How the gods destroy Tory governments

by David Osland

Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad. And when the fancy takes them, they sadistically subject Tory governments visibly on the skids to cunningly-designed symbolic torment, calibrated perfectly to maximise exposure of the unwilling victims’ manifold ethical shortcomings.

In their ways, the Profumo scandal, cash for questions and Grenfell Tower are all modern-day miniature morality tales, there for the political edification of the many as well as the few. The first two presaged the downfall of the Macmillan and Major premierships respectively; the latter will surely bookend May’s days in Number Ten.

Grenfell Tower – its burned-out skeleton rising above Britain’s richest borough, in a seat that had just one week earlier fallen to Labour – is effectively a parable on the theme of private affluence and public squalor. After what has happened, it is not obvious that there is now any way back for the Tories; what is clear is that there does not deserve to be.

All of these episodes somehow encapsulate a Zeitgeist. Spotlighting in turn the hollow hypocrisy of bourgeois sexual morality, the bog standard venality of backbenchers on the take, and now the impact of austerity on the lives of the working poor, each graphically indicted a complacent rightwing administration that could serve further gainful purpose.

Perhaps it is worth recapping the earlier incidents, starting with the first. We as witnesses to love in the time of Simon Danczuk naturally experience difficulty in visualising a nation more shocked than titillated by tawdry revelations from the boudoir.

Today a male politician – even a cabinet minister – caught between the sheets with a sex worker would likely not lose his job, with any admonishment more likely to come from feminist quarters than from upholders of marital fidelity. Christine Keeler would perhaps be posting cleavage-revealing selfies on Twitter and seeking selection as a Labour PPC.

Yet even from this distance, that her other clients included an intelligence operative of a country deemed to incarnate the very ideology most frequently counterposed to British democracy retains some power to shock.

Perhaps a contemporary analogy would be the news that one of Boris Johnson’s partners in amorous dalliance was simultaneously sharing a bed with a senior figure in so-called Islamic State.

Profumo, of course, compounded matters by his dishonesty, dissembling before the House of Commons in much the manner of Bill Clinton at the height of the Lewinsky imbroglio.

But Profumo did have sexual relations with that woman, and it was never glad confident morning again; shortly thereafter, Macmillan stepped down, and Alec Douglas-Home – the last Eton-educated prime minister prior to Cameron – survived a fag-end year before being replaced by Wilson.

Thereafter, the Conservatives wisely eschewed the promulgation of family values, until the 1990s, when John Major chose to resurrect the right’s association with them under the slogan of ‘back to basics’.

Almost predictably, this newly-erected roof caved in shortly thereafter, with ministerial indiscretions ranging from adulterous hotel room legovers allegedly undertaken in Chelsea football strip to a death brought on by over-enthusiastic indulgence in the solitary vice while practising erotic auto-asphyxiation.

In 1994, the Guardian published a story contending that lobbyists shoved brown paper envelopes stuffed with cash into the clammy hands of Conservative MPs ready to table questions on behalf of the owner of an upmarket department store in Knightsbridge. This time it was the political process itself that was prostituted, with furore dragging on for years.

Major stepped down as Tory leader in 1995, only be chosen again in a gesture that backfired every bit as self-defeatingly as May’s recent bumbled effort to win a stronger Brexit mandate.

Meanwhile, the drip-drip nature of the unfavourable reportage led to the coining of the expression ‘Tory sleaze’, setting the scene for Labour’s landslide triumph of 1997. Blair’s protestation that his new government would be ‘purer than pure’ never found definitive fruition, to put it charitably. But that is the subject of another polemic.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy was – at the time of writing – known to have claimed the lives of 79 men, women and children, with the death toll likely to rise further still.

And for what? For want of fireproof cladding would have cost an additional £5,000, after a Tory council under a Tory government opted for regeneration on the cheap, and that largely motivated by the aesthetic pleasure of the area’s wealthier residents.

Meanwhile – as Jeremy Corbyn has pointed out – seven years of austerity have seen many local authorities cut back on fire testing and inspections, simply because they have insufficient staff to undertake such vital tasks.

For decades, the small state butted out of social housing, and privatised and deregulated such social housing as it was obliged to provide because minimum-wage immigrant cleaners have to live somewhere. The denouement of right-to-buy is horribly upon us.

British politics now finds itself characterised by a government bereft of any sense of direction beyond platitudinous appeals to Brexit patriotism, blithely compounding unforced error upon further unforced error, and an opposition has reinvigorated by its two-year embrace of democratic socialism.

Much like Wilson after Profumo and Blair after cash for questions, Corbyn after Grenfell Tower finds himself gifted with a trashed Tory party that has dug its own grave, and an electorate now ready for the Labour alternative.

Theresa May will, of course, try to hang on in there in the wake of her Pyrrhic victory. Let her reverie last as long as it does; whether her assassins be internal or external, the reprieve can only be temporary.

But it is already clear that the next general election will set the direction the country will take in the most decisive period of its postwar history. For the Labour left, the next general election cannot come soon enough.

General Election 2017: For the many, not the few

by Bryan Gould

The British general election has produced an impressive list of casualties.  Theresa May may survive for the time being but her gamble on a snap election so as to increase her majority – and her authority, especially in the forthcoming Brexit talks – has spectacularly misfired.  Even with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, it seems unlikely that she or her government will survive a full further term.

Other casualties were even less expected.  The Scottish National Party’s losses seem to have put paid to any talk of a second referendum on Scottish independence. And the loss by Nick Clegg of his seat in the House of Commons demonstrates the price that has been paid by the Liberal Democrats for the coalition arrangement Clegg took them into with the Tories. Continue reading →

Two key reasons for Corbyn’s stunning advance

by Tom O Leary

This post first appeared on Socialist Economic Bulletin.

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership the Labour Party has staged a stunning revival, prevented Theresa May achieving a landslide which she would have claimed as a mandate for ‘Hard Brexit’ and has caused a crisis of Tory government which will make it harder to make new cuts in public spending, apart from rising inflation. None of Corbyn’s opponents could have possibly achieved that outcome.

This point can be factually established in two ways. First, there is the record of the election campaign itself. None of Jeremy Corbyn’s internal or external opponents would have conducted anything like the same campaign or written anything similar to the manifesto that was produced. On the contrary, the tactic of Corbyn’s opponents was to ‘give him enough rope to hang himself’, believing that his programme would prove massively unpopular. Continue reading →

Why far-right terrorism is on the rise

by Phil Burton-Cartledge

And here we are again. Another day, another terror attack with one dead and eight others injured. Though, on this occasion it’s definitely not Islamist-inspired. According to witnessesthe man who rammed worshippers leaving Finsbury Park Mosque screamed “Kill me, kill me, I want to kill all Muslims”. It’s to the credit of the traumatised crowd that the suspect wasn’t granted his wish and got carted off into police custody. As the legal process is now in train there is little that can be reported about him or his intentions, but there are points we can make about hate crime and political violence motivated by far right politics.

While incidences of Islamist terror are shocking, in another sense they aren’t. For the last 16 years the press and politicians have talked up the possibility of attacks from this quarter to justify military action overseas and authoritarian legislation at home. It’s part and parcel of measures that have the consequence of scaring, cowing, atomising large numbers of people. It is an approach utterly disinterested in dealing meaningfully with the roots of terror as it raises uncomfortable questions. And so we have a sensibility, a notion that as awful Islamist atrocities are they are also banal, or something to be expected. The state is prepped for it. Culture is prepped for it. Continue reading →

Labour MPs to table Queen’s speech amendment for votes at 16

by James Elliott

Labour peers and MPs are planning to table a range of amendments to the Queen’s speech. Due to the government only having a majority of 13, a rebellion of 7 Tory or DUP MPs on a specific issue would give Labour a victory.

The Queen’s Speech itself is expected to be “wafer thin”, as Andrew Gwynne put it on Sky News. While Labour are expected to table amendments on a range of issues, one in particular would give the party a huge boost if it were to pass, and that is votes at 16.  Continue reading →

Can Theresa May survive?

by Phil Burton-Cartledge

Theresa May is determined to grab the worst Prime Minister ever crown from her predecessor, at least if her incompetence over the Grenfell tragedy is anything to go by. Her initial visit to the site to meet emergency service workers but pointedly not surviving residents was incredibly cold, and incredibly damaging. For millions, May’s behaviour sums up the contempt she and her ilk have for working class people, and those in particular forced to get by with social security support. On top of all that, more failures have come out that impact and reinforce the reception of Grenfell as an episode in the class war. We learn the Tories were slapping each others’ backs for diluting fire safety regulations earlier this year. While Tory-run Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council could have been investing more in service provision, it turns out they’ve doled out council tax rebates while local authorities in poorer parts of the country winced under the cosh of cuts. And lastly, according to the recently-defenestrated Nick Clegg, he met resistance on social housing from Dave and Osborne because it only “creates Labour voters”. No wonder people are bloody angry. Continue reading →

The Grenfell tragedy is class war

by Phil Burton-Cartledge

The victims of yesterday’s fire at the Grenfell tower in north Kensington are casualties of the class war. There is no other frame, no other explanation that can convincingly thread together the answers to questions about how this unnecessary and entirely avoidable tragedy happened, and why it was allowed to happen. Continue reading →

The Conservatives have opened candidate selection early – Labour should too

by James Elliott

The Conservative Party have opened candidate selection unusually early, it has been reported, in order to ensure that as many candidates are in place in the likely event of an early General Election either in the autumn or in 2018. On Wednesday CCHQ Head of Candidates Gareth Fox is said to have emailed previous candidates asking them to re-apply for selection by as soon as July 10th.

Perhaps CCHQ and Theresa May know something we don’t? It looks increasingly likely from the move that the Conservatives are worried that their deal (or no deal, depending on who you ask at a given hour) with the DUP won’t last very long, or that when a new leader is installed they will go to the polls to regain their majority.  Continue reading →

A nation divided

by Ewan Gibbs

The June 2017 general election will be remembered as an occasion where the political map of the UK was dramatically and unexpectedly redrawn. This was the case no more than in Scotland where the outcome indicates the birth of a three-party system. The major headline was the SNP losing its hegemonic status, going from 56 to ‘only’ 35 — still a majority of Scotland’s 59 seats. These setbacks were compounded by the loss of nearly 500,000 votes, with the SNP total vote falling from over 1.45 million to under 980,000. This is partly explained by a decline in turnout, from 71% to 66%. Major losses sustained by the SNP to both Conservatives and Labour will have profound long-term significance. The Tories gained over 320,000 votes and increased their number of seats from 1 to 13. On the other hand, the number of votes for the Labour Party only increased by around 10,000 to a total of 717,000, but this secured an additional 6 seats. These results majorly alter perceptions of the 2015 result as a generational shift, revealing the fluid nature of Scottish politics and that the forward march of political nationalism in recent decades could in fact be halting.[1] Continue reading →

Ten shocking facts about the Grenfell Tower fire

by Nikhil Venkatesh

Britain was shocked yesterday at the sight of Grenfell Tower, a block of flats that housed as many as 600 people in West London, engulfed by flames in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Since the fire, a number of shocking facts have become apparent, and Theresa May has called for a public enquiry Continue reading →

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