Thursday 15 November 2018

How Theresa May Could Survive

The moment of decision is with us and the Tories are in a state of collapse. Two cabinet ministers and four juniors have gone. Theresa May's presentation of her deal to the Commons received next to no support, and speculation abounds that enough no-confidence letters have gone to the 1922 Committee. "Scribble, scribble, Mr Gibbon" replied Jacob Rees-Mogg to Channel Four's political correspondent when asked if he was one of the Tory MPs to have submitted a letter. And so, for the fourth time in four years - the eve of the Scottish independence referendum, the immediate fall out of the Brexit vote, the 2017 general election, and now May's Brexit deal - establishment politics has lost its collective head.

There are two questions in front of us now. Will May survive, and can her deal get through parliament? To answer both requires a recapitulation of her political position. The unexpected loss of her majority shattered her authority and blew apart the sham unity of her party. One moment she was the ruler of all that she surveyed, and in the next her claims to leadership were utterly shot. This remains the case. She has her allies, but May is certainly not popular on the government benches and among the fast contracting party base. And yet, perversely, the weakness of her position is a strength. The factional splintering of the parliamentary organisation meant no one faction possessed (and possesses) sufficient strength to command the allegiance of others. The Cameroons are too liberal and too remainy. Boris Johnson's figure is a turn on for some, but a bromide for many. The European Research Group are too unhinged to win potential converts outside their ideological cult, and the tiny followings assembled around minor actors in the unfolding drama offer nothing except another suit to front up a disintegrating outfit. They not only balance and, therefore, cancel each other out, not one of them would grasp the nettle of Number 10 while difficulties lie ahead. I mean, can you imagine a wastrel like Johnson staying up late for negotiations, managing recalcitrant honourable members, and absorbing testy, belligerent, and wounding criticism from his own side? No, me neither.

The situation we have then is one of inverted Bonapartism. This concept of Marx's is usually applied to understand political situations where the central, state authority is strong. The growth, autonomy and dominance of an overweening state is thanks to the mutual weakness and exhaustion of contending classes. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany are species of this kind. In the curious case of Theresa May, it's her weakness vis a vis the strength of her rivals, and their inability and unwillingness to call time on her premiership that affords her a semblance of authority and, therefore, command. Belatedly, May has come to appreciate this position and the room for manoeuvre it affords her. Witness how she went from appeasing the hard Brexiteers to dumping all over them, for instance.

To channel a choice comment from the last general election, nothing has changed. The departures of McVey and Raab, which were read as nails in the coffin of her career this morning, does not alter the basic reality. The permanent instability remains persistently torrid. The immediate obstacle May's survival faces is the 1922 Committee. We still do not know for sure if enough letters have been received by chair Graham Brady to trigger a no-confidence vote. If not, or if Brady "loses" some down the back of his sofa, she's safe between now, the upcoming EU summit, and her deal coming to the Commons. If they have and we do see a poll, May would win a vote. The clincher, however, is the margin by which victory comes. Seeing the challenge off handily sees the business carry on, but if a large minority votes for the heave-ho, even she will be forced to concede there isn't a way of getting the deal through the house. That's the best chance for her resignation.

This brings us onto the odds of getting the deal through. Even if May survives, the deal is dead in the water anyway, right? A reading of today's events suggests this, but people should take pause. Today is not the same day as the Commons vote. Between now and then, May, the whip's office, her remaining allies in the party and the editorial offices, and the wider Westminster club will go all-out to pressure the naysayers. Interestingly, Nicky Morgan from the Cameroon wing and Tim Montgomerie from hard Brexit land have converged in their support for the deal as the best possible outcome. There is, of course, the propensity for Tory rebels to do one thing and do another. "When it comes to taking principled stands, the tory party’s got more flakes than a Kellogg’s factory", observes Cat. And with the prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government looking good, choosing between this and May's Brexit deal it's difficult to suppose Tory MPs voting against in the kinds of numbers who were mouthing off earlier. Yes, May loses the DUP too, but adds "pragmatic" Labour MPs, and we have a chance, an outside one to be sure, that could see May get her way.

Living from one crisis to the next, May is certainly the great survivor of Tory politics. The problem she has got is her deal is just the beginning. Once in place there is still a trade deal to negotiate, which gives the Tory rebels something to rail against while, simultaneously, chafing against the provisions set to come into force after March. In holding a referendum, David Cameron hoped to lance the boil of Europe once and for all. When May came to office, she wanted to settle the Brexit question definitely in a hard, semi-detached direction. Both of them failed. By their actions, they are not only responsible for the biggest establishment failure in over 60 years, they have reopened and made the UK's relationship with the EU a permanent point of bad-tempered schism in the Tory party. One that, hopefully, will hasten their demise.


jim mclean said...

The DUP are the biggest losers at Westminster, no more power or bargaining tools, and they are at the back of the queue for stabbing May in the Front.
But the biggest losers are the people of Northern Ireland, voiceless in London and Stormont, the curse of Sectarian politics.

1729torus said...

Under Article 132 of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, both parties can agree to extend the transition period before 1 July 2020 by mutual agreement. This extension can only happen once.

The EU will insist any extension is synchronous with its budgetary cycle, so the extension will be for a period that is a multiple of 5 years. By 1st July 2020, the British Government must choose between:

• Terminating the transition period on 31st of December 2021 (the default).
• Terminating the transition period on 31st of December 2026.
• Deciding to remain as an EU member with no voting rights until 20XX.

The first option would severely damage the British economy and introduce a regulatory border between NI and Great Britain. It would basically be an amicable No Deal delayed by 21 months since Tariffs are only a small component of the damage that WTO rules would do to the British economy.

British service exports to the EU would effectively end. British goods exports to the EU would be subjected to random conformance inspections at the border, which would render just in time manufacturing etc. commercially non-viable.

If I understand correctly, the UK would also have to decide whether or not to leave the Customs Union as well if terminated the transition in 2021. If it does so, there would be gridlock at the ports because HMRC wouldn't be prepared for the increased burden even in 2021, and there would be a customs border between NI and Great Britain.

If Britain fails to credibly commit to seeking an extension fairly soon, business will continue to pack up and leave the UK in case it leaves the Single Market in 2021. Remember, 1st July 2020 is only around 19 months away.

If Theresa May decides to seek an extension before 1st July 2020, Brexit supporters will go bananas. They'll complain that the UK still couldn't leave even 4.5 years after the Brexit vote and that Britain would be paying yet more into Brussels.

Speedy said...

When's the vote?

it's say one thing and do another btw.

Still don't think she has the numbers. According to a helpful graphic in the Mail, even if she has the support of... Tory loyalists, moderates, remainers, the DUP, and Labour rebels rise from projected 25to 45, she will still be 28 short.

That's a huge ask. Apparently one MP is calling for a "free vote" to avoid a referendum, though I'm not sure what that entails (sounds like eyewash to me). No way will the Tories be forced into an election, however, and no way will the EU provide any further major concessions.

So that equals no deal, in which case it seems most likely (to me) that we will be looking at another referendum.

Boffy said...

May has run the negotiations up to the last minute with the strategy that in order to avoid chaos, MP's will have to vote for her bad deal rather than cause the chaos that will ensue from a No Deal, crashing out. The BBC, Sky and all the rest of the Tory media are now hyping up that strategy to fever pitch insisting that if MP's vote down May's deal, the necessary result will be that Britain crashes out with No DEal, with the inevitable disaster for Britain that will result.

They are right that the latter option would create a real disaster, but that is precisely why May, or any other Tory leader would never actually carry it out. Just the potential of it would cause a run on the Pound, hikes in Bank rate, a collapse of property, share and bond markets in Britain, shortages in shops that quickly would force a U-Turn.

But, of course, the alternative to that is NOT to vote through May's bad deal as the Tory media are trying to say. The alternative is to stop Brexit! That is what Labour should have been saying for the last 2 years, and what they should have been building a social movement around.

Unfortunately, Corbyn's position on Brexit, his recent statement that "Brexit can't be stopped", and all those who have been saying that the reactionary Brexit decision had to be "respected" have undermined the necessary opposition to the chaos that the Tories are leading us into.

Jim Denham said...

'Unfortunately, Corbyn's position on Brexit, his recent statement that "Brexit can't be stopped", and all those who have been saying that the reactionary Brexit decision had to be "respected" have undermined the necessary opposition to the chaos that the Tories are leading us into.'

Boffy and I haven't always agreed over the years: but "hear hear" to that claer statement of elementary socialist internationalism.

GW said...

Jim McClean - absolutely right non-DUPer NI people have been ignored - not just by Brexiteers on the right by by Lexiteers also.

1729Torus - yes the Transition will need to be extended for years - but only if the deal goes through.

We’re essentially in a two horse race now, I believe: no-deal Brexit or stop Brexit.

I don’t think that May’s agreement will be voted through – unless British Labour allows a major revolt after she puts it for the nth time. It’s up to British Labour to step in with a People’s Vote motion before they get to that point.

I’m reasonably happy with the strategy of British Labour at the moment:

a) Talking up the possibility of renegotiation to keep their Leavers on board (unlikely to happen in practice)
b) Trying to get a general election (again unlikely to happen in practice this side of a People’s Vote)
c) When all else fails support a People’s Vote.

Providing c) contains a remain option that’s our best hope of stopping a no-deal Brexit taking place. A single transferable vote system would be the best way of making the result of a People’s Vote continue further divisions.

And even if c) overruns the Article 50 deadline the EU would probably be flexible on its enforcement in the case of a People’s Vote. They’ve signalled over and over again that remain is their preferred destination.

Anonymous said...

Corbyn's "we can't stop Brexit" was a reference to Labour as "we". It is obvious from the context that is what was meant, and it is of course also a totally correct statement.

Both he and McDonnell have made clear in the past few days that nothing is ruled out, so stop spreading disinformation.

Tmb said...

It's obvious there is not going to be a Brexit. Being in the club but having no say is dreadful, being out of the club casts us to the mercy of the four winds. Brexit is merely a symptom of the wider malaise in politics and society. It will be grim but fun watching the Tories fall apart, tear at each other, blame each other and point fingers at everyone but themselves for the absolute mess this country is in now.

What have the majority done to deserve this 'Carry On' government?

Boffy said...

Corbyn's statement that Brexit can't be stopped was in the context of hims saying that Labour "respects" the result of the referendum. It comes on the back of Labour's disastrous position of supporting the triggering of Article 50, and tailing of the Tories on every stage of the Brexit process.

It comes along with confused and meaningless statements from Labour's front bench that if they were the government they would somehow negotiate a better deal with the EU than the Tories have done, which would somehow provide Britain with at least as good a deal outside the EU as being inside. In other words, it is a repetition of the Tories claims about having cake and eating it, dressed up in Labour clothes. What trades unionist thinks that you can or should have at least as a good a deal from being outside a trades union, as being inside one?

Corbyn's statement that Brexit can't be stopped comes on the back of Labour refusing to commit itself to scrapping Brexit in its Manifesto should an election be forced. So, if labour becomes the government, and then also fails to secure a deal that meets its Six Tests, which can't be met, what then? Would they then propose a No Deal Brexit, and the same crashing out and chaos the Tories offer us now?

Jason said...

"The alternative is to stop Brexit!"

Yes, an exclamation point is most fitting for this simple refusal to accept reality.

Anonymous said...

Polls out today show that the Labour leadership's Brexit strategy is bearing fruit, for all that some on here continue to insist that making the party the political wing of #FBPE was the correct way to go.

I refrain from further comment ;)

Boffy said...

If Labour today were making a clear argument that it would stop Brexit it would surge in the polls, as polls show that a large majority oppose May's Deal, a clear majority already support remaining in the EU, and only a tiny number support a No Deal Brexit.

If Labour had been advocating a principled socialist position for the last two years of opposing the reactionary nationalist Brexit policy, the Tories would be getting even more shredded, and the majorities for Remaining in the EU would be unstoppable.

Jim Denham said...

The Corbyn/Murray/Milne position: Labour would getter a better deal in three months than the government has managed in two years by asking more nicely, but if they needed longer they could use the transition period to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement that must be agreed for the transition period to come into effect, and they don’t like the Brexit deal agreed by Brussels, because it doesn’t provide the exact same benefits of EU membership which they disliked because of state aid and competition rules, but remaining is not necessarily better than leaving with no deal at all, and the outcome of the referendum must be respected but all options remain on the table, but a second referendum is not an option for today but could be tomorrow, and if it was Corbyn doesn’t know how he would vote.