Thursday, 13 December 2018

May Mortally Wounded

Theresa May, and her government, is mortally wounded. When more than 100 of your MP's vote against you, in a no confidence vote, it means that a Prime Minister is finished. That was the case, even for the Iron Lady, herself, who had much more mettle than May. May's government was from the start a minority government, dependent on its uncertain, and mercenary allies in the DUP. Not only did its minority position mean that it lost three important votes in one day – the first time that had happened in 40 years – but, for the first time in parliamentary history, it saw the government convicted of contempt of parliament. That in itself is a consequence of a minority government, resting on a continually shrinking mandate, and level of support, having to resort to outright Bonapartist methods, of authoritarianism, and suppression of democratic norms. It continued with the government having to pull, at the last minute, its doomed EU Withdrawal Bill, and an apparent attempt to bypass parliament, by simply allowing time to run out, without parliament being given the opportunity to vote on the course of future events. Now, put together the 117 Tory MP's that voted against May with all of the votes of the opposition parties, and it's clear that May's government, even with the backing of the DUP, is in a minority. The fact that it no longer has the confidence of the majority of parliament is only hidden from view by the cowardice of the Labour leadership in mounting a serious challenge to it, and a confidence vote in it. 

It is a different matter for a sitting Tory PM, to have a vote of no confidence in them, than it was for Corbyn to have the PLP pass a motion of no confidence in him. Firstly, the Tory Party and the Labour Party are two different animals. The Labour Party, even in its less democratic periods, is a more democratic, member led organisation than the Tory Party. The Tory parliamentary party always plays an overwhelmingly dominant role in its affairs, which is why May herself could be crowned emperor, in truly Bonapartist fashion, without the party membership having any say in the matter. Its only when the parliamentary party is severely divided, resulting in two opposing camps having their respective champions left in the ring, that the Tory membership is allowed to have its say. By contrast, Corbyn had been elected by, and had the overwhelming support of, the party membership from the beginning. It was the parliamentary party that was massively out of step with the party membership, not Corbyn. The PLP tried to assert their dominance, in the no confidence vote against Corbyn, and failed miserably. By contrast, if today, May had to gain the support of the party membership, in a contest with a Bojo, Mogg or one of the other Brextremists, she would be gone in short order. 

So, the two situations are mirror images of each other. Corbyn rested upon the massive and active support of the party membership. May, does not. She rests upon only a rump of Tory MP's, fearful of losing their seats if she falls, and a General Election happens. Indeed, about 170 Tory MP's are directly on the government payroll, and so May is their immediate employer, giving them a significant incentive to keep her in place, for fear that some other Leader, might have others in mind for their cushy, well paid ministerial positions. For Labour, it was the PLP elements opposing Corbyn that represented a rump, kept in their own places, only by the failure of the Corbynites to push through their advantage, and democratic mandate, to further democratise the party, with the introduction of mandatory reselection, so as to clear out a load of deadwood, and make the PLP representative of the party membership. Indeed, that timidity in pushing forward, and willingness to retreat, has marked the Corbynite leadership from the start, and has now morphed into outright cowardice not just in taking on the Blair-rights within the PLP, but of mounting any kind of principled, determined opposition to the government itself. 

May's government has no democratic mandate to continue, let alone to press ahead with a highly destructive Brexit agenda, which it recognises it has no support for, and which led it to pull the vote on. Mogg himself has correctly stated that, on the basis of all past constitutional norms, May should go to the Monarch, and resign. Whether she does so, depends on the extent to which Tory MP's continue to push against her, having mortally wounded her in the No Confidence vote, but it also depends upon Labour itself getting up from its knees, and beginning to mount a challenge against her, which is its basic responsibility, but which, for the last two and a half years, it has catastrophically failed to do. Left to her own devices, May will continue, and she will respond to her lack of a democratic mandate by simply doubling down on the authoritarianism and contempt for parliament and democracy. Indeed, her contempt for parliament is, in many ways, understandable, given that parliament, in the shape of the opposition, in particular, has been contemptible, in its lack of any principled or determined opposition to her. 

Bonapartism always begins under the mask of democracy. As Marx describes in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, it develops via a creeping rise in authoritarianism, and disregard for democratic norms, it proceeds as the proponents of authority, and their disregard for democratic norms, are continually accommodated, leading to a ratcheting ever rightwards, until eventually the authority itself, resting upon a very narrow base, makes an appeal over the heads of the democratic institutions and representatives, to the amorphous mass. It's no wonder that May, despite, on the one hand, rejecting the idea of another referendum, at this stage, went over the heads of MP's, whose votes she needed to push through her Withdrawal Bill, to a carefully choreographed appeal to “the people”, and indeed, the repeated “Vox Pops” undertaken, around the country, in various towns and cities, by the Tory media, to ascertain their views on how the government should just “get on with it”, fits in with that agenda. The fact that these vox pop conversations bear no relation to any kind of scientific method of opinion research, and so, not surprisingly, stand at noticeable odds with the findings of numerous actual opinion polling, is no surprise, therefore, but it, in turn, plays a significant role in creating memes, and shaping the mindset of the amorphous mass. 

Its that which enables Bonapartists to rest upon the use of plebiscites, and appeals to that mass society, its authority based upon selective questionnaires, on specific subjects, within the context of a highly structured ideological framework that constrains the range of involvement and debate. Noticeably, the debate, in the 2016 referendum, was restricted, by the Tory media, into a series of cameos in which contending Tory party figures undertook gladiatorial combat; with Farage, the court jester, given pride of place, in spicing up the proceedings, whilst the rival ideas being promoted by Corbyn – as indeed the Tory media attempted to remove all coverage of his mass meetings during the 2017 election, which meant they got the result so woefully wrong – were studiously removed from being given any coverage. That is, indeed, why the claims of the proponents of Lexit were so totally ridiculous, and meant that they were simply another prop for the reactionary ideas of Brexit being purveyed. Its also why we should be very wary of proponents of another referendum now, as opposed to the question being settled, in the wider context of a General Election, especially given the tighter legal restrictions on impartiality, and equal coverage that cover such elections compared with a plebiscite. 

In fact, were another referendum to be held now, the result would likely see Leave lose by a significant margin. In the 2016 referendum, with the Tory media only every covering the personality clashes within the Tory party, the official pro-EU campaign was lacklustre with nothing really to recommend it. It was seen as synonymous with the government of Cameron and Osborn, which had come to office in 2010, and with their Liberal allies had brought the rapid economic recovery that had been happening underway under Labour to a halt. They introduced an ideologically motivated, totally unnecessary policy of austerity that hit hard at the most vulnerable, by focussing its immediate cuts on local government financing. A part of the vote for Brexit was motivated by a desire to kick Cameron. But, the largest part was driven by that cohort of elderly, middle-class Tory voters, whose bigoted ideas were formed in the era of British colonialism, and which continues to fuel their illusion that Britain is still some significant global power, to which the rest of the world is bound to pay homage. 

In 2016, Brexit was a convenient rallying cry for all disaffections, all expressions of bigotry after years of the bigots themselves having felt suppressed in venting their spleen, by the imposition of “political correctness”. The socially liberal elites, in the media, and the rest of the Westminster bubble, because they do not understand bigotry, and do not encounter it amongst their own circles, in their round of dinner parties, thought that it only existed as some kind of fringe phenomenon, and that it could be sanitised by simply exposing its proponents, such as by Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time. They saw Farage as simply a clown, whose regular appearances on their programmes, helped them raise their ratings. Like Cameron, they never thought that it was at all conceivable that, having kicked Brussels, for years, as a convenient scapegoat, having continually pandered to the racists and bigots, including all those within the ranks of the Tory media, such as the Daily Express and Daily Mail, whose survival depended upon continual spewing out of racist lies against immigrants and refugees, often of the most Trump-like, apparent and ridiculous nature, that there was a sufficient constituency that would provide a majority for Brexit. 

Today, the situation is, in many ways, reversed. Instead of the Tories being divided between a pro-EU government faction, and an anti-EU insurgent faction, today, both wings of the Tory Party are seen as pro-Brexit factions, with the pro-EU wing seen as the insurgency. Today, Farage is a spent force, and his UKIP vehicle has been taken over by the BNP/EDL, as it disintegrates into greater and greater irrelevance. Whilst nearly a million people marched to oppose Brexit and demand another referendum, only a few thousand BNP and EDL supporters marched under the banner demanding that Leave Means Leave, and they were outnumbered just by those who turned up to oppose them. 

The contrast would have been even greater had Corbyn's Labour used the last three years to actually build the social movement it claimed to be building, and had used that social movement to oppose the reactionary policy of Brexit, offering workers a vision of hope, in joining with workers across Europe, to end austerity, and build a better future. But, today, it is inconceivable that another referendum will proceed in the near term, unless Corbyn has been forced by the party membership himself to come out strongly for such a demand. Otherwise, a Bonapartist regime under May, might do so, if it had created the appropriate climate, not as an expression of democracy, but as an expression that she had produced a sufficiently atomised and demoralised mass as to be able to push through her will. But, even with that social movement, if Corbyn is pushed into demanding another referendum, it will take place under conditions where the reactionaries of Brexit are on the defensive. The mass membership now of the Labour Party, together with the organisation of Momentum, is a factor that did not exist in 2016, and it will be a big factor in mobilising the forces to stop Brexit. 

In 2016, millions of young people were denied the vote, millions more, lulled into the false sense of security that Remain would be bound to win, did not bother to vote. Today, it is all of those forces that are mobilised, and that are angry and motivated to act. Indeed, many of them are the same forces that came into the Labour Party itself, and that demand the Party organise to oppose Brexit. Around 2 million old people who voted Leave in 2016 have died, whilst around the same number of young people who support Remain have now joined the electorate, and many more who failed to vote in 2016, are now motivated to do so. That alone means that today's electorate is a different electorate to that of 2016, and much more likely to result in a clear majority for Remain. 

Theresa May, now isolated, even from much of her own party, cannot push through her Brexit plan, and the Brextremists, in her party, are even less able to push through their proposals. The Brexit nightmare has tanked the UK economy. Growth has all but disappeared. But, the low wage, low productivity economy that has been built since the 1980's, means that even with growth stagnant, employment has continued to rise, and labour shortages are causing wages to rise. That is before the Brexit induced fall in the Pound causes inflation to rise, and an inevitable consequent rise in interest rates. Businesses have grudgingly backed May's Deal, even though their internal e-mails show they think its a bad deal. As May is obviously seen as not being able to push it though parliament, or to get the EU to modify it, that business backing is likely to quickly evaporate too. 

May's strategy is clearly to delay, and delay to the last minute, in the hope that, as chaos increases, MP's will be forced to vote for even her terrible deal, rather than allow a disastrous no deal scenario to unfold. But, its as much an empty bluff as has been her suggestion that No Deal is better than a Bad Deal all along. May herself, will never allow a No Deal Brexit to happen, for all the reasons I have set out in recent posts. So, MP's, particularly the DUP, have no reason to allow May to blackmail them in that way. Indeed, it's likely that the DUP, and the Tory Brextremists, would welcome a No Deal rather than May's Deal, so that even if May could prise away a handful of Labour MP's, it would not be enough. Labour has no reason to allow itself to be blackmailed into supporting her deal, no matter how long she pushes it to the cliff edge, because if the Tories are seen pushing through such a catastrophic measure, it would finish them for good, meaning that Labour would become the natural party of government for at least a generation. 

That is why, May is stuck. The more ideologically driven, and strategically more astute Brextremists, still in the government, such as Gove and Fox, recognise that May's Plan enables them to get Brexit over the line. If it was passed, then they can start work on ditching May, and getting one of their own number into Downing Street. They would then begin to unpick the deal done with the EU, and start work on what they term a negotiated No Deal. In other words, they would seek to avoid the catastrophe that would ensue from crashing out on March 29th., and to put in place all of the measures required to replace existing systems, as part of a movement towards the introduction of a regime based upon WTO terms, and the introduction of free trade. That too, of course, would be economically disastrous, because even the Economists for Free Trade, like Patrick Minford, acknowledge that it would result in the death of what is left of UK manufacturing and agriculture. 

But, even with the support of the other Brextremists, May cannot get her plan through parliament, because the DUP would not back it. In fact, they have said that if it were to go through they would then join the other parties in passing a no confidence vote in the government. Whichever way she turns, May is screwed.  The other option is for May to make an appeal to Labour MP's to push through some kind of Plan B, based on membership of EFTA.  But Norway and other EFTA members have said they do not want Britain inside their club.  Britain is viewed in a similar way to how British holidaymakers are seen in Europe, i.e. drunks who who come along and cause trouble and disruption, before leaving and letting other clear up their mess.  But, even if EFTA were to agree to let Britain join, it does not answer the requirement for a single market, and it means that Britain would still be committed to accepting rules and regulations that it has no right to determine.  The idea put forward by Barry Gardiner and other Labour spokespeople that they could negotiate such a right is ridiculous, because if the EU agreed to it, it would destroy the basis for the EU itself.  If Labour capitulated on that point, why would you then not just stay in the EU, and thereby retain the right to sit in the political bodies and determine those rules?

The dynamic may be towards another referendum, the arguments against it on democratic grounds are spurious, it's not like the 1975 referendum, even, where the majority was 2:1.  The narrow margin for Leave has almost certainly been reversed by now, and it makes no democratic sense to be committed to carrying through a decision - even if it was clear what that decision was - that the majority no longer support, simply on the basis of an unthinking, mechanical commitment to act on, a poll taken at some past moment in time, with many of those that voted for it, no longer even alive!  Another referendum should not be, and is not Labour's priority, but Labour should still be committing itself to opposing Brexit.  It should oppose it, on the basis of the need for a General Election, in which Labour would stand on a Manifesto committing it to scrapping Brexit.  In that way, if another referendum occurs, rather than a General Election, Labour is already prepared to make the case to stop Brexit.  But, its first priority now should be to put down a motion of no confidence in this already collapsing government.  The government stands there like a rotting door, falling off its hinges, and Labour's job is to kick it at every opportunity so as to chip bits off it, and dislodge it from its hinges.  Labour should not allow May to simply attempt oe make time do her work for her.  they should connect the motion of no confidence with her pulling of the Withdrawal Bill, and a demand that it be brought back immediately to parliament, for a vote, because its obvious that her trips around Europe are merely a time-wasting tactic, with no prospect of her obtaining any meaningful changes to the deal.

Its time for the Tories to go; its time for labour to step up to the plate, and fulfil its responsibilites of leadership.

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