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How the gods destroy Tory governments

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.


  1. Bill says:

    We have to be very aware that our electoral advantage will slide unless we can rely on the enthusiastic support of the PLP to the membership,leadership, and policies of the party.

  2. Terry McCarthy says:

    There has been some criticism (usual suspects) on John McDonald’s statement .victims of the Grenfell Tower fire were “murdered” by “political decisions, what other definition can there be
    The crime of austerity is a well thought out political and economic strategy of neo-conservatism , it’s not the first time it’s been used from Chile to Greece it’s proved to be a murderous strategy for the working and marginalised members of society.
    When you drastically cut police numbers there follows a rise in crime including murder and rape.
    When the crime of austerity shuts down refugees for women this leads more women being brutally attacked.
    If through the crime of austerity you make more people homeless you will witness the rise in deaths among street people. If you use the austerity to wreck the NHS people young and old will die because of it.
    If through the crime of austerity you cut funds for people with mental illness usually people living in a nightmare which in turn leads to arise in suicide,
    If you cut benefits to those who are physically challenged you condemn them to live in four walls are isolated from society,
    If using the crime of austerity you cut benefits to families Children go hungry,
    The list is endless austerity is a political decision made by people who know full well the consequences

    1. Bazza says:

      Good points Terry and add a small state, leaving everything to the market, privatisation, cuts, everything to the cheapest tender, outsourcing, sub-contracting, cutting regulations, treating diverse working class people as second class citizens and John McDonnel has a valid case!
      But of course the Neo-Cons are happy to intervene in the state for tax cuts for the rich, corporations, hedge funds etc!
      The Tory Zeitgeist (dominant ideas in society) and in this case Neo-Liberalism is well and truly quite rightly now in the dock!
      Interestingly it took over 20 years for Neo-Liberalism to capture the Tory Party then the bonus prize New Labour then Scottish Labour then the EC yet what it took only 10 days since the GE to capture 51 Right Wing/Progress Neo-Liberal Moronic Labour MPs (and a few new careerist MPs) – the Great Men and Women of History – without an original idea in their heads!

  3. Verity says:

    “For the Labour Left, the next general election cannot come soon enough”.

    Well it can ….. I see no signs of the urgency for the selection of PPC candidates outside that of the MPs which presumably stay in place (except in the most extreme of circumstances). After all it was those MPs as individuals who won nearly all those seats wasn’t it?

    The imposition of ghost PPC with instructions to members to canvass in other (poorly) chosen ‘alternatively threatened MPs’ is the model that has come to dominate Labour and cower challenges.

    Corbyn claims we are an election footing and most of the country cannot even start the necessary long slog without a candidate to refer to, or take instructions from, regarding their strengths in our communities or directions to go elsewhere because we ‘mysterious wise ones’ say so.

  4. Bazza says:

    Yes we need to start the selection process as soon as possible to get 650 left wing democratic socialist candidates in place and no more appointmentism – this is not China, N Korea or Hong Kong – we demand democracy!
    Also where we have no MPs this will allow the candidates to start getting themselves known and some say the election could be next May if not earlier so start NOW!
    We need the left wing democratic socialist stars to step forward!
    It could be argued this election marked the beginning of the end of austerity and the beginning of the end of Neo-Liberalism plus the also the end of the era of Labour’s Right Wing Great Men and Women of History (without an original idea in their heads).
    It is perhaps time for the voices of the Great Masses of History!

    1. Steven Johnston says:

      Oh the irony! The end of the era of the Great men and women of history? Except when it comes to the cult of Jeremy Corbyn!
      I thought the masses made their views clear in the general election. The Labour party lost.
      For the record, no I’m not a Tory, I wouldn’t even let my daughter marry one.

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