Theresa May’s Tory government – propped up by the DUP – is careering from crisis to crisis and scandal to scandal, wrought by divisions within, under pressure from without and with its support and legitimacy steadily eroding. The only things keeping the show on the road are the lack of action from the trade union leaders and the Tories’ fear that, as the polls indicate, a general election could lead to a Corbyn victory.
Rocked by the Brexit vote and then the general election upset, May has at times sought to pretend she empathises with the situation facing ordinary people. The Tories have shamefacedly tried to claim to the title of ‘the party for working people’. Reality tells a different story. The Tories have presided over the longest pay squeeze since the Victorian era, so sharp that nurses and other workers are being forced to turn to food banks. In the last four years, an extra 700,000 young people and pensioners have slipped below the poverty line. Meanwhile, the Paradise papers have highlighted the obscene wealth being hoarded by the super-rich elite which the Tories really represent.
Divisions on Brexit
Despite the recent deal, the Tories remain divided into hostile camps on the issue of Brexit. Like Cameron and Osborne, May wanted to remain in the EU, reflecting the views and interests of the British capitalist class. However, she realises the eruption which could take place if she ignored the referendum result which, at its core, represented a working-class revolt against the neo-liberal establishment. She is attempting to secure a Brexit deal which defends the interests of big business and the super-rich against challenges from both the hard-line pro and anti-EU wings of her party. Under pressure, these fissures could yet see the unravelling of May’s government.
So deep are these divisions that Tory ‘Lord’ Heseltine has asserted that a Labour government could be preferable for capitalism to the current government in order to avoid a ‘hard Brexit’, hoping the Blairite right-wing would blunt Corbyn’s anti-austerity programme. Historically, Corbyn – like the Socialist Party – consistently opposed the bosses’ EU. Unfortunately, when he became Labour leader, he buckled under pressure from the Blairite right-wing of the party and took a critical Remain position, even though the EU’s pro-capitalist rules would act as a barrier to many of his own policies. Corbyn should now state clearly that the UK would leave the EU under his watch but also outline a vision of a socialist Brexit which would improve workers’ rights, environmental safeguards and defend immigrants.
Actions need from union leaders, not talk
In Britain, conditions are ripe for a mass movement against austerity, particularly on the issue of public sector pay, reflected in concessions given by the Tories to some sections of workers and divisions which opened up within the Cabinet on the issue. Workers sense the government’s weakness and can smell blood. Unfortunately, the tough talk from some union leaders at the last Trades Union Congress has not been followed up with a concrete plan for coordinated industrial action, despite important strikes by some small groups of workers. Instead, the union heads have a policy of waiting for Corbyn. In reality, a determined campaign across the public sector and linking up with private sector workers could not just win real pay-rises but also be the factor which forces the Tories from power.
Corbyn’s left-wing, anti-austerity policies have inspired millions and the party’s performance in the general election – the greatest upset in post-war history – has quietened the pro-capitalist Blairites. However, Labour remains essentially two irreconcilable parties in one: Corbyn and the mass of members against the majority of the MPs, councillors and apparatchiks. These divisions will resurface sharply if and when Corbyn becomes Prime Minister. He will find himself caught between workers and young people demanding meaningful change and the Blairites pushing him to play by capitalism’s rulebook. To prepare for that clash, Corbyn and the left within Labour should organise now to democratically transform the party from top to bottom and replace incumbent right-wing candidates and officers with those who represent the wishes of Labour members and ordinary people.
By Daniel Waldron