terça-feira, 13 de junho de 2017
Theresa May buys time with apology to Tory MPs over election ‘mess’ / Jeremy Corbyn has won the first battle in a long war against the ruling elite
Beleaguered PM is ‘contrite and genuine’ in crunch meeting with 1922 Committee, promising to build consensus on Brexit
Anushka Asthana and Jessica Elgot
Monday 12 June 2017 22.00 BST Last modified on Tuesday 13 June 2017 07.06 BST
A contrite Theresa May bought herself time with Conservatives MPs by apologising for failing to secure an overall majority, while cabinet sources indicated that the prime minister would pursue a more conciliatory approach on Brexit to shore up her leadership.
May addressed a packed session of her party’s backbench 1922 Committee on Tuesday with what was described as an “upfront mea culpa”. She declared: “I got us into this mess, and I’m going to get us out of it.”
Senior insiders added that one of the ideas actively being considered to win backing across parliament was “not to major” on the controversial “no deal is better than a bad deal” position taken by May before the election.
Also under consideration is whether to exclude overseas students from the immigration numbers and even possibly to abandon the target to reduce immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Although nothing has been agreed, any softening of the position on immigration could maximise the chance of a closer economic relationship with the EU.
May also admitted that the manifesto promise to make people pay more for their social care had been a mistake and said there would be no weakening of LGBT rights as the Tories attempted to secure an electoral pact on Tuesday with the socially conservative Democratic Unionist party.
The prime minister said more would be done to reach out to young voters and those working in the public sector. “She was contrite and genuine, but not on her knees,” said one senior MP who attended the meeting, adding that May had shown a warmer side. “There was none of the Maybot,” the person added, claiming that any talk of a leadership challenge had been silenced, for now at least.
Speaking after the meeting, MPs made clear that the prime minister had bought herself time – with hopes that she could make it to the end of Brexit talks in two years.
A cabinet member admitted that work was under way on how to achieve a deal with the EU27 that could pass through a much more finely balanced parliament, involving seeking areas of compromise with other parties. Reports in the Telegraph and Evening Standard claimed that secret talks had already begun between cabinet ministers and some Labour MPs.
Any shift in tone will be seen as a coup for advocates of a soft Brexit, although those who campaigned to leave the EU are also offering their support to the prime minister.
Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, who has won more influence after the party took 13 seats in Scotland, said she was pushing for an “open Brexit” with maximum economic access after a private meeting with May in Downing Street. Davidson added that the party needed to reach out: “I do think that there can be changes in the offer of Brexit as we go forward.”
Downing Street is also preparing to put forward a skeleton version of a Queen’s speech, as the parliamentary mathematics threatens to bring domestic policymaking to a halt unless the Tories reach out to opposition parties.
The annual list of legislation, which may be delayed from 19 June, will have two big-ticket items of Brexit and counter-terrorism policy, but see most of the domestic agenda ditched, according to one source. May’s plans for a sweeping shakeup of education including new grammar schools could be boiled down to a few pilots, they said.
However, despite jitters within the party and suggestions that May’s days are numbered, her performance in front of the 1922 Committee appeared to reduce anger about the shock result. After the vote stripped the Conservatives of their majority and plunged the government into instability and the need for coalition talks with the DUP, Heidi Allen, the MP for South Cambridgeshire, said the prime minister would be gone within six months.
However, after the 1922 meeting, Allen – who has fought her own party over disability benefit cuts and tough positioning on Brexit – said: “I saw an incredibly humble woman who knows what she has to do, and that is be who she is and not what this job had turned her into. She has lost her armadillo shell and we have got a leader back.”
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Conservative MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, who has been an outspoken proponent of Brexit, said: “It was very positive to hear her take very firm responsibility for not being able to crystallise some of the seats we’d hoped to win. I felt she had very deeply considered over the weekend whether she should continue and … came to us to say: ‘I will continue for as long as you want me to do so.’ And I think that’s exactly what we all hoped she would say.”
MPs said there was a tacit acceptance of the need to build a better consensus. “A broader backing for Brexit has to be built and I think she recognises that,” one former minister said. “She was clear she was responsible. She agreed on the need to listen to all the wings of the party on Brexit.”
One remainer on the left of the party was teary-eyed as they expressed their renewed support for the prime minister, while a hardline Brexiter agreed, describing her as “very, very humble” and saying: “She has bought herself time. She showed a side of her that was very appealing. A warmer side.”
At the centre of the debate were concerns about the manifesto. MPs admitted that it had been a disaster with voters, particularly the so-called “dementia tax” and the decision to press ahead with school funding cuts. “Public sector workers felt very strongly about austerity,” a former cabinet minister said. “We have to offer a message of aspiration, which is a very Conservative word.”
Jeremy Corbyn’s massive gains with public sector workers appear to have driven anti-austerity into the centre of political debate, even among Conservatives. May acknowledged several warnings from MPs who described meeting people who said they could not vote Tory because of cuts to hospitals, schools or failure to increase public sector wages in real terms.
Anna Soubry told the Guardian it had been an issue she repeatedly encountered on the doorstep. Writing in a local newsletter, she added: “We need a kinder Conservatism that recognises the very real concerns about reduced school budgets, a shortfall in NHS and social care funding, and that some of our most valued public servants such as nurses, have had their wages cut.”
Others argued that it was OK for the Tories to keep their position but that they had failed to make the economic argument during the campaign. Soubry said it was outrageous that the chancellor, Philip Hammond, had not been given a bigger role in the campaign.
Several MPs told May they had had difficulties rebutting questions over school funding on doorsteps and in local hustings. May said that Justine Greening would address the concerns, and sources stressed that the education secretary had been making the case for better funding for schools for some time.
Tories banged on the tables for about 30 seconds as May arrived for the crunch meeting in a roasting hot room packed with members of the House of Lords as well as MPs. May took questions, but one MP described them as more like “speeches”.
There was no appetite for a leadership election, the MP said. “That’s the last thing the country needs. She said she would serve us as long as we want her, and that she’s been a party servant since she was 12 years old, stuffing envelopes.”
MPs were pleased that the prime minister had removed her joint chiefs of staff, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, as she pointed instead to her new top aide, the former Tory MP Gavin Barwell, and the chief whip, Gavin Williamson. One MP said that the party had faith in the “two Gavins”.
Jeremy Corbyn has won the first battle in a long war against the ruling elite
Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci understood that before taking power, the left must disrupt and defy common sense – just as Labour defeated the proposition that ‘Corbyn can’t win
Monday 12 June 2017 16.11 BST
To stop Jeremy Corbyn, the British elite is prepared to abandon Brexit – first in its hard form and, if necessary, in its entirety. That is the logic behind all the manoeuvres, all the cant and all the mea culpas you will see mainstream politicians and journalists perform this week.
And the logic is sound. The Brexit referendum result was supposed to unleash Thatcherism 2.0 – corporate tax rates on a par with Ireland, human rights law weakened, and perpetual verbal equivalent of the Falklands war, only this time with Brussels as the enemy; all opponents of hard Brexit would be labelled the enemy within.
But you can’t have any kind of Thatcherism if Corbyn is prime minister. Hence the frantic search for a fallback line. Those revolted by the stench of May’s rancid nationalism will now find it liberally splashed with the cologne of compromise.
Labour has, quite rightly, tried to keep Karl Marx out of the election. But there is one Marxist whose work provides the key to understanding what just happened. Antonio Gramsci, the Italian communist leader who died in a fascist jail in 1937, would have had no trouble understanding Corbyn’s rise, Labour’s poll surge, or predicting what happens next. For Gramsci understood what kind of war the left is fighting in a mature democracy, and how it can be won.
Consider the events of the past six weeks a series of unexpected plot twists. Labour starts out polling 25% but then scores 40%. Its manifesto is leaked, raising major questions of competence, but it immediately boosts Corbyn’s popularity. Britain is attacked by terrorists but it is the Tories whose popularity dips. Diane Abbott goes sick – yet her majority rises to 30,000. Sitting Labour candidates campaign on the premise “Corbyn cannot win” yet his presence delivers a 10% boost to their own majorities.
None of it was supposed to happen. It defies political “common sense”. Gramsci was the first to understand that, for the working class and the left, almost the entire battle is to disrupt and defy this common sense. He understood that it is this accepted common sense – not MI5, special branch and the army generals – that really keeps the elite in power.
Once you accept that, you begin to understand the scale of Corbyn’s achievement. Even if he hasn’t won, he has publicly destroyed the logic of neoliberalism – and forced the ideology of xenophobic nationalist economics into retreat.
Brexit was an unwanted gift to British business. Even in its softest form it means 10 years of disruption, inflation, higher interest rates and an incalculable drain on the public purse. It disrupts the supply of cheap labour; it threatens to leave the UK as an economy without a market.
But the British ruling elite and the business class are not the same entity. They have different interests. The British elite are in fact quite detached from the interests of people who do business here. They have become middle men for a global elite of hedge fund managers, property speculators, kleptocrats, oil sheikhs and crooks. It was in the interests of the latter that Theresa May turned the Conservatives from liberal globalists to die-hard Brexiteers.
The hard Brexit path creates a permanent crisis, permanent austerity and a permanent set of enemies – namely Brussels and social democracy. It is the perfect petri dish for the fungus of financial speculation to grow. But the British people saw through it. Corbyn’s advance was not simply a result of energising the Labour vote. It was delivered by an alliance of ex-Ukip voters, Greens, first-time voters and tactical voting by the liberal centrist salariat.
The alliance was created in two stages. First, in a carefully costed manifesto Corbyn illustrated, for the first time in 20 years, how brilliant it would be for most people if austerity ended and government ceased to do the work of the privatisers and the speculators. Then, in the final week, he followed a tactic known in Spanish as la remontada – the comeback. He stopped representing the party and started representing the nation; he acted against stereotype – owning the foreign policy and security issues that were supposed to harm him. Day by day he created an epic sense of possibility.
The ideological results of this are more important than the parliamentary arithmetic. Gramsci taught us that the ruling class does not govern through the state. The state, Gramsci said, is just the final strongpoint. To overthrow the power of the elite, you have to take trench after trench laid down in their defence.
Last summer, during the second leadership contest, it became clear that the forward trench of elite power runs through the middle of the Labour party. The Labour right, trained during the cold war for such trench warfare, fought bitterly to retain control, arguing that the elite would never allow the party to rule with a radical left leadership and programme.
The moment the Labour manifesto was leaked, and support for it took off, was the moment the Labour right’s trench was overrun. They retreated to a second trench – not winning, with another leadership election to follow – but that did not exactly go well either.
As to the third trench line – the tabloid press and its broadcasting echo chamber – this too proved ineffectual. More than 12 million people voted for a party stigmatised as “backing Britain’s enemies”, soft on terror, with “blood on its hands”.
And Gramsci would have understood the reasons here, too. When most socialists treated the working class as a kind of bee colony – pre-programmed to perform its historical role – Gramsci said: everyone is an intellectual. Even if a man is treated as “trained gorilla” at work, outside work “he is a philosopher, an artist, a man of taste ... has a conscious line of moral conduct”. [Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks]
On this premise, Gramsci told the socialists of the 1930s to stop obsessing about the state – and to conduct a long, patient trench warfare against the ideology of the ruling elite.
Eighty years on, the terms of the battle have changed. Today, you do not need to come up from the mine, take a shower, walk home to a slum and read the Daily Worker before you can start thinking. As I argued in Postcapitalism, the 20th-century working class is being replaced as the main actor – in both the economy and oppositional politics – by the networked individual. People with weak ties to each other, and to institutions, but possessing a strong footprint of individuality and rationalism and capacity to act.
What we learned on Friday morning was how easily such networked, educated people can see through bullshit. How easily they organise themselves through tactical voting websites; how quickly they are prepared to unite around a new set of basic values once someone enunciates them with cheerfulness and goodwill, as Corbyn did.
The high Conservative vote, and some signal defeats for Labour in the areas where working class xenophobia is entrenched, indicate this will be a long, cultural war. A war of position, as Gramsci called it, not one of manoeuvre.
But in that war, a battle has been won. The Tories decided to use Brexit to smash up what’s left of the welfare state, and to recast Britain as the global Singapore. They lost. They are retreating behind a human shield of Orange bigots from Belfast.
The left’s next move must eschew hubris; it must reject the illusion that with one lightning breakthrough we can envelop the defences of the British ruling class and install a government of the radical left.
The first achievable goal is to force the Tories back to a position of single-market engagement, under the jurisdiction of the European court of justice, and cross-party institutions to guide the Brexit talks. But the real prize is to force them to abandon austerity.
A Tory party forced to fight the next election on a programme of higher taxes and increased spending, high wages and high public investment would signal how rapidly Corbyn has changed the game. If it doesn’t happen; if the Conservatives tie themselves to the global kleptocrats instead of the interests of British business and the British people, then Corbyn is in Downing Street.
Either way, the accepted common sense of 30 years is over.