NOW THE CRISIS IS OPEN - and is possibly terminal. How long Theresa May can remain Prime Minister is anyone’s guess. But the endgame was foretold 18 months ago when she called an election, lost her majority and shattered her authority. The only reason her party allowed her to continue in office then was that no other factional leader had the ability or support to take over - a kind of “inverted Bonapartism”, as one commentator called it. It’s precisely because of May’s need to balance between the different Tory groupings that her longawaited deal is so useless - failing Labour’s six tests, bad financially, weak on the future relationship with the EU and constitutionally toxic for the regions and nations of the UK, with the potential to further stoke independence pressures in Scotland. Small wonder the Cabinet’s unity around it lasted even less long than July’s Chequers agreement. It deserves to be voted down.
There are few certainties ahead. Have May’s opponents within her party the numbers to unseat her and will they act? It has previously been argued that nobody wants the job until Brexit is settled one way or the other. A no confidence vote now changes the leader - and immediately hands the new one a poisoned chalice.
Will the fear of a no-deal Brexit be enough to create a cross-party majority in the Commons for the deal that May has negotiated? It seems unlikely, but the pressure of the financial markets for a speedy settlement, whatever it contains, combined with a new Project Fear, playing up the dangers of crashing out without a deal, could ramp up the pressure. It’s entirely typical of May’s entire career that she is now selling this ugly deal as something that allows Britain to regain control of its borders - as if that control was ever in doubt.
May’s own party has splintered into numerous factions, but others may come to her rescue. That even a Lib Dem MP will support her deal “in the national interest”, to avoid damaging disruption, should awaken us to the danger that this line will be seductive to some Labour parliamentarians. It will be all the more attractive to Labour MPs whose constituencies voted by big majorities to Remain or whose unremitting hostility to the party leadership is the decisive factor in their position-taking.
We must make it absolutely clear to any Labour MP contemplating supporting May’s deal that this would be an act of unpardonable treachery that will be punished by the fullest use of measures available, including deselection. This is an opportunity to bring the government down, not prop it up!
There is much talk of a government of national unity in this crisis, which will have some appeal to those who have never accepted the legitimacy of Jeremy Corbyn as the Leader of the Opposition. Make no mistake: this would be a Tory government in all but name, as was the 2010-5 Coalition, and the 1930s National Government. If we are to have a different government, we must first have a general election!
There is one certainty in all of this: precisely because Labour could win such an election, Theresa May, the whole Tory Party and the DUP will do everything in their power to avoid having one. Paradoxically, the lack of support for the shambles of either May’s bad-deal Brexit or a chaotic no-deal Brexit could put the issue of a second referendum back on the table as a way out of the impasse. We should welcome that. As Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell repeatedly emphasise, we have to break out of the bad-deal vs. no-deal binary choice being offered, with all options remaining on the table, including a public vote.
There are implicit dangers with this, of course. What if the result were little different from the first referendum? What if the irresponsible demonising of migrants that we saw in 2016 was repeated, with all the divisive consequences?
That’s why our preferred outcome must be for a general election. This is not something that can be simply left to Parliament to resolve. We need an extra-parliamentary campaign, involving party members, trade unions and the social movements to mobilise behind a mass campaign headed by the Labour leadership to force an early election. The Tories have put their party interest ahead of the needs of the people for too long. Only Labour can sort out the mess - and we are ready to do it!