Why not call ‘Left-wing’ Theresa May’s bluff?

If the new Prime Minister wants to move Left, why not hold her to it?


‘The stocks were sold; the Press was squared:
The Middle Class was quite prepared.’

– Hilaire Belloc, Lord Lundy (1907)

How do you solve a problem like Theresa? The newly crowned Prime Minister has her table set out as neatly as Belloc’s Lord Lundy, from a drooling press to an AWOL opposition, and a party and country desperate for leadership.

And unlike Lundy (read: Boris Johnson), she’s unlikely to fall to pieces at the first sign of trouble.

As if recent weeks had been too snoreful, May has chosen to run as a Tory reformer, stealing Leftish clothes to denounce inequality and the boss class.

Chris Dillow puts it well:

“She complained that many people in politics don’t appreciate ‘how hard life is for the working class’; of workers being ‘exploited by unscrupulous bosses’; of ‘irresponsible behaviour in big business’ and of an ‘irrational, unhealthy and growing gap’ between workers’ and bosses’ pay.

She went onto demand a ‘proper industrial strategy’ to raise productivity – one that might block hostile takeovers; of the need to ‘give people more control of their lives’; of the need for workers on company boards; a ‘crack down on individual and corporate tax avoidance and evasion’; and restraints upon CEO pay.”

Of course, this form of triangulation by the current government is nothing new. Cameron’s Tories have borrowed Labour’s clothes before, grabbing policies and rhetoric they previously denounced as ‘anti-business’ or ‘the politics of envy’. (Abolishing nom-dom status, anyone?)

And as always, in reality the policies fall short of their promise – Osborne’s National Living Wage,  upon which no-one can actually live, being a good example.

One response to this three-card trick has been to fold one’s arms and sneer, pointing out the hypocrisy of Tories acting like they care about the poor, and holding up the government’s record in office as an example the the gulf between its words and actions.

This is a good and necessary method of attack, and one we often employ here at Left Foot Forward, (Tory populism being a very worthy target).

But what if the Left simultaneously took a different approach?

Why not take the new Prime Minister at her word, assume she really does want to bring about greater social justice, and hold her to every promise?

When Bill Clinton was elected US president in 1992 having moved the Democratic Party to the Right, (the original modern triangulation), the Republicans were able to get more of their agenda through congress than under any conservative president, from welfare reform to draconian criminal justice laws to massive deregulation, (with a legacy Clinton’s wife is now campaigning to redress).

However, this didn’t stop the GOP from trashing Clinton daily and seeking to win elections nationwide. (In this they were very successful, at least in part because Clinton ensured ‘the Middle Class was quite prepared’.)

What if the Left in Britain were to go beyond pointing and yelling ‘Tory’, (which after all, is not even an insult to Tories), and instead used the ‘Yes, and’ formulation?

What if we made our criticism constructive, to ensure, for example, ‘workers on company boards’ really happens, and is at least as progressive as co-determination in Germany?

Why not have our own criteria against which to measure the government’s proposals, and forensically approach Theresa May’s programme not to take it apart but to build something closer to what we actually want? In other words, why not call her bluff?

Conservatives are smart. That’s why they’re in government. They adapt and evolve and shape-shift to the needs of the moment.

As Observer columnist Nick Cohen has noted, simply calling them the ‘same old Tories’ is not an accurate critique, and doesn’t have the force some of us imagine with the public, who have voted for ‘Tory scum’ in major elections over the last six years.

If Theresa May wants to be a centre-Left Prime Minister, why not roll up our sleeves and make sure she is one – at least until we replace her in office?

Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

See: Theresa May’s campaign promises — a victory for Milibandism?

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5 Responses to “Why not call ‘Left-wing’ Theresa May’s bluff?”

  1. David Lindsay

    Theresa May made two big speeches this week, in which she identified many very real problems while forgetting to mention who had been in government for the last six years. But imagine Jeremy Corbyn’s having delivered them. There would have been mayhem.

    Less than an hour after she was still the longest serving Home Secretary in many decades, May frankly branded the Police as racist. Just try and imagine the reaction to that if it had come from the lips of Corbyn. Or the reaction to so many of May’s other points, which put her economically well to the left of all but 40 Labour MPs.

    As to the rest of Labour MPs, their record on civil liberties manages the remarkable feat of being even worse than hers. And they wish to replace Corbyn with a Leader well to May’s right. Is that their idea of holding her to her promises while seeking to extract further undertakings? Of course, they desire the opposite effect. A Conservative Prime Minister outflanked from the right by the Labour frontbench would either move ever-rightwards, or be removed by her own side in favour of someone who would.

    If Corbyn were to be removed as Leader of the Labour Party, then that would be the end of any political space for any critique of neoliberal economics and of neoconservative foreign policy. Be that critique traditionalist or libertarian, conservative or liberal, social democratic or democratic socialist.

    Anyone who wishes to defend and expand that space needs to be fighting tooth and nail to ensure that the politician whom Theresa May faced at the Despatch Box and in the country remained Jeremy Corbyn. If he falls, then we all do.

    How, then, to rally to his flag? At £47, Labour Party membership already costs practically double the price of Conservative Party membership, which is £25. People who joined after 12th January will have to pay another £25 purely in order to vote for in the Leadership Election? Whatever happened to the People’s Party?

    For £25, an 800 per cent increase on last year’s three pounds, anyone can become a Registered Supporter for the duration of this election. If they do so during a 48-hour period that will begin on Monday 18th July. It seems that entryism is still perfectly all right. But only if, during a 48-hour window called at less than a week’s notice, you happen to have lying around one quarter of a week’s Employment and Support Allowance, which is one third of a week’s Jobseeker’s Allowance.

    But if you are a member of a trade union that is affiliated to the Labour Party, then you can vote for free: http://support.labour.org.uk/. If you are not, then join Unite Community: http://www.unitetheunion.org/growing-our-union/communitymembership/. That, being Unite membership for community activists even if they do not have day jobs (in other words, for anyone), costs 50p per week. And it then entitles you to become an Affiliated Supporter for free. Yes, that is £26 per year. But it is spread out.

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  5. David Davies

    Brexit means Wrecksit, and tory always means `the nasty party’.

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