Britain is in the midst of a profound crisis, not seen in modern times. Everywhere is in uproar. This is the view not of some left-wing newspaper, but the official view of the British ruling class.
In the past, these powerful capitalist interests called all the shots. But today they have lost control of the situation.
Bring down the government
“Boris Johnson has detonated a bomb under the constitutional apparatus of the United Kingdom,” states a recent editorial of the Financial Times, the organ of British finance capital.
The actions of Boris Johnson, the Tory Prime Minister, in proroguing Parliament are described as “without modern precedent”.
“History has shown that charlatans, demagogues and would-be dictators have little time for representative government. They seek ways around parliament before concluding it is an inconvenience. Mr Johnson may not be a tyrant, but he has set a dangerous precedent. He and the cabal around him who have chosen this revolutionary path should be careful what they wish for.”
The hard-hitting editorial concludes: “It is time for parliamentarians to bring down his government in a no-confidence vote, paving the way for an election in which the people can express their will.” (FT, 28/8/19)
This is truly astonishing. The dominant section of the ruling class – fearing a hard Brexit – is publicly calling for the bringing down of a Tory government! They say this is necessary “to safeguard British democracy”. In reality, it is to protect their power, profits and material interests, which are dressed up as “the national interest”.
We are certainly living in abnormal times. Some are comparing it to the period prior to the English Civil War, where Charles I prorogued Parliament. This resulted in his head being cut off.
Boris Johnson is no Charles I. Charles may have lost his head, but at least he had a head to lose. Johnson is an unelected prime minister, leading a minority government. His overriding interest – apart from himself – is to secure Brexit, whatever the consequences, and boost his own standing. He and his small cabal of staunch Brexiteers are hell-bent on a no-deal Brexit route.
Johnson’s actions have understandably repelled most people. Nearly half of Britons polled in a YouGov survey reject his plan to suspend Parliament. But Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Common, contemptuously dismissed the backlash as a “candyfloss of outrage”.
It is an attempted constitutional ‘coup’. This, the constitutionalists fret, sets a dangerous precedent. After all, it could encourage a future left Labour government to push through a radical programme by such means.
Johnson knows he cannot secure a deal with the EU that removes the Irish backstop. But his hard stance has caused alarm in European capitals. This is part of a ploy.
Given his weak parliamentary base, the only way he can drive Brexit through is to adopt skullduggery, and put his opponents on the back foot – not least of all ‘rebel’ Tory MPs. He has promised them a deal by the European Council on 17-18 October, hoping that this will prevent them from supporting a vote of no confidence.
The proroguing of Parliament was used to cause the maximum disruption within the opposition. Boris wrong-footed them by dispatching Jacob Rees-Mogg off to Balmoral Castle to get the Queen’s consent for his ‘coup’.
Corbyn had recently agreed with the Lib Dems, Independents and Nationalist parties that they would unite to find a legislative means to defeat a hard Brexit. This has now been blown out of the water, given the lack of time. There is now no way to stop a hard Brexit except by a vote of no confidence to oust Johnson.
However, this option is unpalatable for the Lib-Dem-Tory-Independent opposition, as it would hand power to Corbyn. This is something they struggle to stomach, even if Corbyn would only be a temporary prime minister in a caretaker government.
They are being forced by Johnson to make difficult choices very quickly. Boris has even dared them to bring down his government next week.
The suspension of Parliament has certainly heightened the political turbulence in Britain. The Tories are divided, with the likes of Ruth Davidson resigning as leader of the Scottish Tory Party.
Elsewhere, John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, called the prorogation a “constitutional outrage”, saying: “the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country.”
The left is also alarmed at Boris Johnson “threatening parliamentary democracy”. Journalist and commentator Paul Mason, for instance, led a demonstration outside Parliament last night to “defend democracy”.
Of course, we must defend our democratic rights, which the working class has had to fight for and win: the right to vote, the right to strike, the right to organise, etc.
But, in his speech to last night’s crowd, Mason was full of praise for the parliamentary talking shop. In the process, he came out with some atrocious arguments, including nonsense about “the great contribution of the Tory Party to democracy”. This is quite sick on the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre, where working people were butchered in return for asking for the vote by the ancestors of the Tories.
“To my friends in the Tory Party, I respect the tradition you are part of,” Mason announced in front of his assembled audience on College Green in Westminster. “I respect your party’s contribution to making British democracy what it is: from Peel, Disraeli, and yes, Winston Churchill...”
How ignorant! In fact, it was Sir Robert Peel who, in December 1842, prorogued Parliament for a period of six weeks! It is precisely these Tory ‘conventions’ that Johnson is now using to carry out his suspension of parliament.
The Tories have opposed every extension of democratic rights, including the right to vote and strike. This seems to have been missed by Paul Mason, in his rush to defend ‘democracy’.
He praised the Supreme Court – as the highest authority in the land – which, he claimed endorses the “will of the people” that “is only expressed in Parliament”. But this court is an unelected and unaccountable body, completely in the pockets of big business. It has consistently endorsed many anti-working class laws and is certainly no friend of ours.
Owen Jones has called for an occupation of parliament “by citizens” – and even a general strike to “defend democracy”. In other words, a general strike to keep Parliament in session!
But a general strike poses the question of power: who controls society? It is not a secondary matter. The idea of millions of workers going on strike without pay – indefinitely – so that MPs can continue to sit in the House of Commons – lacks a sense of proportion.
And who is going to call this general strike? Owen Jones? The Trade Union Congress? If a general strike was possible, it would be far better to call a one-day protest strike, directly linked to a campaign to force the Tories out, and for an immediate general election.
We could then fight, not for extra time for parliamentary sessions, but for a Corbyn government committed to socialist policies.
Jeremy Corbyn sought a meeting with the Queen to discuss the decision to prorogue Parliament. But the Monarch had already given her royal blessing to Johnson’s request. The irony of an elected party leader asking an unelected royal to “save democracy” was laid bare for all to see. Our sovereign has been a willing tool of Boris Johnson. As Kate Osamor, a Labour backbencher, tweeted: “The Queen. Did. Not. Save. Us.”
The Monarchy is not there to save anyone – except itself and the establishment, of which it is a part. It is a reserve weapon of the ruling class, to be used in dire emergencies.
These ‘humble addresses’ to the Queen to stop Boris did not prevent the ‘Best for Britain’ pro-Remain group from issuing a threat:
“If the Queen is asked to help, she would do well to remember history doesn’t look too kindly on royals who aid and abet the suppression of democracy.”
But it is not at all certain that a vote of no confidence will succeed in parliament. That is the reason for the stern demand of the Financial Times for the opposition to swallow their differences so as to “safeguard British democracy”.
Pressure will be exerted and arms will be twisted to do the right thing. Dominic Grieve, a prominent Tory Remainer, has already said he will vote in favour of a no-confidence motion. Others will follow suit.
Even if the vote of no confidence is passed, senior government sources have said that Boris will refuse to resign, or will refuse to recommend to the Queen that she should call an alternative leader to form a new government. This could lead to constitutional chaos, drawing the Queen even further into this mess.
Johnson might prefer instead to call an immediate general election, the exact date of which will be in his hands. He could then run down the clock by setting election day for early November, by which time Britain would have left the EU without a deal.
On the other hand, if the vote of confidence fails, Parliament will reconvene on 14 October to hear the Queen’s Speech – a mere two weeks before the Brexit deadline. This would wipe out parliamentary time and severely limit the options of those opposed to Brexit.
Everything will reach a crescendo. The opposition could find that they have missed the boat, as a vote of no confidence, followed by a general election, would then see Britain exit the EU without a deal.
For a socialist Labour government!
A general election is nevertheless inevitable sooner rather than later. It will be the bitterest general election ever fought, and the stakes will be very high.
It is clear that Johnson will stand on a ‘no deal’ platform, entering into an electoral pact with Farage and the Brexit Party. He will try to frame the election as a battle between Parliament and the people, with himself on the side of ‘the people’. He thinks he can re-run the 2016 EU referendum campaign all over again, and gain a new mandate for a no-deal Brexit.
Unfortunately, Corbyn has been forced into a pro-Remain position, mainly by the Blairites in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Instead of explaining that, on a capitalist basis, neither being in or out of the EU will solve anything for working people, he has buckled under the pressure.
The reason why Labour did so well in the 2017 general election was the fact that Corbyn concentrated on the class issues, and not on Brexit. But now Corbyn has promised that, if elected, Labour will hold a second referendum. This will be portrayed by Boris and co. as blocking Brexit.
By contrast, Johnson will try to focus the entire attention of the general election on Brexit, and how he is delivering ‘the people’s vote’. The Sun, Daily Mail, Express, etc., will all help him in this regard. They will be hysterical in attacking Corbyn and the rest over this issue.
Johnson believes that either the opposition will fall apart, or that they will be forced to fight a general election on his terms. Of course, a general election will be a gamble for Johnson. It will be a do-or-die situation.
In the past, however, he, as leader of the Tory Party, would have received the full backing of the capitalist media. But apart from the gutter press, this will not be the case this time.
The ruling class are split. Sections will support the Remain camp. They would prefer some kind of National Unity government, rather than a Corbyn Labour government. However, much will depend on the parliamentary arithmetic, which is impossible to predict.
Whatever the outcome, Britain has entered an extraordinarily convulsive period: politically, economically, constitutionally, and in every possible way. Nothing will be the same ever again.
The rottenness of the establishment is being revealed on a daily basis. The scene is being set for revolutionary convulsions, in which the socialist transformation will be on the order of the day.