Weak and Stable

Avaaz campaigners protest against May outside Parliament

It’s hard to keep up with all the screw-ups and psychodramas of the Conservative government these days. You’re afraid you’ll miss one if you as much as blink.

The words ‘strong and stable’ can hardly be applied to the current regime. It’s strangely apt that Theresa May stole her signature line from David Cameron’s resignation speech. Now Tory backbenchers jokingly describe the leadership as ‘weak and stable’. This article is my ode to those paunchy rascals.

Ever since the Tory conference, the May government has faced new scandals over sexual indiscretions, harassment and assault. The government’s Brexit strategy remains a source of disunity. Not only has the longstanding twerp Michael Fallon been thrown overboard, Priti Patel has been jettisoned due to her attempts to secure aid for illegal Israeli settlements.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson and Michael Gove remain stubbornly ‘unsackable’. This gives them free rein to misbehave and cause the prime minister all manner of grief. The Gove-Johnson double act has been resurrected by the weaknesses of the incumbent. It’s almost as if the two of them are only brought together by the urge to seize upon former allies and usurp them.

Fratricide remains the preserve of the right. Even though the Conservatives stand to lose, if May goes and the country is propelled into a new election, somehow Boris and Gove can’t help themselves. If you have friends like these, why do you need an opposition? Fear of Corbyn winning is the main force holding together the Tories.

At the same time, Theresa May has based her credibility on Brexit and a good deal (whatever that might be) is looking increasingly unlikely. Of course, May does not have a good deal in mind and her electoral strategy has been based on a bad deal for Britain. At least this was the case until recently. David Davis has made some interesting concessions, such as a two year transitional period.

This is basically the position of the Labour leadership. Yet it is very far from the hard Brexit promised by the prime minister earlier this year. The right is on the defensive and the left is asserting itself for once. The results of this will be fascinating to watch for years to come. So far it has meant more discontent among Conservatives.

For instance, Grant Shapps claimed he had 30 Tories who wanted to see regime change. The real figure was probably a dozen or so. There have been reports of a letter of no-confidence circulating with the signatures of 40 Tory MPs – the party just needs 48 to initiate a vote of no-confidence. Again, the real figure could be more like 20. But it is plausible that the anger is growing.

Outside of Parliament, the Conservative Party still has to reassure its social base – particularly, the middle classes – that the policies are actually worthwhile. The prospect of declining living standards is not an easy sell at the best of times. This is even harder when you no longer have a cohesive political agenda. Brexit is what stands in the way of such an agenda being forged.

The problem is that it is difficult to reassure your social base when it wants stability and you have to pursue radical change. If the Tories want to deliver Brexit, the right has to reinvigorate British capitalism along new lines and the neoliberal project may be running out of options soon. There are only so many regulations you can shred and taxes can only be cut so far.

As a good Christian Democrat, Theresa May knows this is the case and that may be why she tried to adopt a more statist approach. Say what you will about the flaws of Keynesianism, the demand-side policies can be reused over and over again. This is not true of all supply-side measures. Now that the May agenda for the economy has been shattered, it is hard to say how the Conservatives can reinvent themselves.

Instead. the ruling party just remains in place without approval or consent from below. The May government is simply in the way, it is weak and stable. If we are in a transitional moment, the left may be able to seize it and reshape politics for the next generation. What we do not know is how the long this space will remain open. There is no guarantee of victory here.

Photograph courtesy of Avaaz. Published under a Creative Commons license.