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Editorial of the Socialist, issue 1003
Tories in crisis - Act now to get them out!
- For mass trade union-led struggle against the weak and divided government
- Demand an immediate general election
- For a Corbyn-led government with socialist policies
Theresa May is clinging to power by a thread. For the first time since 1982 two cabinet ministers have resigned within 24 hours, as the Brexit civil war has ignited into a full scale conflict. 'Unite behind me or get Jeremy Corbyn' was her desperate plea to the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs.
Her joke to them that she was 'thinking of going on a walking holiday' was met with howls of horror. Last time she did so she decided to call a snap election and it is the Tories fear of another - and the coming to power of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government - that is the glue that has, to date, prevented the utter implosion of their party.
The Labour and trade union leaders have a responsibility to urgently build a mass movement demanding a general election, linked to Jeremy Corbyn putting forward a socialist programme that would transform the lives of working and middle class people. Whether they are in favour of a 'hard' or 'soft' Brexit, the Tories are united on pursuing anti-working class policies designed to increase the profits of the capitalist elite. The chance created by the Tories' chaos must be seized! Otherwise it cannot be excluded that - against the odds - May manages to cling to power.
The Brexit statement which May tried to press gang her cabinet into supporting at Chequers - even taking away their phones and ministerial cars in the hope of keeping them in line - was given a cautious welcome by much of big business.
The overwhelming majority of the capitalist class would have preferred Britain to remain part of the EU, as the best means for them to maximise their profits. It is a sign of the profound crisis of British capitalism that its traditional party cannot be relied on to act in its interests. As the clock towards Brexit ticks down, however, the capitalists have been exerting ever-increasing pressure on the Tories to agree a deal as close as possible to BINO, 'Brexit in Name Only'.
May's Chequers proposal is far from everything that the pro-EU capitalists would like, but it nonetheless represented a qualitative step in their direction by agreeing a free trade area for goods.
It is unlikely that the institutions of the EU, never mind the 27 member states, would agree May's proposals as drafted. In particular, they fear that it could trigger a domino effect as right-wing populists across the EU used it to push their own demands, including further measures to limit cross-border migration. Nonetheless, the pro-EU capitalists calculated that if May could hold the line in her own party on the Chequers proposal, she might then also be able to force through further concessions required by the EU.
The Tory Brexiteers made the same calculation: hence Davies and then Johnson's resignations. Having fought for a popular base - in the Tory Party membership and more broadly - by whipping up nationalism, it was untenable to remain in the cabinet without being completely discredited.
The split in the Tory party is therefore now an open and gaping chasm. At this stage it is not clear if the Brexiteers will launch a leadership challenge in the short term. 80 Tory MPs are reported to have attended a pro-Brexit meeting on 9 July. It seems they would have the 48 MPs needed to force a confidence vote, but probably not the 159 they'd need to win it - and therefore force a leadership contest. And if they lose they could not constitutionally launch another no-confidence challenge for a year.
More fundamentally, all sides of the Tory party fear a leadership contest would lead to the Tory party tearing itself apart and Jeremy Corbyn coming to power. Nonetheless, despite the Brexiteers hesitations it is not ruled out that events could quickly escalate. Wars, including civil wars, have their own momentum, which at a certain point can become unstoppable, as has been indicated by Davies' and Johnson's resignations.
At this stage May has stated she is determined to face the Brexiteers down, as she is being urged to do by the capitalist class. The Financial Times, voicing the view of big business, made that clear, arguing in its editorial on 10 July that: "Mrs May has recognised the only pragmatic approach to decoupling from the EU is a softer version of Brexit. To avoid the reckless outcome of a no-deal outcome, the prime minister should stand firm."
If the white paper on the Chequers proposal comes to parliament, however, it is clear that May could be relying on Labour votes to get it through. Labour should not prop up May's rotten government but instead demand a general election and vote accordingly. It is a campaign for a general election, and not for a second referendum, which offers a path to unite the working class and get the Tories out.
This should be combined with Corbyn going on a political offensive to campaign for, and build on, the anti-austerity programme he put forward in the snap general election - including the immediate introduction of a £10 an hour minimum wage, free education, rent controls, mass council house building and the real funding increases need to solve the NHS and social care crisis. This should be linked to nationalisation of the banks and major monopolies under democratic workers' control, as the only way to ensure the transformation needed is not sabotaged by the capitalist class.
It is also essential that he does not give into the pressure from the capitalist class - via the Blairite wing of Labour - to accept the neoliberal rules associated with membership of the Single Market. Instead, Corbyn should develop his current stance, calling for an internationalist and anti-racist Brexit in the interests of the working class majority, with trade deals negotiated from that starting point.
If Corbyn goes on the offensive he can be seen by millions of working class people as strong enough to take on and defeat the Tories in order to start to build a society for the many not the few, uniting workers who voted Leave and Remain in the process. Many of those working class people who are currently sceptical of whether he and his party are capable of fighting in their interests could be enthused and mobilised behind a programme to transform their lives after decades of austerity. If, however, he hesitates and retreats, May - despite everything - could cling on and support for Corbyn could ebb further.
At this stage keeping May in power remains the preferred option of the majority of the capitalist class. However, they are all too aware that it might be impossible to avoid a snap election. It would be naïve to imagine that their response to that would be to stand back and accept a Jeremy Corbyn victory, or if he won, the implementation of pro-working class policies.
On the contrary they will do all they can to sabotage such a scenario. Aiding them in doing so is not only the right-wing press but also the pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party, who make up a majority of the parliamentary Labour Party and of Labour councillors.
A Blairite split before a general election, around a pro-neoliberal Single Market programme, cannot be excluded in a desperate bid to stop a Corbyn victory. And if the Blairites remain within the Labour Party, they will do so in order to sabotage a Corbyn-led government at the behest of the capitalist elite. A programme to transform Labour into a mass, democratic workers' party, including introducing mandatory reselection of MPs, is therefore a crucial - and overdue - part of the preparation for a snap election alongside building a mass movement to get the Tories out.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 10 July 2018 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.