Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Why Did May Call The Election Now?

Theresa May has scored a first.  She is the first Prime mInister to call a General Election simultaneously with announcing a major U-turn.  She has until now declared that she would not call an early election, because it was not in the national interest.  Now she says she is calling a General Election, because it is in the national interest.  So, why the sudden U-turn?   Why call the election now.  It clearly has nothing to do with the national interest, and everything to do with narrow Tory party interests.  The reasons she has given are not the real reasons.

Losing Her Majority Anyway

Over the last year, Channel 4's investigation of the Tories' election expenses in the 2015 General Election, has exposed as many as 30 Tory MP's, where the police have had cause to pursue their own enquiries.  The investigation of malpractice, and potentially criminal activity, now reaches up into May's inner circle.  Reports suggest that as many as 20 Tory MP's might have their election nullified, leading to by-elections.  If the Tories lost most of those seats, May would lose her narrow majority,a nd the scandal would also set the Tories back further.

May must calculate that if there is a chance of losing her majority, anyway, in the next few months, under those conditions, it is better to go for a General Election now, before losing that majority.  An election now means that although police enquiries may continue, the question of sitting MP's losing their seats becomes moot.  The calculation must also be that the issue gets lost amidst the general election clamour.

Learning From Trump and Erdogan

May has seen what has happened to Trump.  The permanent state apparatus, in the US, took in Trump and his entourage, put them through the political meat grinder, and spat them out.  Trump was forced to ditch keynote policy after keynote policy.  The travel bans were blocked; Syria bombed; the One China policy adhered to; China not labelled a currency manipulator; the Mexican wall disappeared from the agenda; Obamacare still in place; the border tax nowhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, his appointees, like Flynn and Bannon, have been removed or sidelined.

Trump, like May, has many of the features of a Bonaparte, but both are merely political figureheads within the governmental power, representing an amorphous block of public opinion.  Real power in the US, and UK, continues to reside not with these figureheads, but with the permanent state apparatus.  The latest series of Homeland, gives a good fictionalised account of the real relations, and where the real power resides.

Having seen what happened to Trump, and seen what happened to her proposals for Brexit, with the opposition not just in Parliament, but in the courts etc., having realised how difficult it will be to push through Brexit she has made a move against that countervailing power.  She framed all of her comments from the Downing Street pulpit, in terms of the political games played in Parliament by the Opposition, but her real message, the dagger hidden beneath the cloak was aimed at the permanent state bureaucracy, and its support within the media, universities and other state institutions.

In that respect, she has not only learned from Trump, but also from Erdogan, who entrenched his power via his own rigged referendum at the weekend.  But, unlike May or Trump, Erdogan is a real Bonapartist, who neutralised the opposition, within the state power, following the failed coup - which now looks increasingly like a Reichstag Fire - and has fused the state and governmental power under his regime, now codified by the plebiscite, in traditional Bonapartist fashion.

But, Britain is not Turkey, or 1930's Germany.  May is trying to send a message to the Judiciary, the lords, the media, and the permanent state apparatus that she is the boss, and they had better acquiesce, or she, with her renewed mandate will be coming for them too.  The trouble is, all of these forces know where the real power lies, and know the limitations of an elected government.  This failure to understand political reality has characterised the Tories approach to the Brexit negotiations too.

The fact is that Brexit is against the interests of the dominant form of capital - socialised capital.  It is also against the interests of the big owners of fictitious capital - the major share and bondholders - who depend on the profits produced by that socialised capital for the interest they receive on their shares and bonds.

In the spectrum I set out, in a recent post, May now stands in the reactionary part of the spectrum.  She is not even representing that set of conservative social-democratic interests that Blair-Cameron represented.  Her social base, like that of UKIP, Le pen, Wilders, and Trump rests on a section of small private capitalists that look for protection by the government, from the real world, and competition they are unable to deal with.  That section of small, largely inefficient capitalists, not only expects that protectionism, but also needs a removal of basic workers' rights, so as to drive down the wages and conditions of their workers, and cut costs as the only way they can stay in business and draw their profits.

These reactionary politicians also represent all of that amorphous mass, that section of society that can relate to that mentality, because they either have no permanent employment themselves, or else the employment they have is low-paid, low status, non-unionised and so on.  Rather than seeing the solution to that being the need for getting organised, and so on, their atomised condition leads them to individualist solutions, and so they settle for solutions that drag every other worker down to their own level.  Examples can be seen all the time, for example, of workers who object to public sector workers who have reasonable pensions, simply on the grounds that they have not negotiated decent pensions for themselves with their employer.

But, such a perspective is a dead end for a modern developed capitalist economy like Britain.  It means becoming an even more low wage, high debt, low productivity economy, than conservative policies have already made it.  It would mean turning Britain into some kind of banana republic.  The representatives of the dominant socialised capital, and of the owners of fictitious capital have every reason to oppose such a trajectory,a nd they will.

The Brexit Reality

As Paul Mason commented on The Daily Politics, today, May has seen the reality of the Brexit negotiations.  The Tories triggered Article 50 thinking that Britain was still some 18th or early 19th century colonial power, able to dictate terms.  It isn't and hasn't been for a long time.  Recent events show that Britain isn't even taken seriously at the top tables of power any more, and its fitting that it is represented by the clownish Bojo.  Its only a matter of time before its seat on the UN security Council is challenged.

Britain has no bargaining power against the EU 27, as the issue over Gibraltar showed.  As the coming months flick by, it will become increasingly apparent that Britain will suffer severely from Brexit, not because of being punished, but simply because that will be the consequence of being outside the EU.  As Donald Tusk put it, for Britain, Brexit will be punishment enough.

As that reality sinks in, the support for Brexit within the population will drop sharply, and the Tories, as the party most closely tied to it - UKIP is now effectively dead in the water - will bear the brunt of voter anger.  May knows that, and wants to preempt it with an early election.

Labour and Corbyn

There is another reason for May calling the election now.  It has nothing to do with the Tory lead over Labour in the polls, but it does have to do with Labour and Corbyn.

In the next few weeks, the UNITE election of General Secretary will take place.  Its likely that Len McCluskey will win, consolidating the support for Corbyn.  In addition, support is growing for the McDonnell amendment that will reduce the percentage of MP's and MEP's required to nominate candidates for leader down to 5%.  That is likely to pass at conference in the Autumn, with the backing of UNITE and other unions.  It means that when Corbyn eventually does stand down, at some point in the future, it will be easier to nominate another left-wing candidate to replace him. 

As I pointed out a while ago, there was a good reason for May not wanting an early election, because if Labour activists took the opportunity to deselect sitting Blair-right and soft-left MP's, it would not only consolidate Corbyn's position, as leader, but would mean that even a numerically depleted PLP would provide a more effective opposition than now, because it would speak with a more unified, Corbynite voice, ending the current sniping against the leader, and presenting a distinctly more radical, social democratic set of policies in opposition to the Tories than the message still being put out by the current batch of Labour MP's.

By calling a snap election, with only six weeks of campaigning, May obviously hopes that there will be no time for Labour activists  to deselect their current MP's, and bring forward a new batch of Corbynite candidates.  For all their rhetoric about Corbyn not being a viable opponent, they know that the policies he proposes are popular, as weekend polls demonstrated.  They also know that a Corbynite PLP, advocating these policies, and radical alternatives, with a single voice, would be able to build support over the next few years.  By combining that with active principled opposition to the Tories, inside and outside parliament, the Tories could quickly be weakened, and Labour put in position to form the next government.

May and her advisors are aware of that, and with what happened with the support that Bernie Sanders was able to generate, and is continuing to mobilise across the US.  They will have seen the failure of Wilders,a nd the rise in support for D66 and the Green Left, in the Netherlands, as well as the sharp rise in support for Melenchon in France.

May wants to create the conditions for the right of the LP to move to stop the advance of the left, before McCluskey is re-elected, before the McDonnell amendment is passed, and before LP activists can select left-wing candidates.

She may have miscalculated, in that regard.  It is still possible now she has pulled the trigger, for CLP's to start selecting new left-wing PPC's.  Momentum should have been making plans for that over the last year.  Unfortunately, it has been bad at such organisation as opposed to organising rallies and jamborees.  Moreover, the leadership and Momentum have been weak-kneed in opposing the right and soft left.  At each stage, they have conciliated and back-tracked on their principles.

Whatever the election result, we should make it clear that Corbyn stays - no more sacking the manager, just because the team had a bad result.  That message should go out loud and clear, and often.  We should organise now to preempt any new right-wing coup attempt, by Corbyn's opponents.

May could have miscalculated more generally, as John Curtice described on The Daily Politics. Firstly, Scotland and Northern Ireland are out of the calculation.  The Tories will pick up no additional seats there, and in Scotland, that is effectively 59 seats already in opposition hands.  But, the by-elections have also showed that Tory MP's are under threat, in a significant number of seats that voted heavily for Remain in the referendum.  They could lose a batch of seats back to the Liberals in the South-West.  Elsewhere, Labour voters should not be tempted to vote for Liberals as a lesser-evil.  Firstly, they should remember that only two years ago, the Liberals were hand in glove with the Tories in government.  Tim Farron is already attacking Labour more than the Tories.  Secondly, even if the Liberals doubled their seats they would have only 18 seats.  Farron must be smoking something if he thinks they have a chance of forming an opposition rather than Labour.

Moreover, as Curtice points out, Labour has a large number of seats that it holds with large majorities that are not going to become Tory seats, whatever the opinion polls say.  And in actual election after another, Labour under Corbyn has done much better than either the polls or pundits claimed would be the case.  As the campaign proceeds, divisions within the Tory party will open up, as May has made clear she intends fighting it over Brexit all over again.  With just a small change in the opinion polls, back towards Labour, Mat could find that, at best, she has no bigger majority than she has now, having spent a great deal of political capital.

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