It’s never a good sign for a prime minister when they are forced to say they have “full confidence” in their chancellor only a few weeks after appointing him.
Newspapers are awash with top Tories anonymously talking up cabinet rows over chancellor Philip Hammond. It’s the latest sign of the splits over the European Union (EU) that have wracked the Tory party— and haven’t been ended by the Leave vote.
The Tories have been torn between bigotry and big business’ demands.
Many bosses want to stay in the EU’s neoliberal single market, which also has rules about free movement of workers.
But a substantial section of Tory and Ukip supporters want to clamp down on immigration at almost any economic cost.
At the Conservative Party conference Theresa May played down the single market and tore into migrants.
This enraged many bosses, particularly in the City of London. The Tories have had to rush to reassure them.
May met Carlos Ghosn, the head of Nissan, last week. She promised him that the government would compensate the car giant for any tariffs it might face after Brexit.
Then it was revealed that the cabinet will discuss Britain continuing to pay billions of pounds into the EU budget to maintain market access for bankers.
Such manoeuvres to pressure the Tories underline how bosses use their unaccountable power to bend governments to their will. They don’t care how people voted—they demand to get the outcome they want anyway.
And this is with the Tories in office. Imagine the firestorm bosses would unleash against a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn.
Most of the Tory cabinet voted to Remain.
But the Leave-supporting minority, who claim to be more in line with both their leader and voters, accused Hammond of trying to “undermine Brexit”.
Ordinary people’s interests lie on neither side of this fight.
Some may be tempted to see Hammond’s caution as an antidote to May’s nationalism. But he’s the bigot who last year called African refugees “marauding migrants”.
The EU defends a system of exploitation and oppression, which is why Hammond is reluctant to leave it.
The Tories’ racism and their support for business pull them in different directions.
The tension comes from a ruling class that needs both to use migrants and to demonise them.
That contradiction could drive them to ever more dangerous extremes.
Or it could tear them apart if our side puts forwards its own vision of Brexit—and starts a much bigger fight over austerity and racism.