THE CRISIS ENGULFING the Tory government has entered a new phase, with Cabinet ministers in open revolt against Prime Minister May’s Brexit plans, widespread condemnation of the bungled handling of Universal Credit and a crisis of morale ripping through the body of the party.
First, Brexit. The most likely scenario after over two years of posturing and grandstanding is no deal. The sight of mechanical diggers hastily attempting to clear land for emergency lorry parks along the verge of the main road to Dover is just one glimpse of the chaos to come. The impending collapse of negotiations hinges on the need for May to cobble together a deal that satisfies her own backbenchers. No such deal will satisfy the EU, however, for the simple reason that the Tories want to have their cake and eat it - all the advantages of access to EU markets with none of the perceived disadvantages, such as free movement. The issue of the border in Ireland is a further complication, aggravated by the dependence of May’s government on the support of the hard-line DUP who will not tolerate any arrangement that leaves the North as anything less than a full part of the UK. Most Tory Leavers are reckless enough to jeopardise the entire peace process in order to get their way. Some of them, as well as the DUP, are floating the threat of a vote against the autumn budget in order to arm-twist the government into a hard Brexit.
There is no clear solution for the Tories to any of this. But even if by some miracle May manages to pull off a last-minute deal, the consensus among most of her senior colleagues is that she’s finished and the completion of this sorry mess will precipitate her removal.
The threat of a significant revolt over the budget, which could throw markets into turmoil, is fuelling panic in the Treasury. Chancellor Hammond was alarmed to hear May say in her conference speech that there was an end in sight to austerity - an eightyear long policy that has signally failed to achieve any of its apparent aims, but has driven hundreds of thousands of people into poverty and despair. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the PM’s pledge was unlikely to be achieved, unless the government could find another £19bn a year by 2022-23.
Huge pressure is already on Hammond to make concessions on Universal Credit, which is costing some families up to £2,000 a year, increasing food bank dependency and leading former PM John Major to describe it as the new poll tax. The fact that the benefit penalises the self-employed, people who work extra hours and parents getting new jobs underlines that it is not just the botched implementation that is at issue - the whole benefit needs a rethink, as Labour has emphasised.
The chaos at the top has thrown the entire Tory Party into crisis. Its membership is less than a quarter of Labour’s and the party is struggling to find candidates to stand. Morale is at rock bottom with only one third of members expecting a Conservative majority government at the next election. One Tory MP, Johnny Mercer, even said that if he were not in Parliament he wouldn’t vote Tory next time!
With a plummeting membership, the party will need all the support it can get at the next election from its rich and powerful friends in the City and the media. But the days when the Tory press could guarantee their party’s victory may be over. In 1992, when they claimed “It was the Sun wot won it”, the paper sold more than 3.5m daily copies. Today that figure has fallen by almost two-thirds.
z More significantly, the vast majority of younger people look elsewhere for their news coverage. No surprise then that if the next election was exclusively decided by those aged 18-24, polls show the Tories wouldn’t win a single seat nationally. Even their big donors are deserting. Alexander Temerko who has given the party £1.3 million says he’d prefer a general election to a no-deal Brexit. We agree. Labour’s recent conference showed that we are ready to take over, the sooner the better. Let’s end the agony, have a general election and consign this government to the dustbin of history. Forward to a Labour victory!