LORD Kerr of Kinlochard’s observation that Tory divisions over Brexit might prompt an early general election by the end of next year could seem unduly cautious.
After all, an upbeat, policy-packed and disciplined Labour Party conference has just been followed by a Conservative equivalent so shambolic that even the Tory press are pouring scorn on the Prime Minister — the Telegraph derides the “tragic farce” of her leadership while Rupert Murdoch’s Times puts her on a “final warning.”
This is an administration, as John McDonnell put it in Manchester this week, “in government but not in power,” with no programme, no mandate and no right to keep squatting in office. But where Lord Kerr — speaking to Holyrood’s Europe committee — hits the nail on the head is that May’s survival has so far depended entirely on Brexit divisions.
David Davis may have used his conference platform to jeer that Labour had “11 Brexit plans,” but the government has not put forward a plan at all: for the simple reason that in its previous incarnation under David Cameron it assumed it would win the referendum vote and Britain would stay in the EU.
Downing Street even banned civil servants from drawing up contingency plans for a Leave vote.
May’s coronation came after her government was defeated. Her new regime was able, for a while, to create an illusion of strength, largely because divisions in Labour restricted its ability to land punches. But the Tories’ lack of purpose is now palpable and, as MSPs heard yesterday, it is difficult to see a deal on withdrawing from the EU that would command a parliamentary majority.
The Tories are now terrified of the Labour Party, and their unscrupulous tinkering with the way Parliament works — as exampled by the way May fiddled the appointment of select committee chairs to give herself the majority she couldn’t win at the ballot box — demonstrates their contempt for the electorate’s verdict.
So they might hang on as long as Lord Kerr suggests, even if one of May’s unsavoury colleagues succeeds in unseating her.
But the labour movement cannot afford to let them. The momentum in politics has decisively shifted since the election — not just from Tories to Labour but from Parliament to the streets.
Our next move should not wait on MPs finding that they cannot come to a consensus over Brexit or anything else, meaning they are forced to go back to the people.
After all, will they? The shift towards authoritarianism across Europe has been dramatic since the financial crash, from the unelected “technocracies” imposed on Greece and Italy to the savagery unleashed by the Spanish state against Catalans just this week.
The British Establishment has a lot to fear from a Corbyn-led government, and it is easy to see how an arrangement that avoids accountability could be cooked up between the parties if needed, with the much-vaunted complexity of Brexit serving as an excuse.
Our task then is to keep up the pressure from outside — with Labour’s never-ending tour of every corner of the country combining with targeted industrial action to win victories for workers and expose the bankruptcy of the parasites who own the economy.
We can fight for the goals Labour has rallied a majority of the people (including Tory voters, according to recent polls) behind — a massive extension of public and co-operative ownership, a dramatic empowerment of working people via a return to collective bargaining and an end to restrictions on trade union representation, a huge house-building programme and a national pay rise.
With the Tories in their current state, some of this programme is achievable even before an election. And a tooled-up movement ready for battle is the best way to ensure that election comes sooner rather than later.