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Editorial of the Socialist, issue 941
- Brexit, Scotland referendum, grammar schools, National Insurance...
Tory splits brought to the surface - Corbyn must go on the attack
The appointment of former Tory chancellor George Osborne as editor of the Evening Standard is of a piece with the previous MPs' expenses scandal, the current Tory election campaign expenses scandal, the Panama papers revelations and everything that proves on a daily basis that pro-capitalist, pro-austerity politicians are in it for themselves.
Osborne, a millionaire heir and member of the landed gentry, does seem to be taking it to a new level. He now has six jobs for which he gets paid obscene amounts. His public speaking gig alone has reportedly netted him over £700,000 since he was sacked by Theresa May after the Cameron government lost the Brexit referendum last year.
He has a £650,000-job working four days a month for BlackRock, the world's biggest investment firm, a major investor in notorious private security firm G4S that has benefited from many government privatisations under the Tories and Blair.
This former member of the elite Oxford University Bullingdon Club also has a £120,000 fellowship at the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Arizona. And it's estimated he'll get £220,000 for a four-day week at the Standard. Oh yeah, and his £75,000 for being a MP.
However, it was on the Tory front bench that some of the greatest horror was felt at Osborne's new influential position. Quoted in the Sunday Times, a minister said Theresa May's aides are "obsessed and consumed by what he is up to".
May and her supporters correctly fear Osborne will use his new platform to attack the Tory leadership. Of course this won't be over cuts to services or tax breaks for the 1%. Rather this is about the huge split in the Tory party over Brexit, which they cannot paper over.
This split should give an advantage to Jeremy Corbyn's Labour. However, deputy leader Tom Watson's 'soft coup' is in full flow trying to undermine Corbyn.
A resolute and energetic campaign to drive out all the Blairites and re-found the Labour Party, reaching out to all Corbyn's supporters, could secure his position as Labour leader and enable the party to deliver urgently needed anti-austerity and socialist policies.
Despite the unending attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, and the wall-to-wall coverage permitted to the Blairites, Theresa May is in a serious pickle. Last summer she was appointed in a manoeuvre aimed at bringing the warring sides of her party together after the Brexit vote. This is impossible.
George Osborne's new job is just one indication of the escalation of this war. A minister close to Theresa May said that "it looks like a platform for vengeance". May sacked Osborne after she was appointed prime minister, attempting to give the appearance of a break with the past. He and Cameron had led the Remain campaign to defeat. The Brexit vote at base was an unexpected strike back by the austerity-weary and angry.
Osborne is a Remainer. Unlike the millions who voted Remain in opposition to the racist and Little Englander leadership of the official Leave campaign in the referendum, Osborne defends the EU as an institution of capitalist exploitation, austerity and inequality.
Behind him is the majority of big business demanding a 'soft Brexit' including access to the single market. 44% of British exports go to the EU single market area.
The Tory party is split between those who represent the majority of the capitalist class and want to remain in the EU, and those who see a switch to more 'little Englander' policies as the best way of responding to the era of capitalist crisis. This means the Conservative Party is increasingly becoming an unreliable political party for the interest of the capitalist class.
Osborne appears to hope that his new appointment will bring him influence in London, where there was a strong vote for Remain, to build a broad political base. But there is no chance of this happening among working class Londoners. Not least because of his association with years of brutal austerity.
So far, due in part to the media blackout of a left voice on the Leave side, most voters never heard the left opposition to the capitalist EU. This was aided by Jeremy Corbyn's switch to Remain instead of being the voice for a socialist, internationalist, working class exit which could argue for defence of migrants and refugees while also opposing austerity from both Westminster and Brussels.
This crisis of political representation means there are attempts at realignment. Tony Blair's fulsome praise for Osborne on the Marr show offered a glimpse of this. Nicky Morgan, former education minister also sacked by May, argued that there's a liberal conservative point of view to be talked about. She co-authored an article with former Labour education minister Lucy Powell and ex-Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg in the Observer attacking May's grammar school policy.
So hemmed in is May that a general election is possible. Writing in the Sunday Times, Adam Boulton quotes a "well connected activist" saying that "the prime minister cannot get on with her work."
The u-turn on the rise in National Insurance Contributions is an example of this. It's reported that the chief whip just couldn't get it through the revolting MPs - 'his chaps wouldn't have it'. Such self-made disasters only bring the paper-thinness of May's majority, as well as her lack of a mandate, to the fore. In fact it was used by Nicola Sturgeon in the spat over a second Scottish referendum when she tweeted that the "PM is not yet elected by anyone".
Cameron had attempted to build stability in to his government with the introduction of a fixed term parliament. But that is far from an absolute obstacle. May would need a two-thirds vote in Parliament to overcome it and the Blairites hope for a defeat of Corbyn to get rid of him.
The battle in Labour is currently being played out most dramatically in the trade unions. Tom Watson's attacks on Unite general secretary Len McCluskey are an attempt to remove one of Corbyn's key supporters. Watson, who gets cheered to the rafters by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), is echoing attempts by the Financial Times and other Blairites to sway the general secretary election in favour of the Blairite candidate Gerard Coyne.
As Len McCluskey wrote for the Huffington Post: "A world of skulduggery, smears and secret plots. That is where you will find Tom Watson. When Labour has needed loyalty he has been sharpening his knife looking for a back to stab... And now his sights are set on abusing the internal democracy of Unite."
The fact that the union has voted in favour of policies that will aid the fight against austerity and the refounding of Labour as a democratic party under Jeremy Corbyn has drawn the ire of the Blairites. At last year's conference a democratic vote in favour of the right for Labour members to deselect MPs passed overwhelmingly. The union already has a position in favour of Labour councils passing no-cuts budgets to protect people against Tory austerity.
The attacks show that the Blairites are set on an all-out war to defend Labour as a party of big business. It is therefore a mistake for some on the left to call for 'unity' in the party. Even more so than in the Tories, it is impossible to unite the two wings of Labour - the pro-capitalist PLP and most councillors on the one side and the hundreds of thousands who joined to back Corbyn's anti-austerity stand on the other.
Jeremy Corbyn has correctly spoke of the need for the party to be focused on fundamentally transforming the country in the interests of the people - but that won't happen on the basis of attempts to compromise with Watson and co. At Labour's conference last September Watson 'welcomed' Corbyn's re-election with a speech praising Blair and capitalism.
An indication that Corbyn's policies could win a general election was shown on the NHS demo and in the huge number of anti-cuts campaigns mushrooming across the country. There is no mood for making peace with the proponents of austerity - far from it.
A new poll reveals that even in the US, nearly four out of every ten adults say they prefer socialism to capitalism. This is in the context of people's experience since the 2007-8 world economic crisis where more than 99% of the wealth created has gone to the mega-rich. Mass support can and must be built for a bold, working class, socialist programme to bring down the Tories, austerity and capitalism.