Theresa May’s government hangs by a thread. But she won’t go unless she is pushed, and the trade unions and Labour Party are watching events rather than trying to shape them.
May’s Brexit deal seems to have no chance of passing through parliament. And the European Union (EU) leaders are offering no hope of changing fundamentally what’s on offer.
Certainly they are not going to deliver enough to persuade the bigots of the Democratic Unionist Party, or Tories such as Jacob Rees-Mogg to back it.
May’s spokesperson said on Tuesday that seeking a reformed deal is still the “top priority”.
Phantom talks with the EU are May’s only justification for not putting the deal to a vote this week—and losing.
She has announced the deal will be voted on in the week beginning 14 January, hoping that she can string out negotiations and avoid parliamentary votes .The idea is that the time remaining before Brexit day—29 March 2019—will be so small that the only possibilities are her deal or no deal.
May blunders on, but she has virtually no hope of success.
Supposed alternatives are a second referendum, other forms of Brexit called Norway plus or Canada plus, or pushing back the leaving date. But it’s quite possible that none of these can win a majority in parliament either.
Britain’s rulers are in a deep political crisis. Yet Labour is also paralysed.
On Monday Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn first said Labour would move a no confidence vote in May but not the government. Then he decided not to move it—and then did move it after all.
But, fearful of losing, the Tories said they would deny it time for a debate.
This is a disgusting denial of democracy. But the Tories couldn’t do this if Labour moved a motion of no confidence in the government. That has to be discussed within 24 hours and, if passed, would almost certainly force a general election.
Yet Corbyn has held back from moving it.
One argument is that it will play into the hands of the Lib Dems, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and many of the Labour right. They are not interested in bringing down the Tories but just want to clear the path to a second referendum.
It’s claimed that if a no confidence motion fails then policy passed at Labour’s conference would force Corbyn to back a so-called “People’s Vote”.
But the Labour conference policy doesn’t lead to such a course. It says, “Should Parliament vote down a Tory Brexit deal or the talks end in no-deal, if we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.”
This is a very different set of circumstances to a failed no confidence vote now. Parliament hasn’t voted on a Brexit deal, the talks haven’t ended in no deal. So the potential for Labour to even discuss supporting a second referendum does not arise.
Another argument is that Labour must only move the no confidence motion when it is certain it can win.
That’s not what the Tories did in 1978 when they tried to bring down a divided Labour government which had lost its majority in parliament.
The Tories moved a vote of no confidence in December 1978. Labour survived by ten votes because it politically bribed the Ulster Unionists to vote against the motion.
Three months later The Tories put another no confidence vote. It passed by one vote, with the SNP supporting it because Labour had not implemented a referendum backing devolution.
This no confidence vote led to a general election—and the appalling governments of Margaret Thatcher.
The point is that the Tories didn’t hold back until a win was secure.
Waiting until elements of the loathsome Tory right are certain to move against May, or that the DUP has abandoned her is not good enough.
There’s a great danger of missing the chance to act, and allowing the Tories to survive for years more.
Above all the argument has to be wrenched away from parliamentary manoeuvre and taken to the streets and the workplaces.
A movement on anything like the scale of France’s Yellow Vests could sweep away the government.
But union leaders organise nothing and Labour is consumed with the detail of the House of Commons.
It’s time to stop spectating, stop the talk of a second referendum and to fight for an anti-racist, anti-austerity Brexit that benefits working class people.