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Editorial of the Socialist, issue 915
Break with Blairites essential to defeating divided Tories
In the aftermath of the EU referendum, with the Tories reeling at the shock of their defeat, the Tory leadership selection process was ditched and Theresa May was appointed prime minister. The Brexit vote represented a working class revolt, a rejection of the status quo, which shook the establishment. The Tories hoped that May could bring the stability demanded by the capitalists. This is impossible on any sustained basis.
She has sought to be the voice of reassurance on all fronts. From the steps of Downing Street May promised to fight the "burning injustice" in British society.
On the question of withdrawal from the EU her verbal salve has been the meaningless phrase, "Brexit means Brexit". She ditched most of the leading figures in Cameron's government and intimated a change in the approach to austerity. But no end to austerity is intended by her.
These are barely even cosmetic touch-ups to a continuation of out-and-out pro-rich, anti-working class Toryism. A Tory party conference brochure advertises a 'business day' and dinner is £3,150 per person to meet May and her new ministers. That this 'cash for access' will be money well spent for lobbyists was demonstrated in her refusal to take on the sugar industry in her so-called childhood obesity strategy.
Now she has returned from her holidays to find that her party's problems have Alpine proportions. On the one hand the Tories hold a wafer thin majority in Parliament. They were elected by only 24% of voters, are deeply unpopular and their announcements are viewed with scepticism.
But even more pressing for May are the deep divides within the party - over the EU in particular. May's attempts to broker peace included appointing the main Tory Brexiteers - Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis - as the ministers for exit. May's reported clampdown on unauthorised press comments from MPs belie her fears that the differences over Brexit among them will reveal the deep ravines in her party.
However the limits to this manoeuvre were revealed only weeks later when Fox, the International Trade Secretary, was challenged by May for suggesting that the UK should leave the EU's customs union, which he believes would make it easier to secure new trade deals with non-EU countries. Her appointment was first and foremost to as far as possible protect British big business's access to the single market in any negotiations.
There has been talk of a snap general election - especially from right-wing Labour MPs who hope it could finish Jeremy Corbyn in a way their leadership challenge is failing to do. But May has ruled this out. She understands that the hope that she could cement her leadership and silence the Tory splits in a general election is a pipe dream. A general election would demand her party spelling out what Brexit actually means when big sections of the capitalist class hope that Brexit can be pushed back and pushed back into, if not a reversal at least an enormous dilution of the meaning of 'exit'.
But the flashpoints are too many to avoid by delaying an election - for example the looming question of whether the British government will pay money to Europe will test the Tories soon. Asked if she would rule this out, May answered by not answering: "What we're doing is making our preparations before we trigger Article 50 and go into the formal negotiations. I'm not going to give away my negotiating hand."
When the Tories are in such disarray is precisely the time to strike back at them and austerity. In an article about potential attacks on junior doctors' right to strike a senior Downing Street source told the Sunday Times that the prime minister was not proposing curbs on strikes herself, saying: "We don't want to poke them even more and get them even more wound up than they already are." She cannot fight on all fronts - while the battle inside the party rages is precisely the time for the trade unions to organise action. Coordinating all the current disputes in a 24-hour general strike would be most effective.
The outcome of the civil war over the future of the Labour Party is also a major factor in determining the Tories' fortunes. A victory for Owen Smith would represent the re-taking of Labour by capitalism as its 'second eleven' - a party that could be relied on to continue the policies of privatisation, deregulation, attacking trade unions, and so on in the interests of the bosses. But this is not the most likely outcome.
The plotters seem to recognise their likely defeat. Although this has not stopped them from using every trick in the book to undermine the vote for Jeremy Corbyn - mass exclusions and suspensions by the compliance unit, false consultations of union members that find in favour of Smith, the shutting down of meetings and the suspension of Constituency Labour Parties. This is combined with the propaganda of 'unity'.
A 'united' Labour Party that means uniting with the Blairites cannot work. The interests represented by the right wing and the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn are diametrically opposed. As the election campaign goes on, and Jeremy Corbyn attends more and more big rallies, the support and demand for a bold programme is felt: rent control and investment in council housing, a £10 an hour minimum wage and renationalisation. All the indicators show that the bolder and more socialist, the greater the support.
Labour under Corbyn can also make big gains by showing it stands on the side of workers and that it is in government and councils to fight austerity. All those fighting back against austerity must be welcomed into the movement for Jeremy Corbyn. This was Jeremy Corbyn's correct approach when he expressed support for the striking teaching assistants at a leadership election rally in Derby. In contrast, Momentum organisers in Waltham Forest denied a group of tenants facing eviction the chance to appeal for support at a recent Corbyn rally, where John McDonnell was speaking. John himself, however, gave a real boost to the campaign by offering his support.
However, given Jeremy Corbyn's advantage in the polls and the limits to the effectiveness of rigging the vote, the right wing are preparing for alternative strategies. Clive Betts has tabled a motion calling for MPs to elect the shadow cabinet telling Parliament, "we can't carry on as we are". This indicates one plan is to attempt to isolate and limit Jeremy Corbyn's leadership with the hope of removing him at a later date. In fact one Smith supporter told the Observer that if they didn't win this time they would seek another challenge next year.
It is very good that in response to Frank Field comparing the popular demand for mandatory reselection to MPs facing an "execution squad" Jeremy has said "party members must have a chance to decide who they want and what they want".
Mandatory reselection must be part of re-founding Labour as a party fit for the purpose of fighting the weak and divided Tories.
It must be combined with moves from above to kick out the Blairites - MPs should only have the Labour whip if they agree to accept the renewed mandate for Corbyn and his anti-austerity, anti-war policies and to support fighting workers and anti-cuts campaigns.
But another sort of unity is essential - unity of working class, socialist fighters. That means opening up and re-democratising the national structures of the Labour Party. The founding structures of the Labour Party involved separate socialist political parties linking up with the trade unions and social movements like women's suffrage campaigners and the co-operative movement.
That federal approach applied to today would mean allowing political parties like the Socialist Party and others involved in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), and anti-austerity Greens, to affiliate to Labour as the Co-op Party still does.
There is no doubt about the potential for such a party to win huge support with a bold programme and militant approach to struggle.
In The Socialist 7 September 2016:
Socialist Party news and analysis
TUC congress 2016
International socialist news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist readers' comments and reviews
Socialist Party reports and campaigns