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THERESA MAY’S resignation inspires jubilation and fear in equal measure.
To see a hated PM leave is pleasant, but siren voices are already warning that we could be in for worse.
The favourite to succeed her atop the Tory Party is Boris Johnson, whose record of race-baiting provocations is extensive.
This includes the publication of articles claiming black people have lower IQs while he was editor of the Spectator, himself later describing them as “piccaninnies” and more recently a derisive comparison of Muslim women to “bank robbers and letterboxes” that sparked an immediate rise in Islamophobic attacks.
But to suggest that May “might be followed by someone worse” ignores her own role in the normalisation of racism in mainstream British politics.
It unhelpfully personalises a broader political trend towards increasing intolerance on the right, which is likely to continue whoever succeeds her, and reduces the socialist left to passive observers of a political crisis that we should be looking to exploit.
May might not rival Johnson’s penchant for offensive one-liners, but the outgoing PM was the architect of the “hostile environment” that saw black British citizens illegally deported from our country after living here for decades.
She was warned by Labour’s Diane Abbott that this would happen when she brought her Immigration Bill to Parliament in 2014, but pursued it anyway.
She was home secretary when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition deployed “Go Home or Face Arrest” vans on the streets of London to intimidate immigrants.
Her xenophobia was such that she clashed with the rest of David Cameron’s Cabinet over whether to include foreign students in net migration statistics, so that she could drive them from our shores.
And yet that Cabinet was also deeply implicated in legitimising racist prejudices, with Cameron talking of a “swarm” of migrants heading for Britain, and authorising a disgusting Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan when he ran for London mayor.
None of this makes a Boris Johnson premiership less frightening, but it does illustrate that it wouldn’t be some radical right-wing break from a previously “centrist” party. It would confirm a trajectory that the Tories have been on for some time.
The cause of this is inseparable from the breakdown of British “politics as usual” in the wake of the financial crash of 2007-8, and the series of scandals that exposed the sleaze, dishonesty and violence at the heart of Establishment institutions — from Parliament to the police, and from the banks to the media.
If the Brexit vote was, along with the Jeremy Corbyn surge, the most dramatic illustration that Britain is refusing to be ruled in the old way, the grim farce that May’s premiership became exposed the utter inability of the old politics to tackle the consequences. Each of May’s repeated defeats in Parliament over Brexit would conventionally have forced a general election, but constitutional niceties went out the window when such a vote risked letting a socialist-led Labour Party into government.
With faith in liberal capitalism and British state institutions seriously shaken, and a newly mass-membership Labour Party showing how popular socialist solutions to the crisis can be, the ruling class has been divided.
Some wish to paper over the cracks and resurrect the pre-crash “free market” consensus — the goal of the Labour right, some “one nation” Tories, the Lib Dems, and Change UK.
This is a powerful trend, whose most visible policy aim is to keep Britain in the EU, and which has had considerable success in confusing Labour’s messaging, undermining the party’s appeal, and preventing implementation of the referendum result.
More far-sighted Tories have recognised the paradigm shift in politics and the futility of attempting to turn back the clock. These seek to direct the fear and insecurity created by austerity into hostility to immigrants and Muslims — using racism as a lightning conductor that channels public anger safely away from the edifice of capitalism itself.
Many of the concerns of leftwingers who want to remain in the EU are rooted in fear of the damage these chancers will do to working-class communities of all races and faiths if they succeed in shaping the new “centre ground.”
But it was the old “centre ground” that paved the way for the current crisis, and its lack of serious solutions is clear from the reheated Blairism that is the best it can do policy-wise.
The right must be taken on from the left, which means a bold anti-Establishment movement that recognises the need for radical socialist change, and makes clear its uncompromising opposition to a broken status quo.
On previous form, the Labour right will now be working on how to turn the Tory Party’s leadership crisis into a crisis for their own party.
Depending on the European election results, they may find an opening there. The left needs to be united in rejecting a Tory stitch-up which sees that party’s dwindling membership choose our next Prime Minister and make May’s resignation the prompt for a general election.
This political demand can be amplified by a huge turnout at the “Stop Trump” demonstration on June 4, which can be turned into a mass rejection of the imperialist warmongering politics that he, the Tories, and Labour’s Blairite wing represent.
Tory disinclination to risk a vote can be challenged at national and at constituency level, with raising pressure for a general election a key task for local Labour parties and their allies.
Anti-racists can work to mobilise whole communities against the Conservatives and to demand an election now, while Labour’s commitment to save strategic industries like British Steel can be turned into a national political issue.
If the political struggle is confined to Parliament it will likely fail, but the case for an election amid Parliament’s inability to come to any deal on Brexit is overwhelming and can win public support.
In the process, we can recapture some of the enthusiasm and drive that saw Labour take such strides forward from 2015-17. Let’s not waste this crisis.
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