How long can the Tories survive? The renewed fever about Brexit and the lack of direction from the government has generated deeper Tory splits.
Theresa May was expected to suffer numerous defeats in the House of Lords this week that will then need to be tortuously overturned in the Commons later on.
At the Davos World Economic Forum last week chancellor Philip Hammond made the mistake of saying what he really felt about Brexit.
In common with much of big business and the banks, he said he hoped for a deal where the British and EU economies would diverge only “very modestly”.
This was seen as an outrageous provocation by those Tories who sense betrayal from those they term “Binos”—Brexit in name only.
Former minister Andrew Percy said Hammond must “put a sock in it”. Brexit minister Steve Baker said there would be a mutiny if May did not rein in Hammond.
So a “Downing Street source” had to rebuke Hammond publicly and say that the eventual deal could “not be described as very modest changes”.
May’s problem is that when she leans towards one side in the Brexit rows, she instantly stokes up fury from the other lot.
Pro and anti-Brexit MPs urge May to be more decisive—but in completely opposite directions.
Pro-Brexit Jacob Rees-Mogg says the government is “cowering and terrified of the future”.
Former Tory minister and anti-Brexit MP Rob Halfon told BBC Radio 4, “We need to have less policy-making by tortoise and more policy-making by lion.”
The Telegraph newspaper has published a series of WhatsApp messages that “reveal the increasing acrimony over Brexit at the most senior levels of the Conservative Party”.
A crisis-ridden government can stagger on savaging the NHS, ignoring the homeless, holding down public sector pay, scapegoating Muslims and migrants and attacking disabled people
Among the messages was one from climate change minister Claire Perry who says, “The ‘sell out traitor mob’ should be ignored.
“And I would hypothesise that they are mostly elderly retired men who do not have mortgages, school-aged children or caring responsibilities so they represent the swivel-eyed few not the many we represent.”
Fellow Tory MPs Bernard Jenkin and Nadine Dorries then go on to distance themselves from Perry with Dorries saying Leave voters in the north of England “would be very unhappy indeed at that comment”.
The Telegraph also reported that “around 40” Tory MPs have written letters calling for a no-confidence vote, which is “just short” of the 48 required to trigger one.
The basis of the Brexit row is how best to fatten British capitalism and win elections. One section thinks business will gain only by sticking close to the EU.
The other wants above all else to promote British nationalism, slash migration and make trade deals with the US and others. Neither side cares remotely about workers in Britain or elsewhere.
But there remains a problem. As James Forsyth writes in the right wing Spectator magazine, “How long can this drift go on? Well, quite a long time.
“Tory MPs don’t want to risk making things worse and a leadership fight would do that. Too many people want the job, and any contest would be an ugly free-for-all.”
So a crisis-ridden government can stagger on savaging the NHS, ignoring the homeless, holding down public sector pay, scapegoating Muslims and migrants and attacking disabled people.
Yet Labour remains fixated on elections rather than resistance in the here and how. Perhaps the English local elections in May will be disastrous for the Tories. If that happens then May might be removed but that doesn’t necessarily mean a general election.
On Brexit Labour does not have out a clear programme. It needs to break from the EU austerity, defend and extend workers’ rights, protect and enhance workers’ freedom of movement, fight for NHS funding now and so on.
It’s easy to see the Tories are in trouble. But the battle to remove them has to be stepped up massively.
The Tories will survive as long as the trade union and Labour leaders let them.