Thursday 20 September 2018

Theresa May's Face

Sooner or later, all political positions come into contact with reality. Some do much better than forecast while others, well, others have a rude awakening. Judging by the expression on Theresa May's face after learning that her Chequers plan hasn't survived contact with what she surely now views as the enemy tells you all you need to know.

What now, then? Never the most adroit of politicians, the message coming from her press conference was nothing has changed. Yes, really. Her first instinct was to dig her heels in and pretend Chequers was still a go-er. "They're just playing hardball!" she blathered. "It's their negotiating strategy!" Except it isn't. Since unveiling the Chequers deal Michel Barnier said no. Jean-Claude Juncker said no. She and her ministers have been hopping around the presidential palaces of Europe all summer, and the answer was the same every time, everywhere. Had he been asked, even the man from Del Monte would have said no. You'd have to basically be impervious to human interaction to sit through so many talks and still not get the hint.

I mean, you can almost empathise with May's frustrations. Almost. She has gone from walking on water to the political equivalent of getting dragged through a hedge backwards. But the person responsible for making a rod for her own back was, well, herself. In the full flow of her imperial pomp she didn't have to tell the world she was looking forward to a hard Brexit with relish. She didn't have to waste precious negotiating time by calling an unnecessary election, nor destroy her authority and decimate her majority. But she did and Nemesis duly followed Hubris. And rather than cleave to the hard right by placating them, her government could have come up with a plan much sooner and the whole Brexit process might have been a bit smoother these last 18 months. Sure, not many Prime Ministers have as ghastly a time at Number 10 as May, but she's the author of her agonies. The difficulties are uniquely hers.

Which, again, is why Labour was absolutely right to not listen to the siren forces arguing for it to come out in favour of a second referendum. It prevents May and the Tories from fomenting their own stab-in-the-back myth, of presenting Labour as in cahoots with Brussels and therefore undermining the UK's negotiating position. They will say it anyway, but minus the ring of truth it will fall flat and not allow the Tories to re-triangulate the hard kippers nor peel off Labour leavers.

Where next? May wasn't expecting to be so comprehensively dumped on, and no doubt her spinners are currently thinking hard about how to wring some marginal advantage from it. On the podium she reiterated her "this is the only credible plan in town" shtick and try and play the hard-done-to card. After all, the last time she okayed this card in the early days of the general election campaign her opinion poll ratings peaked. She must hope more of the same could accrue in future, so don't rule out a late walk out from talks yet. The one thing we can rely on is the Tory party's concern with putting favourable editorials above all else.

Yet, when all is said and done the basic position of the UK is it wants a deal, and ditto for the EU. And there are only two things that possibly stand a chance of getting through the Commons. The first is watered down Chequers. The ERG and fellow travelling Brexiteers will oppose, but May's got to be banking on enough Labour rebels who, by hook and by crook, would like to turn the clock back. As well as Tory backbenchers who view Jeremy Corbyn as Stalin's second coming. From that standpoint, this really is the only game in town. The other would be a pause of the Article 50 process as May is forced to throw the towel in and British Toryism falls into another round of leadership paralysis. My view is the first scenario is the most likely. May doesn't want to go down in history as the UK's worst Prime Minister (she's up against tough competition), and she wants to cling to power for as long as possible. As long as she's there she provides the Tory factions a focus - she goes and the party could possibly fall apart as its numerous tensions come to a head. And also if she's in, some miracle might come along and she'll be able to salvage something to show her years in Downing Street weren't entirely wasted.

A deal or, to be more accurate, a capitulation is still likely then. However, as recent history has shown the interests of the Tories and even the class they represent rarely coincide. A no deal catastrophe could still happen and while May and her party will pay a heavy political price, it won't be them who suffer the real damage. It will be us.


Robert Dyson said...

The EU27 side have been consistent since the referendum vote - no cherry picking. The stupidity of May painting herself in a corner with the red lines was always evident unless you saw it as nothing to do with the EU but all about Tory internal politics.
I too feel annoyed that those ERG folks will suffer little, and may even proper with no-deal, whereas the majority will have lives trashed.

Speedy said...

I find it hard to believe the EU will press for no deal because the UK is such a huge market.

On the other hand, as history teaches us (most memorably in Barbara L Tuchman's The March of Folly) states have been known to act against their own interests, and the reality is that EVEN WITH A NO DEAL the EU and UK will continue to trade, and (I'm stretching now) the calculation may be that a period of tariffs (short-term pain) may be enough to force an even more favourable deal for the EU.

I can't help suspecting there are interests in the EU (ie, the French) who would take some satisfaction in a little pain suffered by the UK, particularly when it is not principally their exports (ie, German cars) that are suffering. Judging by Macron's comments, I could envisage a new Gallic "no".

History is not simply the sum of material interest (as Tuchman's history points out) but also the sum of emotion, suspicion and ambition. The French would be aided in their intransigence by the Brexietrs and Ulster Dems not least over the Irish question, which provides them all with cover.

It is not in the SHORT TERM interest for, let's say the French, for their island neighbour to be pitched into chaos and economic crisis, but it would certainly bolster their LONG TERM interests - for the imperial nature of the EU (ie indivisible and frightening off other would-be splitters) and even their economy, which might benefit from a humbled UK. I don't include the Germans in this analysis because I think, as a culture essentially of engineers, they don't think like this, but the French do, and could be the fly in the ointment.

Robert Dyson said...

I don't think that the EU are pressing for no-deal. It's the last thing they want. However, the Single Market rules cannot be changed just because they don't suit a leaving UK. If the SM is broken it will be the end of the EU. The rules may evolve, but that takes time and will be done only to suit those in it.
A politically chaotic neighbour would not be good for the EU and they know it.

Boffy said...

"It prevents May and the Tories from fomenting their own stab-in-the-back myth, of presenting Labour as in cahoots with Brussels and therefore undermining the UK's negotiating position. They will say it anyway, but minus the ring of truth it will fall flat and not allow the Tories to re-triangulate the hard kippers nor peel off Labour leavers."

That's allowing the Tories to determine Labour's agenda. Labour should set its agenda based upon what it believes to be true, and to be in workers' interests not on tailoring its programme to simply what the Tories might say about it.

Brexit is a reactionary policy, that is detrimental to workers interests. Labour should have opposed it, as the basis of its programme, and argued for a General Election to be fought on that basis. The answer to the Tories claims about Labour lining up with EU politicians is to have lined up with EU workers and left-wing parties, and pointed out that the only realistic way of dealing with all of the real problems of UK workers is on that basis at an EU wide level.

Boffy said...

If Labour wins an election, the irony is that it will find that it cannot obtain its six tests either. The EU would allow the UK to be in the Customs Union and Single Market, subject to accepting the ECJ, Free Movement and so on, but will no more grant a Labour government the cherries in the have cake and eat it scenario that the Tories have been demanding.

A Labour government would no more be able to negotiate a deal which gives them a veto over the common rule book, or right to determine the rules whilst being outside the EU than can the Tories. Rees-Mogg and Barry Gardiner are right in that respect. Britain would have to abide by the rules, pay the subs and son but with no right to determine those rules etc. It would effectively, thereby be a vassal state, or the equivalent of the US prior to 1776.

Why would any government choose such a condition to be in? Yes, Britain requires to be in the Customs Union and Single Market, and membership of all the EU bodies such as Euratom, EMA and so on, but that implies accepting all of the responsibilities and costs that go with it. So, if you are going to do that why would you not want to have say in determining those rules and playing a part in the political institutions? Its madness not to.

That is why Labour should have been arguing to reverse Brexit, and should set out why that is necessary, because otherwise a Labour government will find itself in precisely the same situation as May, but worse, having failed to make the argument during all this time. It would inevitably lead to a Labour government having to argue for a No Deal Brexit when it too could not negotiate to have its cake and eat it.

Speedy said...

The reality is that there is no positive outcome for Brexit, which is the fact that politicians on both the left and the right are afraid to say. If only JC actually woke up to that fact and used his supposed plain speaking to say so, but I fear he is as blinkered as Rees Mogg in his way.

Tmb said...

It's obvious that most of the Tories and most of the establishment do not want to leave the EU. They've dragged it out and dragged it out. It is the biggest political 'hot potato' we've had in decades, and no leader or party wants to deal with it. They've tried to gain some political traction by exploiting the polarisation, but the salient fact is that however brexit pans out, many millions of people are going to be frustrated, dissatisfied and angry.

We know that a good percentage of the brexit vote, and Trump for that matter, was from people who have been ignored economically, socially and politically for nearly two generations, whilst a very wealthy elite and a middle class dominated media and political class has carved the pie up for themselves. Then, when the working classes disobeyed their 'betters', the so called 'left liberals' and their non racist, non sexist and tolerant media started to call the white working class fascists, racists, xenophobes and other lovely epithets, effectively adding insult to injury.

Boffy said...

It was "the white working-class" that voted for Brexit! 75% of Labour voters support Remain. It was the 70% of Tory voters that won the vote to Leave, along with the atomised layers of society that have always been the support base for Bonapartists and fascists. That together with the fact that millions of young people whose lives will be decimated by Brexit were denied the vote, and 30% of voters, having been lulled into a sense that no one would be daft enough to vote for Brexit didn't bother to vote.

In fact, only 37% of the rigged electorate voted for Brexit. At least in 1975, not only was the vote to join the Common Market/EU (the legislation to form the EU already having been passed by then) 2:1 in favour, but that represented more than 50% of the electorate in favour.

But even if it was a disgruntled "white working-class" that pushed through Brexit in order to kick "the establishment" - really and Bojo, Fargae do not represent the establishment? - rather than the reality that it was millions of Tory supporting small business people and their associated reactionary social layers, why would any decent socialist not point out the stupidity of such a self-harming response?

It would be like burning down your own house as a petulant response to the fact that you dislike how much the Council has raised the Council Tax! The answer to the austerity, and to the policies that inflated asset prices over the last thirty years is not to vote for people who would apply those same policies to an even greater degree, and thereby make them worse, or to vote for a policy that will destroy jobs, and elad to even greater levels of austerity being introduced!

Speedy said...

What tmb is saying is true, obviously. The culturally "left behind" clearly wanted to damage something the ruling elite held dear, so did so, regardless of the consequences for themselves.

Many of the non-elites were and will remain very well off, but they felt excluded from the national discourse and marginalised, even though they may have been doing very well thank you.

They wanted to smash this, and in a sense it is hard to blame them. But the problem with this logic is, like the guys who broke the spinning machines, they have nowhere left to go.

George Carty said...


IIRC it was 63% of 2015 Labour voters who voted Remain, although it may well be a higher proportion of 2017 Labour voters as Corbyn boosted turnout among the under-40s (a mostly Remain-leaning demographic).

When commentators refer to the "white working class" who voted for Brexit or Trump, the "working class" means not "proletarian" but rather "blue-collar" (which as you rightfully point out includes a lot of retirees and self-employed people), and blue-collar strata are in decline generally as they bore the brunt of job losses from automation and offshoring.

As for the nature of the "establishment", I'd argue that in the USA at least (not so sure about the UK) there are two rival elites: there's a liberal Democratic elite rooted in high-tech and entertainment industries (it's one factor in why California is so solidly Democratic now), and there's a right-wing Republican elite rooted in fossil fuels and the FIRE sector.

I'd suggest that the reasons why ordinary people voted for Brexit are dependent on geographical location: in the north and the midlands I suspect nostalgia for David Edgerton's "British nation" was the main driver (even though it was Thatcherism rather than the EU that was responsible for the end of the nationalistic post-war economy), with another major factor being Islamophobia driven not so much by terrorism as by media coverage of "grooming gangs" in places like Rochdale and Rotherham.

In the south imperialist nostalgia may have been more important, along with the socioeconomic impact of the housing bubble: I suspect many London beneficiaries of Right to Buy who sold up and moved into the surrounding rural areas (usually out of a craving for space) may have embraced racist ideas to justify why they left the metropolis, when they could have been hugely better off monetarily if only they'd stayed in London a big longer.

George Carty said...

Wasn't education level the other major factor in how people voted in the EU referendum, with degree holders being 70% Remain while the poorly-educated being equally heavily Leave?

One reason for this was that people who had been to university learned how to think critically and were thus more likely to see through the lies of the right-wing press, while another may have been cultural.

Highly-educated Brits tend to look to Europe for their cultural inspiration, while less-educated ones tend to look more to the United States. And Brits who looked to the United States (which like the other settler Anglosphere nations is considerably less densely populated than the UK) are very apt to believe that they were living in a grossly-overpopulated country and that Brexit was the way to remedy this.

Speedy said...

"may have embraced racist ideas to justify why they left the metropolis"

Most examples of "white flight" I'm aware of was down to the white population not feeling "at home" in areas they lived in, a form of communal alienation, etc. I wonder why it is okay for "ethnic minorities" to want to live together in "communities" yet when white British people do they're racist?

Maybe they are racist, but according to this logic so is everyone else.

Boffy said...


The 63% figure was in relation to the 2015 General Election. John Curtice has shown that on the basis of the much larger vote for Labour in 2017, which picked up more "younger", i.e. below 55, voters, who felt very aggrieved about the Brexit vote, some who otherwise would have voted Liberal or Green, and from the performance in Kensington, Canterbury etc. some even who were soft Tories, and who saw Labour as the only way of stopping a hard Brexit, the percentage of Labour voters supporting Remain was much higher, at around 75%.

Its one of the reasons why Labour continuing to fail to oppose Brexit is not just a dereliction of socialist principle in favour of democratic primitivism, and parliamentary cretinism, it is also electorally damaging. The work done by Curtice and the BES earlier showed that even in the Northern Labour held seats, even on the basis of the 2015 election, around 60% of Labour voters voted Remain, not much lower than the national average for Labour voters. The Leave votes in those seats came from Tories, and those disaffected elements who are often amongst the non-voters.

Of the 25-30% of Labour voters in those Northern constituencies that support Leave, all history shows that, in fact, they are far more concerned about the traditional issues such as Jobs, Wages, NHS, Housing and so on than Brexit, which always came a long way down their priorities at previous elections. So, arguing against Brexit is hardly likely to lose many of those voters, if Corbyn Labour offers them a radical programme on those other issues, of the kind the Kinnock/Blair-rights failed to put forward for the last thirty-five years.

I don't class the more or less five million small business owners and their families as workers, whether they engage in some form of blue collar activity or not. On education, as I've written about in the past, it shows the fallacy of the metropolitan elite myth, because it would have to mean that there are no educated people/people with degrees and so on, in places like Stoke.

Dialectician1 said...

Who constitutes the 'leave' voter has been chewed over by psephologists since the referendum. The answer is they are mostly middle class, owner occupiers with a distorted understanding of UK history.

As with the voting groups that contributed to Thatcher's victories in the 1980s, a significant proportion of 'leave' voters are manual working class. Her 1983 landslide victory was made possible because the electorate were convinced that Thatcher had defended the people of Britain from foreign invasion. They also bought the story that British economic decline was due to badly behaved immigrants (the riots), trade union bosses & loony left local authorities (framed as an 'elite' equivalent to today's metropolitan elite). Mind you, I also remember sociology teachers being identified as 'the enemy within'! (John Patten Secretary of State for education).

I'm sure there is a spatial element to it as well (rural, east side of the country voting leave) and an age profile (see Mike Savage's 'Class in the 21st Century'). Historically, a big proportion of the proletariat have always voted against their own interests.

Speedy said...

This thing about Brexit could go on and on, but there's one argument missing - what if the Leave voters were right?

I mean, maybe they weren't deluded but voted because they loathed the loss of sovereignty and felt their economic prospects suffered as a result of mass migration from the EU?

One might disagree with this, but they are legitimate opinions. Maybe they do think a bit of economic pain is worth it to make up for the democratic deficit.

Another thing worth remembering is that it was 52 per cent of the people who could be bothered to vote, not just a minority. There may be people who wish to manipulate the situation etc, but what if Leave voters accept this but are still content with their vote? I'm not convinced Remain would sweep to victory a second time around.

The EU benefited the people that voted for it, and may not have benefited (so much) those that didn't. Maybe Leave voters were not so deuded after all, but were "right" in so much as they wanted what they are going to get.

Boffy said...

Watching the bureaucratic shenanigans at LP conference, I should also have added that whilst the arguments put forward by some in the LP are frame in terms of democratic primitivism and parliamentary cretinism, its quite clear that many of those putting forward these fig leaf excuses don't believe what they are saying for a minute.

There is around Corbyn a hard core of Morning Star Stalinists and their fellow travellers who are guided by the national socialist ideas of Socialism in One Country, and who have never abandoned the reactionary nationalist, Little Englander sentiments they held back in the 1970's in opposition to the EEC, and their promotion of the nationalistic Alternative Economic Strategy, the same group having formed No2EU, and being proponents of the ridiculous notion of Lexit.

They know that a large part of Labour's vote in 2017 came from anti-Brexit, younger voters, who could just as easily disappear overnight, if Labour fails even to form an effective opposition to hard Brexit. They know that 90% of party members, especially all those young activists that have put Corbyn in his position, are fervently pro-Remain. The sitting on the fence stance has been about not pissing them off far more than any clever strategic stance vis a vis the Tories.

In fact, a clear opposition to Brexit over the last two years would probably today have Labour about 20 points ahead of the Tories in the polls, and would have made life for May impossible in trying to reconcile her internal splits. The bureaucratic wrangling over the compositing of the Brexit motions shows that what those controlling the leadership are doing is carrying out their old nationalistic, Stalinist dreams, whilst trying to pretend they are simply abiding by a requirement to "respect" the referendum result, in order to not face an open revolt by the party membership.

Its as undemocratic and disregarding of party members as what we have seen in the past from Kinnock and Blair etc. The similar bureaucratic manoeuvring over the Democracy review is just the same. The Trade Union barons know that the CLP motions did not reduce their influence, or cut them out. Their opposition was a stitch up with the leadership who are running scared of the PLP Right, and Tory media, and who prefer to keep control over deselecting or keeping MP's in place in the hands of the party bureaucracy, and local TU full-time organisers, via back room deals.

Its typical of the top down, bureaucratic methods that Stalinists have always employed in such matters.