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Editorial: Top Brexiteers on their way out, but class questions remain

THE defenestration — or perhaps self-immolation — of the two most committed functionaries of the “get Brexit done” tendency in No 10 has illustrated the truth, usually obscured and often denied, that the division in our ruling class over the orientation of trade policy and the precise configuration of Britain’s international alliances is not completely overcome.

The privileged classes are always affronted when the hired help gets ideas above its station and, although the two departing operatives may leave by the front door rather than the tradesman’s entrance, their departure is a signal that the patrician foundations of the Conservative Party are reasserted.

Perhaps these two allowed themselves to believe that the Prime Minister is as ideologically committed to their particular version of Brexit as they appear to be. 

Maybe their calculation was that he was so bound up with the take-it-or-leave it logic of the government’s Brexit media management that the their work was nearly done.

It looks like they failed to take full account of the forces gathering in the parliamentary Tory Party which, however unrepresentative of the nation, is well-tuned to the decisive sections of big business, the banks and the state bureaucracy.

Boris Johnson grew his reputation as a journalist by reporting from Brussels with a confection of truths and half-truths about the functioning of the European Union’s bureaucracy that found a ready audience in the milieu which an ambitious Tory must cultivate.

That is how Johnson positioned himself as the beneficiary of a rising tide of anti-EU sentiment.

But it is well to remember that when it came to fully committing himself, Johnson famously had two speeches ready and that which one would see the light of day was in the balance until the last moment.

In our present troubled circumstances, with the Covid-19 crisis clearly beyond the government’s competence or willingness to control, and a structural crisis of the economic system becoming ever more profound, the first party of our bourgeoisie is anxious to find a sweet spot of stability.

That this will entail — is entailing — a compromise with the still decisive forces within the rump EU must add bitter tears to whatever beverage with which the departing duo seek solace.

The rising force in Tory politics which Johnson must either transcend or come to terms with is represented by Rishi Sunak.

When pressed by Channel Four News to explain why Britain’s casualty rate and economic performance at this stage in the Covid crisis compared so poorly with other countries, the Chancellor offered, with an easy confidence, the explanation that this was because so much of Britain’s domestic economy was bound up with the hospitality trades and that these were so disproportionately affected by lockdown.

The question which appears not to have occurred to his interlocutor is why this might be.

Simply to note the question produces a tsunami of reasons. The government’s own incoherent and contradictory regulation of our social interactions over the course of the pandemic is an obvious explanation. 

An NHS crippled by underfunding and struggling with the disorganising effect of multiple instances of incompetence and malfeasance by private contractors is one that readily presents itself.

But the economic foundation of the British economy’s abject failure to weather the Covid crisis is the simple fact that its manufacturing and productive base has been eroded for decades.

We can have no confidence that any shift in the balance of influences in the Tory Party will make much difference to this.

That requires pressing the reset button not only for the British economy but also for our political system.

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