I don’t know if Theresa May has signed up to the Strava sports app, but if she did her leaked running data would consist of a tight circle in the walled garden of Downing Street.
May has become like one of those lab rats in a box from which the air is being pumped, frantically running around in circles looking for an escape which does not exist.
If you’re thinking that’s a cruel image, you are right: but she put herself in the box and, unfortunately, the rest of the British people with her.
Last night’s leak of the Treasury’s latest Brexit assessment has closed down political space even further for May. It says that under all scenarios Britain’s growth will be lower over the next 15 years if we leave the EU: by 2% if we stay in the single market, by 5% if the UK gets a bespoke trade deal with Europe and by 8% if it simply walks away, as the hardline Tories want.
These predictions, in line with most other expert opinion, are more than simply an embarrassment for Theresa May. She is, technically, First Lord of the Treasury: she is actually ignoring the opinion of the government department she is ultimately responsible for in order to blind the UK electorate to what is going on.
So there are two kinds of internal battle going on in the Conservative cabinet. The first, among the big hitters, is over what form of deal they want to do with Europe.
May’s strategy – as revealed by Angela Merkel – is to keep asking the EU27 to “make an offer”. This will then be rejected for so long that we get to Brexit day without a deal, only the promise of one.
The Treasury, meanwhile, cannot live with make-believe. It has to provide a credible prediction of future growth and tax revenues – which on its own numbers will tank after Brexit.
Chancellor Philip Hammond, however, is not just batting for his own experts, but for large numbers of UK businesses, including the CBI, which say any departure from the customs union, and any significant dislocation from the single market, will be a disaster.
The British corporate and financial elite, which gave May the benefit of the doubt as she scammed them with assurances of a special deal – first for the City, then for carmaker Nissan – now realises we’re being ruled by a Tory party out of control.
However, the first rule of neoliberal politics is that big business never gives enough of a shit about its own corporate interest to go against the government. Government, after all, has become a major source of profit for the private sector; break from the government of the day – whether it be May, Cameron, Brown or Blair – and the outsourcing contracts dry up, as do the invites to back-slapping, hostess-groping dinners on Park Lane.
So the Marxist theory of the bourgeois state – that it is merely a committee for managing the affairs of big business – is wrong in modern Britain. It has become a committee for promoting the careers of dweebs, misfits and workplace porn-viewers.
This brings us to the second conflict going on: who will replace Theresa May? They telegraphed the plan fairly comprehensively when they moved Gavin Williamson MP from the obscurity of the whip’s office to the obscurity of the Ministry of Defence. May could fall and you could still put a mini-May incharge, to embody the same political vacuum and paralysis as May herself.
From the MoD’s art deco bunker in Whitehall, Williamson, who had never shown any interest in defence, but spent his time in parliament posting Alan Partridge-style commentaries about his own lawn mower, suddenly sprang into action. Every routine deployment of a Royal Navy frigate to shadow a Russian warship was press-released as if Williamson himself had ordered it, and was right now in the ops room, beads of sweat running down his youthful forehead, monitoring the radar blips.
Williamson was young, he was handsome, he was that classic Tory asset – a class traitor, having abandoned his northern Labour roots. What could possibly go wrong?
Well as the Tories groomed him – a man nobody had heard of last May, when Theresa May launched her presidential bus tour – journalists began digging. It was revealed the former fireplace salesman had forgotten to mention the unheroic circumstances of his departure from the fireplace sector after ‘sharing a kiss’ with a female colleague.
But that’s not the problem. To distract from the ‘kissing’ allegations, Williamson blurted out in an interview that the Russians were monitoring gas pipes which link the UK to Europe, with a view to blowing them up should a war start, “killing thousands and thousands and thousands” of people.
No shit Sherlock, you might say. In a war between the UK and Russia, around 100,000 people will die for every nuclear warhead that is dropped, including presumably the ones Williamson has targeted on Moscow and St Petersburg.
But Williamson had, according to a security source quoted in the Sunday Times, revealed secret intelligence, “not all of it the UK’s”. To decode: we are not supposed to know that in a war with Russia they might do dastardly things like turn our central heating off, switch off every gas-fired power station in Britain, and cut the subsea internet cables linking the UK to the USA – because that tells Russia the UK is watching the people Russia has targeting these things.
Williamson’s mistake was to cross Boris Johnson. Johnson can’t wait to depose May. Along with other Tory hard Brexiteers, losing between five and eight percentage points of growth means nothing, because he believes it can be made up by slashing ‘red tape’ – for which read rights at work, and the laws that stop beaches becoming sewers and toys from containing lead paint.
The strategic problem facing the Tories remains: all their desired Brexit outcomes are fantasies. The multilateral trade system of the world is breaking up. Trump puts America First; China is carving out a land and sea empire; and even sections of Merkel’s party are preparing to ditch her – and the project of greater EU integration – in favour of a Germany oriented to the right-wing nationalist countries on its eastern border.
The underlying problem, as the long term sources of growth shrink, is that you have to maximise the trade links you already have, and the goodwill – and Brexit burns both of them needlessly. The right-wing Tories fantasise about turning Britain into a colder, shabbier Singapore; the May-ite centre wants to bungle on, hoping it will be alright; the few soft Brexiteers and remainers don’t want to be the ones to hand power to Jeremy Corbyn.
I’m loath to quote Leon Trotsky in case it gives some people in Labour’s Progress wing heart failure, but as a student of history, and its eventual victim, he wrote something profound about the dynamics of world events.
When your actions cut with the grain of history, it is almost impossible to make a mistake. Even your blunders turn out OK. When history has turned against you, everything you do turns to shit. Or words to that effect.
With every day that passes it becomes clear: history is most definitely against Theresa May, her adopted prodigy at the MoD, and the entire Tory Brexit project.
We’ve had two elections in a row where the Tory incumbent has asked the British people to “trust me because I am competent” – and if May goes, as looks likely, we end up with a completely different prime minister a few months later.
These toffs, incompetents and liars have no divine right to rule. The moment May falls, we should be out on the streets demanding an election.