Following the announcement of Theresa May's resignation, the starting gun has been fired on the Tory leadership race. The party’s ‘moderates’ and big business must be collecting their jaws from the ground. The contest is going shambolically. At first, so many hats were ‘thrown into the ring’ that we were left asking “who are half these people?”
Now the field has narrowed. But in the real race – the race to become the ‘Stop Boris’ candidate – things have gone from bad to worse.
Before the race got going, Michael Gove’s bid completely imploded. Despite having given numerous sermons on the harm of drug use, it turns out Govey was rather partial to the old nose candy. Indeed, as a journalist, Gove had once written an article condemning the harm caused by “middle class” drug users...before hosting a coke-fuelled party that same night!
The hypocrisy is staggering. Eight of the initial eleven hopefuls have admitted to drug use. It turns out (surprise, surprise!) that the party of ‘Law and Order’ holds black, working-class teenagers to a far higher standard than its own MPs. The former have a 78 percent chance of being charged if found in possession of illegal drugs. The latter can joke it off and still stay in with a chance of becoming Prime Minister!
Compare this to the brouhaha over Diane Abbot sipping a can of M&S mojito on her train journey home in flagrant defiance of Transport for London rules. The press were sure she had exhausted all credibility in her role as Shadow Home Secretary. Not so for Gove.
“It’s ridiculous that Michael Gove’s drug use could prevent him from becoming Tory leader,” bleated Blairite Simon Jenkins in the Guardian. And why is that? “[Because] he is by far the most competent candidate.”
Indeed, the fall of Gove is a big problem for the ruling class. They must avoid a Boris premiership and the threat of a no-deal Brexit at all costs. Gove was their ‘backstop’. They need to ensure Boris doesn’t get through to the final two contenders. Or that if he did, he’d face a ‘serious’ contender; a ‘safe pair of hands’ for big business who also holds strong pro-Leave credentials.
Gove – who was at the forefront of the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum, but who rules out a no-deal Brexit – fit the bill nicely. With tactical voting, Gove might just have kept Johnson off the ballot. A Gove v Hunt run-off is something the ruling class could have tolerated.
Now the Brexiteers have their champion. But the so-called ‘moderates’ are split between Matt Hancock, Rory Stewart, Sajid Javid, and Jeremy Hunt.
Of Rory Stewart, one journalist commented that he seemed to have forgotten which party he was campaigning to be leader of. Meanwhile, Matt Hancock announced that: “To the people who say ‘fuck business’, I say fuck fuck business.” A catchy slogan indeed. It will certainly please business. But big business aren’t the ones who pick the new Tory leader – and that is precisely the problem!
Rabid rank and file
First we have the Tory MPs, who will narrow the race down to two. Many of them will plump for Boris as the best chance they have of shoring up the vote (and their own seats) come a new general election, and maybe securing a ministerial portfolio. It is a testament to the degeneracy of the Tory Party that its representatives place their own political careers above the interests of the class they were supposed to represent.
But once we get down to the last two, the choice goes to the rabidly reactionary rank and file of the Conservative Party. Just 160,000 of these backward bigots will choose who becomes Britain’s next Prime Minister. And the Brexiteer candidates are appealing directly to this membership, with promises that each day raise the blood pressure of the country’s CEOs, bankers, and big shareholders.
Trampling over a decade of economic policy which has seen the ruling class attempt to restore its economic stability through austerity, Boris and others have promised big splurges – in particular, tax cuts for the rich, aimed to appease the party ranks.
But far more alarming for the ruling class is Boris’ promise to withhold the £39 billion divorce payment from the EU. Macron has warned that this would constitute a debt default, and would carry severe repercussions for the British government’s ability to borrow. This is of little concern to Boris, of course.
But reflecting the real ‘Tory Taliban’ – the crazed necromancers who want to bring the British Empire back from the dead and who see a hard Brexit as the way to do it – ultras such as McVey (who has now pulled out) and Rabb have even suggested “proroguing” parliament to get a hard Brexit through. That is to say, they would ask the Queen to suspend parliament and then let the clock tick down to the 31 October deadline.
And, from their point of view, why not? In the last two years parliament has been so paralysed it has passed virtually no legislation anyway. The British constitution (or lack thereof) allows for parliamentary democracy to be cast aside.
Of course the ruling class are not opposed to suspending parliamentary democracy when the occasion demands it. But these powers must be held in reserve, and not made publicly known until such point as the ruling class faces an existential threat from the organised working class. As the Financial Times asks:
“At what point does an unelected premier leading a minority government think that suspending parliament because he lacks the votes for his policy is a legitimate position for a Conservative? You might think a party clinging to power would be wary of giving a radical opposition such ideas.”
What could be worse than giving a left-wing Labour Party ‘big ideas’ about disregarding the rules erected by the establishment for its own protection?
Far more concerning for the ruling class than the complete implosion of the Tory Party is the prospect that it will usher in a left-wing, Corbyn-led government. And the carefully assembled machinery of the capitalist state (a bulwark against such a threat) could come out of this crisis extremely damaged.
This is something Jeremy Hunt, the current frontrunner to become the ‘Stop Boris’ candidate, takes quite seriously. He has made clear that he is the “sensible” candidate who will get Brexit over the line by the 31 October. Failure to do this would risk “annihilation” for the Conservative Party he says.
This is all very true. But how is he or anyone else going to solve these contradictions that toppled May? Either a new Conservative PM will have to push through the soft Brexit the EU have put on the table and tear apart the Tory Party (if it can even pass parliament). Or they will have to go for a hard Brexit in order to keep the Brexit Party at bay, causing an economic catastrophe in the process – and the Tory Party will still split.
In fact, whatever the next Tory leader chooses, Parliament is so split that – despite the hammering May’s deal received – none of the alternatives can get a majority. Whoever fills May’s place will face the same stalemate.
General election now!
There has also been one other important intervention in the leadership contest worth noting: that of the President of the United States himself. Trump is in no doubt: he would prefer to see Johnson and the Brexiteers come out on top.
After all, once Britain cuts loose from the EU, its only option is to turn towards the US for a trade deal. And Trump has been quite clear: “when you’re dealing with trade, everything’s on the table – so the NHS or anything else.”
No doubt, under Johnson the NHS will be opened up to American Big Pharma. But if he makes it to the last two, his opponent, that great lover of the NHS, Jeremy Hunt, will be no ‘lesser evil’.
Over the six years that he occupied the role of Secretary of State for Health, the NHS was defunded by more than £20 billion; 15,000 NHS beds disappeared; and the healthcare system was left with fewer 1,200 GPs. Meanwhile, cuts to nurses’ pay and nursing bursaries mean the NHS now has a shortfall of 40,000 nurses.
The Tory leadership contest is ultimately a fight over which mafia boss will get to represent the gangsters who are robbing and exploiting us.
But with the Tories ripping each other apart, now is a perfect moment for the working class to go on the offensive. The Labour Party – and indeed the whole labour movement – should organise mass meetings, demonstrations and coordinated strike action up-and-down the country now to force a general election and bring a socialist Labour government to power.
Note: in the time since this article was published, the first poll of Tory MPs has been released, putting Boris Johnson way out in the lead - 13/06/19.