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Editorial: An April Fool's Day in Parliament

TOMORROW we will be digesting the latest round of voting in the parliamentary madhouse as the contending forces in the Conservative Party, including the government (which we must now regard as simply another Tory faction and a disunited one at that), resume their desperate manoeuvring.

Since, on April Fool’s Day even the daftest prank seems as credible as any of the options before MPs — the possibility of making a reasoned assessment on the consequences that might flow from any of these choices is remote.

But here goes, constrained only by the uncertainty bestowed by Speaker John Bercow’s absolute authority over which amendments get the go-ahead.

Watch out for what that wily fox Kenneth Clarke has in store next.

His amendment was the one most carefully calibrated to win over that critical fraction of cross-party support for keeping Britain in a customs union.

This is where the very imprecision about what such a creature might entail gives those Labour MPs who fear the political price for betraying the Brexit vote enough wriggle room to do that very thing.

It came quite close to getting decisive support last week. But it has the potential to sharpen Tory divisions beyond the point at which a credible electoral campaign for the re-election of a Tory government is compromised and thus may not do the trick.

So, if by the time you read these words it has fallen, the chances are that no form of words is capable of cobbling together a majority in this Parliament where the absolute majority in favour of Britain remaining in the EU is constrained only by the electoral and personal consequences of failing to fulfil the Brexit mandate.

Bear in mind that very many MPs place the necessity to avoid an election very high up their list of priorities. The Fixed Term Parliament Act gives them many more months of protection from the vagaries of the jobs market and succour for lingering hopes for ministerial preferment.

This government is on its last legs. But don’t have any illusions that a combination of simple exhaustion and a collapse of coherence might make continued office for the Tories less appealing that letting someone else carry the can.

Their real fear of a left-led Labour government is given extra force by opinion polls which show Labour increasing its lead.

The Tory Party is the preferred instrument of our ruling class but if any other combination of political forces offers capitalist continuity it may get the blessing of big business and the banks.

This is where the wraithlike figure of Tom Watson appears stage right. It is always too simple to describe politicians as the mechanical personification of class interests, but the very deconstruction of industrial Britain has eroded the basis for that strand of social partnership thinking that Watson, however imperfectly, represents.

Class collaboration of the traditional kind doesn’t fit well with austerity, neoliberal economic policies and anti-union laws but it is disproportionately represented in the Parliamentary Labour Party and Watson is its man.

There is a real attempt to forge an alliance of the old Labour right and the newer Blairite tendency that has as one objective — recapturing ground inside the Labour Party and retaining its hold over parts of the Labour machine.

But all this is in the service of a larger political goal — the return to normal politics in which Labour can be trusted to govern without challenging the power and wealth of the rich.

This is what lies behind the constant creation of cross-party coalitions and the chatter about a national government.


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