Thursday 14 June 2018

National unity? I don't think so.

One of the great claims of the Conservative Party is that it is the truly national, unionist party of the UK. It will always try to portray itself as more patriotic, more loyal to the crown, more prepared to 'defend' the country than any other party. Its real job has been to 'unite' the country to the needs of big business and it frequently uses the flag, the monarchy, and various vague but potent ideas around being the 'natural' party of power, or that they are decent people because they wear suits and talk with southern-sounding RP accents, or that because 'business' is supposedly naturally a 'good thing' for the country as a whole, and because many of the MPs and ministers are themselves business people (owing vast amounts of shares, sitting on company boards etc) then it's 'natural' that we should all support them and 'pull together'.

This of course obscures many things: such as that they are essentially a party (especially when in government) working for the few not the many, putting profit before people, trying to control what they call the 'labour market' (basically that means working people) so that it benefits the few, following fads of places like Harvard business school, trying to depress wages, cut the public sector, trying to wangle the taxation, borrowing, money-printing systems so that they can create vast amounts of cheap dosh for capitalists, and/or bump up vast amounts of private 'small' credit card debt on to the mass of the public because their wages are not sufficient to buy the goods and services being produced.

But let's look again at the flummery of their claim to be the 'national', unifying force. Once the UK got itself into the EU there was a grumbling consensus that this was OK-ish. Yes, some huge EU enthusiasts, some agnostics, and some hugely opposed. For me, it was just another arrangement for 'capital' neither better or worse than what was there before. I didn't go along with Tony Benn's claim that 'democracy' was at stake because UK democracy is no better than anyone else's and probably worse - monarchy, house of lords, constituency-based first part the post elections, established church, rigged judicial enquiries, massive bias towards privately educated oxbridge representation at the top of government and civil service, massive undermining of local government...

So, when UKIP started to get traction, partly (largely?) off the back of a disgusting, xenophobic campaign against 'migrants', and the Tories tried to see it off with a referendum, the whole 'unity' 'uniting' ideology has fallen apart. The old consensus (I'm not trying to claim that this was a great thing in itself - far from it) has fallen apart. Right the way across the ruling class, the professional caste, big business, medium business, small business there are huge rifts, wars, disputes, bitterness. I hear arguments being made on the basis of what can be no better than wild guesses - to do with who will trade with who, at what cost, who will want these kinds of good, who won't, who needs who the most or the least. At the heart of these arguments, as I say, they mostly seem to be extreme guesswork, hardened and reinforced into in/out, yes/no, right/wrong positions. That's on both (or all!) sides of the arguments. But ultimately, they are all 'business' arguments. They are about how well, chunks of capital based in the UK (not even 'UK' ones only!) will thrive (or not) in some new arrangement.

Now the disturbing thing about this (for me) is that these 'business' arguments have dragged in people whose only means of livelihood is their ability to sell their labour-power. Suddenly, people working in hospitals, on the shop-floor, in offices, on zero-hour contracts, being 'self-employed' earning less than £30,000 a year, have been successfully recruited and co-opted into arguments about what's best for massive companies and for their spokespeople in the Tory Party!

This depresses me. The interests of working people in a capitalist system are not the same as the owners of big business. An owner is running the business in order to make money. When it doesn't make money, they sack people. See Rolls Royce this morning. They don't 'create jobs'. They 'use jobs'. When they can't use jobs (to make profits) they get rid of jobs. In fact, there is a strong interest for an owner to employ the least number of people on the least possible wages.

However, the task of getting nearly everyone in the UK to spend hours arguing over what arrangement will be best for big business, is usually made much easier when working people can be recruited and co-opted for the big national project, like supporting Margaret Thatcher in her job of making the country 'free of the unions' (so that working people can't negotiate higher wages for themselves!) , or 'freeing' people to sell their council houses (so that their children can't have a secure cheap home to live in!) and that sort of thing.

But now, this 'national' project is falling apart. There is division in almost all the areas where the Tories usually have (or at the very least claim they have)  unity e.g. around the nation (Scots walking out of the HofC yesterday), around the 'national interest' (at least 5 competing scenarios about what is 'best for Britain') and bitter division amongst top Tories themselves (e.g. Johnson versus May).

Sad to say, the Labour Right are doing their best to join in with this 'best for business, best for Britain' battle. To my mind, the best card that Labour could have played was - yes - an opportunist one: "We are not in power, we can't be in power until the five year term is up because of the way the system was rigged by Cameron; there was a referendum with a result, we are not in favour of reneging on it, that's the end of the story; we are not allowed in to the negotiations (in 'national terms' and 'democratic terms' there was in fact no reason why the negotiations should have been confined to one party only but that's just a boring constitutional matter, so I won't dwell on it), at the end of the day, the best thing that Labour can do is sit back and watch the ruling order (as represented by the Tories), pull themselves apart disagreeing over how best to secure a lowest of the low wages economy, low taxes for the superrich, unregulated City, and as many tax havens as possible."

Sadly, the Labour Right think (as they always do) that they are better at running capitalism than the Tories and so keep jumping up and demanding to be counted. All this does is make it more likely that a social democratic, left-leaning Labour government is less likely to be elected. The media can say, "Ner ner ner... both sides are as divided as each other", as if both sides are in the same position vis a vis the negotiations. Corbyn has been trying to make that point, but it's been heavily undermined by the Labour Right.