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Tories in crisis– Corbyn’s Labour Party in the ascendancy

Thursday 6 July 2017, by Veronica Fagan

On 1 July thousands of anti-austerity activists, Labour Party members and trade unionists marched through the streets of London on a demonstration called by the People’s Assembly. It was not the million protestors called for by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell but it was an impressive show for an action called in three action-packed weeks Corbyn and McDonnell do not see a separation between what they argue for in parliament and what activists fight for in workplaces, communities and the streets. They feed each other.

On April 18 2017, when British Prime Minster Theresa May called an unexpected General Election for 8 June, she expected that the outcome would strengthen her position. In fact it has done exactly the opposite. Now there is the very real prospect of a Corbyn-led Labour government, elected on a radical socialist manifesto, being swept to office within the next year. The election result was a stunning triumph for Corbyn and a significant defeat for May.

And this possibility has huge implications for the left across Europe and beyond. Britain is not a peripheral country. It is a major economic power with imperialist pretensions which was at the forefront of promoting neoliberalism. A left social democratic government coming to office on the basis of a radicalised mass movement would inevitably have a major positive impact on the British and European working class. So why did May make the gamble she did? She knew that the Brexit negotiations between Britain and the rest of Europe were scheduled to start on June 19. Since the referendum the previous summer in which the country voted to leave the European Union, the historic divisions inside the Tory Party on this question had lain dormant.

Although May herself quietly supported Remain, once she replaced David Cameron who resigned as Prime Minister hours after last summer’s results, she packed her Cabinet with hardline anti-Europeans. Her Conservative Party sought to undermine the growing support for Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party by adopting its policies and its approach; through the UKIPisation of the Tory Party.

But that did not mean that everyone inside the party was reconciled to that approach and she knew that these divisions would become more apparent during the forthcoming discussions with Brussels – in the media and potentially even on the floor of the House of Commons where she had only a slender majority. She wanted to consolidate her position before the negotiations got going.

The Tories held Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in contempt and had every reason to believe this approach was shared by the majority of Labour MPs. Ably aided by the mainstream media, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) with the exception of a smack group of stalwart Corbyn supporters has being trying to undermine and demonise him ever since he was elected in September 2015. The assault on Corbyn reached its pitch after the European referendum in June 2016, when 172 out of 229 Labour MPs passed a motion of no confidence in the Labour leader in a secret ballot. In the ensuing Labour leadership election over the summer, Corbyn was re-elected easily by the Party membership as a whole.

May and the Tories however knew that the majority of the PLP remained hostile to the Labour leader. The Labour right never missed the opportunity to make this clear on the airwaves and in print. But the Tories massively underestimated the role that Corbyn’s political ideas and the huge movement to propagate them would play during the election campaign. The Tory lead of 22 points in the opinion polls when the election was called evaporated as Corbyn’s policies were debated across the land.