Drug scandals are just the icing on the cake for an imploding and decrepit Tory party, argues Lindsey German
Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. In recent days, an unprecedented number of Tory ministers and leadership candidates have admitted to taking class A drugs, among them the unlikely figure of Michael Gove. It’s unclear whether they are doing so to make themselves appear more edgy and interesting, or because a tabloid has the dirt on them. The Tory leaders are obviously used to paying for drugs. If they get their hands on the NHS we all will be.
They have also been vying to develop policies which will help them in the elections, not just on Brexit which they’re all promising to implement as soon as possible, but also on more bizarre subjects. Rory Stewart, who has swapped walking across Afghanistan for trailing around the market in Lewisham, has declared that he wants a national civilian service, not military, but really a copycat of the old military service which was phased out back in the '50s. This, Stewart believes, will bring together people from different backgrounds and build character just like the army does. You really couldn’t make this stuff up.
And while we’re on the subject why hasn’t Theresa gone? June 7 was meant to be her departure date, when the Pickford's van drove up to the door of Downing St. Now we’re told that she will continue as acting prime minister and Tory leader until the three-ring circus that is the leadership contest comes to its gruesome conclusion. More, she is intending to spend her final days in government allocating more money to ‘legacy’ causes. Shame no one told her that’s something you should do when you become prime minister, not at the end of your term in office.
So the historic party of the British ruling class flounders, its new leader likely to be a man who will make as disastrous a prime minister as he did foreign secretary - venal, shifty, dishonest - and who will be chosen by an ageing and dwindling Tory membership without recourse to the electorate as a whole.
The Tory shambles is of course about much more than the weaknesses of its various contenders for leadership. The referendum on Europe deepened rather than minimised the divisions within the party. Its membership mostly now holds a view of Europe at odds with the large majority of the British ruling class, and despite David Cameron’s attempts at supposed ‘modernisation’, remains wedded to a view of Britain more in tune with the 1950s than today. That is why so many Tory members and voters have eagerly leapt at the chance to vote for Farage’s Brexit party.
While the Tory dream is that Johnson (or possibly one of his rivals) is anointed, delivers preferably a no deal Brexit and then calls a snap election, it is the job of the left to deny them this agenda. We have to demand a new general election - a prospect which terrifies the Tories and Corbyn’s enemies in Labour more than anything else. We also need to fight against Farage and his right wing friends. The more electoral success the Brexit Party has, the more it pushes society to the right, the more it also pushes the Tories even further to imitate their racist and nationalistic policies.
A victory Labour’s right did not want
The result of the Peterborough by-election was to deny the Farage Brexit Party its first MP. This is hugely important given the party’s success in the EU elections and the way they would have used such a position. The result has confirmed the Tories’ worst fears, that they are likely to lose any election to Labour, and a strong showing by the Brexit Party will only make that more likely.
This was by any standards a remarkable result. Let’s remember that everyone in the media and psephological pundits predicted that the Brexit Party would walk it. This was after Brexit got 38% in the constituency for the EU election and where Peterborough voted 60% to leave the EU in 2016. The bookies had odds of 1/6 on Brexit winning, and even on the day before voting Labour’s odds were shortened only to 5/1. Yet Labour won, albeit on a much reduced vote, in a seat which was always a marginal and where the previous MP had been forced to resign in disgrace.
The victory showed the importance of mass mobilisation by Labour which claims that over 1000 activists turned out to help get their vote out. It is this method which succeeded in 2017 and it needs to be repeated in a future election to counter the media bias against Labour and Corbyn in particular. It also showed that for many people the endless arguments over Brexit are not the most important thing in their lives, and that Labour’s insistence on talking about issues like the NHS and education is right.
While Labour’s vote fell, and while Brexit took votes from both main parties, it is clear from this result that the damage to the Tories was substantially greater and that there will be a number of cases where a split right wing vote can let in Labour on a relatively low vote. Hence the fears from the right and hence the attempts to discredit Corbyn which continue unrelentingly.
There has been radio silence from Tom Watson since the result. No doubt he could hardly hide his disappointment that Labour had won, since the plan clearly was to use a supposed Brexit Party victory to launch a new challenge to Corbyn. These right-wingers are beyond a joke, although there’s nothing funny about wanting a party which intends to improve working class lives to lose to a party led by a far right racist Trump supporter. Yet Margaret Hodge made clear that she had ‘seriously mixed feelings’ about the result.
Her justification for this is the alleged antisemitism of the new Labour MP - an allegation which is one of the most scurrilous I have seen in recent debates and can only be called what it is, a smear.
Corbyn came out fighting after the by-election result and quite rightly demanded a general election and the chance to vote for completely different policies than the Tories. We need much more of this and an attempt to deal with those who can’t even get behind their own candidates and who would have used a Brexit Party victory to attack their leader. Luckily the voters of Peterborough showed better sense than they did. But the situation is serious, highly polarised over Brexit and the left needs to take the initiative.
That happened last week with the Trump demos across the country. Huge numbers turned out on a Tuesday morning to protest against him in London. While Trump claimed that there were few demonstrators but many cheering supporters, even the BBC had to admit it was the other way round. It was a vital protest given that Trump wanted the pomp and splendour of Britain’s royalty to boost his re-election. He also made his agenda clear when he attacked London Mayor Sadiq Khan and when he declared the NHS fair game in his proposed trade deal. This was too much even for the Tories who made sure Trump reversed this aim by the following morning.
Jeremy Corbyn spoke at the rally which was absolutely the right thing to do, and helped him set an alternative news agenda which boosted the left. It associated him with the extra-parliamentary movement, changing the terms of the political debate. Britain is in a deep crisis politically, there are signs of economic crisis worsening, and time is not on our side. Time to step up a gear.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- There’s only one solution to Labour’s problems: the right have got to go - weekly briefing
- Britain is following Trump and escalating the threat of war with Iran
- Labour's lost Leave voters
- Adopting the IHRA definition didn't end the attacks, it accelerated them
- Tory values meet the rights and wrongs of women - weekly briefing
- Iran - unrepentant warmongers and gullible fools are at it again: weekly briefing
- A Suffragette in America: Reflections on Prisoners, Pickets and Political Change - book review