Saturday, 18 June 2022

A Note on Wedge Week

Floundering governments struggle to get their message across. Especially so when beset by division and the siege mentality has set in. One stratagem to try and bend media coverage in a positive way is to spend a period of time, usually a week, focusing on a policy or family of policies. The week before last, for instance, was "Health Week". Sajid Javid was pictured next to CT scanners, hospital car parks, and took questions on the NHS and how the health service is coping with the Covid-induced backlog (just don't mention that hospital admissions are rising again). This was supposed to showcase how the Tories can be trusted with the holiest of holies, and helping Javid fill up his picture portfolio for when the next leadership contest comes. Unfortunately for the Tories, it was entirely overshadowed by recent events.

Last week was a variation on the theme. If policy won't cut through, why not try dirty tricks? In what Paul Waugh dubbed "Wedge Week", the Tories deliberately stoked up tensions to win support around polarising issues. The disgusting Rwanda transportation plan ticks a couple of Tory boxes, not least the posturing on immigration and asylum this afforded them. The ECHR sequel, which allows for a hard-done-to Britain to face off against a European court recalls Brexit populism. The shameful and reckless antics about the Northern Ireland Protocol isn't entirely a matter of firming up the Tory base, but it can't harm it either. Then there are the railway strikes, which characteristically the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is lying about. And then Priti Patel handed down her decision about Julian Assange, predictably signing an extradition order and consigning him to an uncertain fate in the American penal system. On their own, each of these are outrages. Grouped together, it's evidently a conscious strategy.

An example of the UKIPification of the Tory party? Of presenting oneself the champion of an unsullied, pure people versus an array of corrupt establishments - in Wedge Week's case liberal lawyers, EU and foreign meddlers, union barons, and ne'er-do-well lefties? The Tories under Boris Johnson have knowingly taken on the populist mantle, and with "Get Brexit Done" they pulled off their famous election victory. But on the other hand, there is nothing new about these tactics. "Grown up" Theresa May often railed against those who would thwart Brexit. Before her Dave and Osborne pushed wedge issues around public spending and social security, positioning anyone of working age in receipt of support - including (some might say especially) the disabled - as some sort of aristocracy coining it off the back of everyone else. In the opposition years before Dave, Hague, IDS, and Howard alternated between liberal do-gooders, immigrants, and the European Union as their bete noires. And Thatcher and Major, if anything, had a pantheon of leftist and anti-British devilry - a rogues' gallery they could rely upon to mobilise their electorates.

With no solutions to the economic crisis bearing down on us, and a severe shock to the legitimation of the whole shebang, all the Tories have got in the tank is division and fear. As the favoured party of state in this country and custodian of capitalist relations, that means maintaining the cohesiveness of their side and the disruption and dispersal of the oppositions that come into being. And this isn't unique to the Tories, it's the ABC of right wing politics everywhere. One can choose to ignore it, as Labour are presently doing, and run the risk of getting defeated again, or come up with strategies for dealing with them. Wedge politics of the Tory kind work best when social polarisation underpins political polarisation. That's the situation we're in now, so the best counter is to short circuit them by posing some wedge issues of our own. PartyGate, the cost of living crisis, each are pregnant with opportunities begging to be taken. And yet ...

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