'The civil war is limited in scope, but it is nevertheless vicious'
Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington
A recent piece in one of the Tory-supporting newspapers was headlined, ‘How to protect your money from an incoming Labour government’. There are also reports that the Tories are struggling to field candidates in many seats and that a number of sitting MPs, by no means at the end of their working lives, have decided to quit.
This is a shambles. It suggests a party which has lost its self-confidence and sees little prospect of winning the next general election. This is certainly the message from the opinion polls, which is reinforced by widespread popular support for the striking workers across a wide range of sectors.
On our side, Labour should resist all temptations towards complacency. This is a story of disenchantment with the Tories, sometimes anger. It is not matched by any popular passion in favour of us. A majority Labour government at the next general election is far from being a certainty.
One of the effects of this Tory disarray is that the infighting has only increased. The civil war is limited in scope, but it is nevertheless vicious. No serious Tories oppose the current attacks on real wages and the disastrous undermining of our public services.
Instead, the narrow focus of the two principal factions in the Tory party, is between very right-wing pragmatists who have Rishi Sunak as their leader and very right-wing fantasists who have their once and future leader in Boris Johnson.
This latter group includes what some have called ‘Trussites’, who have evangelical certainty in their unchallenged beliefs that a small state (meaning minimal public services, not fewer police or soldiers) and low business taxes will spur growth. They will fall in behind Boris Johnson although they instinctively distrust him because he only believes in himself.
The departures of Nadhim Zahawi, Nadine Dorries, the op-eds in both the Telegraph and the Times, as well as the recent mini-reshuffle should all be seen as skirmishes in the Tory civil war. What they are fighting over is the future of the Tory party, and whether, like the US Republicans it will become a Trump-like party. The alternative is a plain vanilla Thatcherite one. The ‘One Nation’ Tories are extinct.
Clearly, all of those struggling with falling living standards have no dog in this fight. Both factions within the Tory party agree on non-interference in the rip-offs by the energy companies and the banks. They agree on curbing civil liberties including the right to strike. And there is no dissent on undermining public services, including with savage real terms pay cuts, as preparation for greater outsourcing and privatisation.
Yet there are lessons for Labour in all this. The Tories are coming up to 13 years in office. Unlucky for the rest of us. They have tried austerity, fiscal discipline, more use of the private sector, curbing union power, talking tough on law and order, more war and anti-migrant campaigns. Yet that is why we, and they, are in this mess.
Because none of it works. The British economy has crawled along for over a decade. As the effects of these policies have accumulated, the economy has slowed further and is now stagnating. Official forecasts from a range of institutions suggest this will be the case over the next several years.
This is all acceptable if your policy aim is really that the rich get richer and profits get fatter. This is what has happened. It is Tory policy.
It cannot be ours.
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