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Manoeuvres afoot to protect the neoliberal status quo

THIS weekend we can look back on a week of whirlwind frustration. On Tuesday evening 118 Tory MPs rightly voted down not just the key piece of legislation in the government’s programme, but the most significant decision of Parliament in a lifetime. 

On Wednesday, the same Tory MPs voted to assert their confidence and loyalty in that same government in a display of immense and perverse hypocrisy. Yesterday, we saw the beginning of manoeuvres to bring together Conservatives, nationalists and right-wing Labour over some kind of deal and, of course, project fear  with media outlets continuing to forecast doom in the event of a no-deal Brexit. 

So what does this tell us? Fundamentally this week we have learned that the representatives of the capitalist class in Parliament are genuinely reflective of the division in the ruling class itself, and that above all, the thing that unites them is their shared fear of the prospect of a left-led Labour government. 

The reaction to Theresa May’s historic defeat has been instructive. The pound strengthened, as City gamblers such as Goldman Sachs and CIBC Capital markets predicted that Brexit will now be delayed or even overturned. Either way that Britain would now stay closely wedded to the big business EU project. 

Chancellor Philip Hammond immediately called the CBI to push the same line. The Bank of England came on message with the same interpretation soon afterwards with Mark Carney interpreting the currency markets as predicting a softer Brexit, a delayed Brexit or no Brexit at all. 

With the confidence vote out of the way, this is the direction that government is pursuing as it seeks to drive a wedge between Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and Labour’s right-wing MPs.  

Of course May insists that no deal is a real possibility, but this is said to appease the Tory right not out of conviction. 

Herein is revealed the absence of real democracy in our system and the limitations of the bourgeoise approach. 

In the Blair years the gap between Labour and Tory was paper thin and it felt like you could vote however you liked as long as it was for neoliberalism. We now face the prospect of right-wing Labour MPs conniving with the Tory government to frustrate the referendum result. 

From the inception we have heard from both the May government and the Labour right a narrative that tells us the referendum result was about only some aspects of the European Union, that the mandate could be fulfilled by a partial withdrawal. 

This is what May proposed in her deal and this is, in only slightly modified form, what she is “reaching out” now to achieve. But the referendum was not about partial withdrawal. The mandate was to leave the European Union, which includes the single market the ECJ, the customs union, the Commission (where the power lies) and the sham European “Parliament” with its derisory rubber-stamping powers.

This is why it has been necessary for voters to be insulted and patronised by the line that they didn’t know what they were doing — that we didn’t really want to leave the whole lot, just to jettison those portions that where least important to the neoliberal agenda. After all, why should the likes of May, Blair, Cable and co worry about remaining constrained by the neoliberal rules without access to the European Parliament when it is the neoliberal agenda that they wish to pursue? 

The form is less important than the substance. This is hardly a new tactic. We saw with the rejection of the proposed European constitution in referendums in France and the Netherlands that the substance was simply repackaged as the Lisbon treaty and forced through by the established elite. When Ireland rejected even that they were forced into further referendums until they “got it right.” Sound familiar?

The prospect of this unholy alliance should not be underestimated by those hoping for a Corbyn-led progressive labour government. The extreme case, the prospect of a new centre party seems unlikely while the first past-the-post system prevails but there is a clearer, more pressing danger. 

The prospect of the Labour right using the Brexit crisis to resuscitate their attempts to retake the leadership of the Labour Party is a much more likely threat. We know the type of democracy that leads to: You can vote however you like so long as it’s for neoliberalism. 

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