Saturday 23 March 2019

Theresa May and the Death of the Tory Party

A thousand obituaries have been written for Theresa May, and yet she's defied every single one of them. From the moment she bungled the election, the fall out from Grenfell Tower, and the long, calamitous June we've endured for nigh on two years, the premier-ship has weathered all storms. Sure, her first major squall smashed the bridge completely and swept her two most important - and able - lieutenants out to sea. But it also locked steering into position, ensuring subsequent buffeting by turbulence or tempest failed to knock her from her unidirectional course. Not even gaping chunks shot out of the hull by some of the worst defeats ever suffered by a government failed to sink the vessel. And as she limped into port, the deck in tatters and the sails but rags streaming from the masts, it looked like May inadvertently scuttled herself.

It wasn't just May's ill-advised choice of words and tone that marked the end of the road, it's the test she set herself. Last Sunday with the PM's blessing, cabinet members did the rounds to say the deal wouldn't be coming back if support can't be mustered for it. Come the week the Speaker was minded to rule out its return thanks to parliamentary standing orders, and in the days since the EU issued their two-lane extension - 12th April if May's deal wasn't agreed and nothing else was forthcoming, and 22nd May if it was to get the supplementary legislation through - the hard Brexit right and the DUP cried foul and reiterated their opposition. Then came her disastrous public address. There was no way, not even the remotest likelihood a third try could clear the Commons. For someone with no reverse gear, who confuses obstinacy for leadership, this is a recipe for paralysis. You could quite easily see May doing nothing except for pantomiming negotiations and waiting for the clock to run down again to get the deal through.

If the Twitter buzz retailing rumours and rumours of rumours is correct, then the end truly is upon us. Reporting earlier on Saturday, Alex Wickham of Buzzfeed had the low down on an awkward but fruitless encounter between the Tory whips' office and May. To all intents and purposes they told her to go. And the gossip about unnamed minister texting unnamed minister with a view to decanting May from Number 10 acquired substance as "Shippers" chimed in. He claims 11 ministers are planning to tell May to go at Cabinet on Monday, including Michael Gove who has "secretly assembled" a leadership campaign team. What chance an orderly transition after May? Um ...

Ordinarily, if a Prime Minister steps down the deputy takes over as caretaker until they are replaced by a new leader. On this occasion, this would be David Lidington - an otherwise anonymous and not obviously objectionable Tory, at least compared to the other "characters" that make up the government. The problem with Lidington, according to "Shippers", is that he's quite prepared to do Brexit as the full customs union with single market access monty, with the backing of the Labour Party. Curious that Sajid Javid is counted among the Leavers-for-Lidington, while Jeremy Hunt is very much not in favour of such a proposal. Even more bizarre is Gove who, despite his popularity among the backbenchers and the most prominent Tory in the Leave campaign after Boris Johnson, also has the hots for Labour's position, at least according to self-appointed ERG shop steward Steve Baker. Is this what hegemony looks like? Is Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister already?

For Tory watchers, this is very exciting. The left's path to and retention of power involves the disruption of the Tories and the dispersal of their voter coalition. Happily, they're on the verge of doing this necessary job themselves. For the government to adopt Labour's approach to Brexit will cause a major schism. The ERG and their friends will cry betrayal, of course, and Nigel Farage is sure to go through the "this ain't Brexit" motions. With luck, the hard right will decamp and split the party from top to bottom - but that's expecting a bit too much. As per their friends on the Labour right (literal friends, in some cases) who have a record of demobilising their base, what is more likely is their shrieks and squeals to start prising apart the Tories' electoral coalition and driving a wedge between the Conservative Party and those hard right voters for whom the hardest Brexit has become an S&M fantasy. Not ideal when your coalition is old, isn't replacing itself, and when leaving the EU is the glue holding the shebang together.

For May, the writing is on the wall and she will be remembered as a terrible Prime Minister. Even so, she has rendered a valuable service. In spite of herself she has led the Tory party to the brink of immolation. If the whole thing is touched off and goes up like a bomb, then history might be kinder to her than she could ever hope it to be.


Boffy said...

Unfortunately, yesterday also gave the obituary notice for the Corbyn Labour Party, and announced the birth of the Watson Labour Party.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that Brexit represents an historic struggle between two great class camps, with the forces of reaction mobilised in the camp demanding Brexit, and the forces of progress mobilised in the camp demanding it be scrapped. It is the most important class battle for a generation, in which defeating the forces of reaction, is a matter of life and death. More than a million people mobilised yesterday in support of the progress, whilst less than a hundred, stragglers meandered behind the self-publicising demagogue Farage.

But, where was Corbyn in this manifestation of the greatest class battle in a generation. Was he, given his commitment to supporting party democracy, and building mass social movements, at the head of the People's March? No, he had gone AWOL, leaving Watson to fulfil that role.

Its as though Corbyn does not want the job, and is happy for Watson to take over to lead the revitalised Blair-rights that Corbyn's strategy has allowed to arise from the grave, when they should instead have been buried.

Anonymous said...

The boos ringing out when Watson spoke yesterday suggest otherwise

Anonymous said...

Boffy is even more off on one than usual.


Dialectician1 said...

‘There you are, ha ha, I told you so
Says everybody that we know’
Joe Strummer. The English Civil War.

It's worth having a look at the spatial makeup of the revoke Article 50 petition, which as I write has reached 5,300,000. If you go on to the website and click the map option, there’s a definite North/South divide (Wash – Severn); a cosmopolitan urban (the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Oxford-London-Cambridge; Brighton; Edinburgh etc.)/ isolated east coast rural divide; and some interesting stuff going on on the west coast of Scotland. Some constituencies are as high as 20%, other - mostly staunch Labour constituencies - barely register at 2%. Thus spoke the √úbermensch.

Jim Denham said...

Clive Lewis: "You won't find many black MPs in the Labour party that support brexit... We have a spider sense for this kind shit" - @labourlewis

Boffy said...

The geographical divide shows that in the Tory rural shires there is less support for the petition, just as that is where the majority of support for Brexit comes from. In the North, it is in the Metropolitan areas, i.e. the cities where Labour's core vote resides that the support for the petition is greatest.