Is evidence of May's wibbling and wobbling likely to have much of an effect on the election? We shall see, but by rights, it should. May is exposed as someone not fit to run a bath, let alone navigate the rough waters of an unnecessary and self-inflicted crisis. This then begs a bit of a question. How is a stateswoman of 20 years (to the day) in Parliament, 18 years in frontline politics, including six ensconced in the Home Office, and almost a year as Prime Minister so transparently awful and rubbish? And no, Tom Newton Dunn, the leaked dinner conversation isn't an artful Machiavellian master ruse on her part.
It comes back to the structural crisis of the Conservative Party. For decades, it has not been a suitable vehicle for the interests it's supposed to represent. It has become decadent, and this decadence compounds and is compounded by its historic, long-term decline. With the Tories poised to carry the election, this seems like a perverse argument. Decline when they have double digit leads over Labour? Yes, and I'll be returning to this after the general election.
On decadence, as we noted recently, political parties are coalitions of interests and these more or less correspond to classes and class fractions. A banal observation this may be, but it's an abominable claim to some. All the more reason to forcefully restate it at every opportunity. Classes and class fractions are condensations of social relations. They are inhabited by collectives of people that have contradictory and antagonistic (but also mutually interdependent and constitutive) relations with other collectives around the disposal of the social surplus. This means classes are dynamic. They shift and change with the pitch and movement of struggle. Different organisations have developed over the course of modern history that organise and articulate these interests, parties merely being the vehicles developed to advance them politically. It follows that when a party not only ceases to push these interests but actively works against them it has passed into decadence.
By way of example, let's consider the case of West European social democratic and labour parties, the corpses of which are making an unseemly mess of the political scene. These parties were either killed or punished by their voters because, to put it simply, the parties swapped the interests of their coalition for the interests of capital. The Netherlands. France. Italy. Hold on though, social democratic parties in government are hardly a new thing. They've pushed policies before that have harmed the interests of working people and they haven't collapsed. Why now? They got away with it in the context of Keynesian/welfare state capitalism because the regime of accumulation, how the political economy of advanced capitalist countries were organised, formerly depended on the institutionalisation of workers' organisations. The organs of class collaboration, with some variance across these states, organised workers on a corporatist basis. Unions and bosses organisations fed into and assisted economic policy, giving a veneer of employer/employee cooperation in the national interest. This organising carried on even when social democratic parties implemented wage controls, attacked living standards, and so on. After 1979 and the institutional basis of Keynesian capitalism was eroded, so similar attacks on workers' interests, particularly when they assumed the form of marketisation, managed to disorganise and break up the voter coalitions that powered them. And this is what has left them in their decrepit state, though that might be a glimmer that the penny is beginning to drop.
Decadence works differently with conservative parties. As they articulate, organise and prosecute a coalition of class interests whose dominance is 'spontaneously' generated by the capital/labour relation and underwritten by the political economy of the state, their politics is one ultimately of management, maintenance, and continuity. They don't become decadent parties by adapting to and adopting too many demands from below, that is central to their raison d'etre. For example, May's One Nation programme, in as much as it exists at the rhetorical level, isn't decadent. It's a classic example of conservatism's adaptability and opportunism, and it has served them well throughout their history.
Conservative decadence comes about when a conservative party cannot and will not do this, when from the standpoint of the interests of capital as a whole it is counterproductive and undermines them. In the case of Britain's Tories, this has been the case since the Thatcher years. At the end of the turbulent 70s, capital as a whole had an overriding interest in curbing and diminishing the labour movement. Clearly, for obvious reasons, the Labour Party were politically and structurally unable to do such a thing. This, as we know, was accomplished by Thatcher's governments at great cost. While the state dished out cracked skulls and broken limbs, the destruction of manufacturing capital on a huge scale was the blood price capital-in-general paid Thatcher for her services. Sections of their class, not quick enough to take advantage of the subsequent privatisation spree, went to the wall. The brutal class struggle of the 80s changed the character of the victors. The Tories increasingly became the party of finance, of the privatised industries, of retail and service capital. It was becoming a sectional party.
The sectionalisation of the Tories was accelerated by the emergence of New Labour, itself the product of a defeated labour movement. In accommodating itself to the new realities bequeathed by the Tories, Blair and co. courted finance and retail capital, it especially flattered the growing creative industries and let employers know there would be no return to the bad old days. i.e. The enhancement of workers' collective rights. Labour offered itself up as a supplicant at the moment the Tories were exhausted and broken, and business would have had to find accommodation with Labour anyway. The result? For the first 10 years, New Labour was the natural home of business. Like Thatcher, it obsessively "created" new markets - mainly through deregulation, outsourcing, and competitive tendering for contracts for work ordinarily undertaken by the public sector. Like Thatcher, finance capital was prioritised over other fractions of capital. And, like Thatcher, Labour drove a wedge between the party of its opponents and their 'base'. If Labour was the home for capital and its interests, what use for the Tories?
That changed with Dave. After Gordon Brown bottled an election in Autumn 2007, the economy tanked as the financial crisis broke, Labour's reputation for economic competence was destroyed, and politics was badly damaged by the MP's expenses scandal, the Tory party underwent a limited process of recomposition and rehabilitation. Dave dumped their opportunist commitment to Labour's spending plans and made it quite clear austerity was on the cards if they won in 2010. They were determined and were largely successful in repainting a crisis of capitalism as a crisis of the public finances. As a big thank you for Brown's 'prudent' stewardship during the good times, he was dumped and the city backers, retail, and new sections pf capital grown fat on public procurement and PFI followed. It meant that the years of the coalition government, Dave's Tories - aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, in case you had forgot - oversaw a weakening of the economy, the extension of marketisation - most crucially in the NHS - and other sectional policies that held down wages, stripped back public provision and social security, fought shy of regulation, and studiously avoided state-led investment strategies that got other advanced countries out of their hole earlier. The Tories were a coalition of the most dynamic but socially useless section of capital, allied to labour intensive capital interested in low wages and plentiful labour supply, and capital that, in all essentials, parasites off the public sector. This was a recipe for deepening Britain's investment crisis, long-term structural problems, and worsening its competitive position in the global marketplace. And to underline Tory decadence it all was the outlook of Dave and what were to become his Tory Brexit opponents. In failure they saw nothing but virtue.
This brings us now to May. She ostensibly offers a programme attractive to capital-in-general, it has something in it for everyone, and clearly grows out of the patrician, Christian Toryism she got dosed up on back in the vicarage. Yet she came into frontline politics when the Tory party was at its most useless and idiotic, was present as it rebuilt itself and was a full participant as it imposed its decadent politics on the country. Part of May's presentation is in contrast to Dave's Flashman qualities and his cavalier approach to governing and crisis management, but she is of that culture. 20 years a Tory MP, 18 years a leading light, the toxic culture of decadent idiocy has clearly made inroads. The assumption the EU is going to accept the UK cherry picking the rights with none of the responsibilities reeks of complacency, that we don't have to prepare because the EU want a good deal because Britain, it's the half-arsed, reckless Tory approach that has characterised everything they've turned their hand to for decades.
Theresa May is rubbish not because she's uniquely incompetent, but because she's all too typical of the Tories. The product of a decadent party, it's entirely appropriate she stands prepared to deliver up Britain for ruin.