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Editorial: Events in Manchester will lay the ground plan for the Establishment

MANCHESTER is not very promising for the Tory Party conference. This is the city where capitalism made money and misery in equal proportions and where Marxism and the modern proletariat came of age.

The choice of venue — no doubt designed to add credibility to increasingly empty Tory words about the “northern powerhouse” — today looks rather maladroit.

It is not just yesterday’s rain-sodden but exuberant People’s Assembly Against Austerity that demonstrated opposition to the party of big business and the banks. 

The city itself shows a marked reluctance to elect Tories. Of the city’s 96 councillors 92 are Labour.

For a Tory Party membership reduced almost exclusively to its middle-class milieu of suburbanites and the county set, the distant echoes of the Peterloo massacre may seem remote from their comfortable lives, but it was precisely the sharp class divisions of the 18th century that set in train the people’s movement for the franchise — brutally attacked in St Peter’s Field but endlessly insurgent — and which compelled the Tory Party to build a mass base.

The Tory Party is, of course, much more than the political representatives of the comfortably-off. 

It spent a good part of the last century creating a multi-class alliance based on the tainted fruits of empire and for most of that century, it was the party of a ruling class generally in government and permanently in power.

It was capitalism which made the working class in Manchester and elsewhere and which is now remaking it in heightened conditions of a capitalist crisis that is refashioning the Tory Party as the crucible of a contest which pits one group of our bourgeoisie against another.

This fragmentation has the potential to reshape the political landscape and fracture forever the party unity that has made the Conservatives such a formidable barrier to progress.

This week we will see a bid to fashion a more attractive vision of what a Johnson government might do in office than the one that Theresa May so cack-handedly put forward in the last election campaign. 

It seems unlikely that the deep divisions revealed by the summary sacking of the dissenting ex-ministers and MPs will be resolved overnight.

Johnson’s electoral strategy is to marshal as much of the Brexit vote behind his leadership as he can and detach as big a part of the working class as possible from its traditional moorings.

His incendiary language and Commons performances are not designed to win over his opponents but to reach deep into the consciousness of people who normally take little account of Westminster’s doings.

The idea that last week’s Supreme Court judgement reflected a national consensus is wishful thinking by the population of a middle-class milieu a million miles from reality.

The most authoritative opinion poll puts just one-quarter of opinion behind a reversal of the referendum result while a full 61 per cent wants Brexit implemented irrespective of how they voted.

That is the measure of the popular contempt for parliamentary manoeuvres and judicial juggling.

And that is the harvest of votes that, unless we are careful, can be gathered by the Tory Party.

The long game played by our ruling class has two components. One is to ensure that a Corbyn government is prevented from taking office, or failing that, is hobbled by a full spectrum of measures designed to limit its freedom to legislate and blunt its policies.

The second is to reconstitute the Conservative Party as the more or less permanent party of government. What happens this week in Manchester is the ground plan for this hegemonic project.

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