United Kingdom

Theresa May's 'zombie' administration has to go

Parliamentary arithmetic will not provide an answer to UK's political crisis - politics of mass mobilisation will.

Protesters shout slogans as they march towards Westminster during an anti-government protest on June 21 [Dan Kitwood/Getty]

The parliamentary system in the UK is in logjam.

The government, even with its bought-and-paid-for majority, is so unstable that it announced a two-year parliamentary session and is considering lengthening the summer recess to avoid challenges to Prime Minister Theresa May's leadership by her own MPs in the Conservative Party.

But the Labour Party and the rest of the opposition in parliament are not capable of defeating the government and forcing another general election, despite opinion polls showing that this is what a majority of voters want to happen.

So, if this logjam is to be broken, it will require extra-parliamentary action to drive the government to the polls.

Crises such as these do not come along every five minutes. They emerge from a long incubation with successive phases of development. 

Long train coming

The roots of the radicalism which powered Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's hugely successful election campaign and which destroyed the Conservative Party's hopes of a huge parliamentary majority lie as far back as the global anticapitalist movement that began in Seattle in 1999. It grew through the antiwar movement that resisted the Afghan and Iraq wars and the subsequent conflicts of the prolonged "war on terror".

Opinion poll after opinion poll demonstrated growing popular antagonism to neo-conservative foreign policy and neo-liberal economic policy. This was sharpened and focused by the emergence of mass opposition to austerity after the 2008 financial crash.

But this mood was only expressed by social movements and was fiercely opposed by all the establishment political parties, whether of the traditional Conservative right or the Blairite social democratic centre. There was very little reflection of this anger within the electoral system or parliamentary politics.

The mood of revolt only broke into electoral politics with the Scottish referendum in 2014. This was rapidly followed by the huge rise in Scottish National Party membership and a growth in Green Party membership.

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The Brexit vote, called by David Cameron to keep the Conservative Party united, provided an even greater rupture of the establishment system. The historic party of big business delivered popular vote against the very policy that big business most wanted: to remain in the European Union.

But the really explosive effect of this turn of events was the election and re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in the wake of the Conservative victory in the 2015 general election.

This reached a new peak when the Conservative government's legitimacy was eliminated by the recent election. This was a result in which trade unions and social movements played a vital part, perhaps none more so than the National Union of Teachers. The focus on education, the groundbreaking online campaign over schools cuts, is alone credited with influencing 750,000 voters in this election. It was a political intervention that paid off handsomely.

Ordinary people have the power to run society for themselves; that change is never handed down; that it is never legislated into being, but won from below by mass struggle.

Grenfell: The tombstone of neo-liberalism

The Grenfell Tower inferno is a tragedy whose political effects are still unfolding. They will continue to do so for years to come. There is so much to learn here about the effect of free market economics in the housing sector, about the divide between rich and poor, about outsourcing and subcontracting, about cuts and privatisation.

But perhaps more important than all this is the impact of the response of the local working class community. When government, both local and national, was paralysed, they acted. They cared when government couldn't care less. They organised when government was disorganised. They spoke out eloquently when ministers were silenced by incompetence and cowardice.

A very palpable and, for the government, dangerous mood is abroad: it is the sense that working people are better than their rulers. Better organised, more articulate, more caring, more politically conscious, more moral.

Such moods usually only develop in very heightened industrial and political struggles, such as the miners' strike of 1984-85. But it is stalking this government today, waiting for the chance to strike it down.

The streets and the parliament

Parliamentary arithmetic will not provide an answer to the current political crisis. Even with the help of the bigots of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Conservative Party cannot construct a strong or stable government. But neither can Labour and any possible allies do so either. Only another election will break the logjam.

But neither the Tories nor the DUP are in any hurry for a new election in which they face serious defeat. So, just as it was that the streets and the social movements helped the rise of Corbynism in the first place, it now falls to the streets to drive the Tories from government and force a new election.

Mass protest, strikes, and demonstrations are now of the greatest importance. The unions must be rebuilt. Some 13 million people voted for Corbyn, yet only half that number are trade union members. That gap must be closed.

Both to get rid of the Tories and to defend any future anti-austerity government, the politics of mass mobilisation are vital.

Millions are waiting to end the Tory government and vote an anti-austerity administration into office. But waiting is our enemy. Waiting gives the establishment and the Tories time to regroup. Waiting gives the Labour right time to sharpen their knives and re-emerge to get rid of a leader they hate as a matter of principle. And the more successful he is, the more they want to get rid of him.

Ordinary people have the power to run society for themselves; that change is never handed down; it is never legislated into being, but won from below by mass struggle.

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In adversity, Grenfell has shown what we are capable of achieving. Now we must unleash that power in an unstoppable movement that sweeps the Tories from power. Saturday's demonstration is the first action of that campaign.

This government is without principle or policy. It is a rotting corpse whose only aim is to stay in office. It has achieved illegitimacy in record time. Every working person has a deep and abiding interest in seeing it gone.

John Rees is a writer, broadcaster, and cofounder of the Peoples' Assembly Against Austerity. He is author of Timelines, a political history of the modern world. His most recent book is The Leveller Revolution.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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