the central political issue of the day. May’s government has now been defeated more than thirty times in the House of Commons, often on key planks of legislation.
This scale of defeat is remarkable in itself, and speaks of a government that is not just unfit, but unable to govern. But what is, if possible, even more extraordinary is that in the wake of this defeat there are not deafening calls from all sides of politics and from the media for Theresa May to resign and for an immediate general election. This is the normal process in Britain when a government loses, even narrowly, on key pieces of legislation, let alone when it has faced this kind of a rout. The fact that these kinds of calls are only coming with any conviction from MPs around Jeremy Corbyn is enabling Theresa May to say with a straight face that she is going back to Europe to continue the negotiations. This is surreal.
The reason why there are so few calls for Theresa May to resign is simple. Interviewed on the BBC after the defeat, Boris Johnson made it absolutely clear why he was voting with the government in the no confidence motion which Labour has tabled for Wednesday night. It is, he said, ‘because I don’t want to see a Jeremy Corbyn government’. This is the issue that is holding together a deeply fractious Tory Party. For them, as for the wider establishment, keeping Corbyn out is more important than the battle over Brexit.
As Corbyn himself has been arguing, despite the media’s obsession, and despite the passion on both sides, Brexit is actually not the most important division in British politics. The central issue is that Britain is suffering from a level of misery, inequality and general breakdown not seen since the Second World War. Millions of people, Labour’s natural constituents, are crying out for change and if a general election was called, the Corbyn leadership would be able to give expression to that desire and would at least have a chance of fashioning a Brexit that would make change possible.
This is why it is so irresponsible for so many Labour MPs to be focussing their energies on a second referendum rather than an election. Quite simply they are allowing the most illegitimate government in post war British history to limp on despite the untold damage it is wreaking.
Wednesday’s no confidence motion is crucial. Hopefully, it will be enough to bring down the government. If not, we need the whole of the trade union movement, every community, campaigning and faith organisations, student unions and the whole of the left inside and outside the Labour Party to come together in a monumental campaign to force an election and get rid of May.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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