23rd September 2017
She’s behind you…Boris Johnson and Theresa May
Pundits, politicians and pollsters love to refer to the summer as the ‘silly season’. This is the time when Parliament is not sitting, party leaders go on holiday and, short of a national catastrophe, the business of government just ticks over. This year the silly season featured nothing quite as silly as the talk of Jacob Rees-Mogg MP being a prospective Tory leader.
Rees-Mogg, the self styled representative for the eighteenth century, is the man who regards abortion as morally indefensible, whatever the circumstances. This includes rape victims. This is the man whose pretentions to upper class respectability lead him to name his sixth child Sixtus. As if having Rees-Mogg as a father would not be burden enough in life.
Rees-Mogg, being a dyed in the wool Brexiteer of the right wing Little Englander variety, is a darling of the hucksters running the Leave EU campaign, a thinly veiled excuse for a diatribe against foreigners and a desire to restore the ‘glory days’ of Empire. Every utterance of JRM, as Leave EU trendily refer to Rees-Mogg, infects the Twittersphere and feeds the myth that the desire to leave the EU is the prerogative of xenophobic fools.
Rees-Mogg’s candle flickered briefly but has been comprehensively snuffed by the return of the big beast in the Leave EU jungle in the form of Boris Johnson. With his boss Theresa May priming the BBC, and anyone else who cared to listen, that she would make a definitive position speech on Brexit in Florence yesterday, Johnson sharpened his quill and penned a note of his own. More than a note in fact, over 4,000 words, published by that faithful hound the Daily Telegraph just a week before May’s Florence curtain raiser.
The proverbial Zebedee to May’s Florence, Johnson suddenly bounced back from his summer perambulations in hurricane hit tax havens, calling ‘time for bed’ on the fragile Tory truce around Brexit. Not only did Johnson beat loud and hard on the Little Englander drum, he even resurrected the widely discredited claim that £350m a week was being spent on the EU and, upon leaving, this could be diverted to support the NHS, amongst other things.
Clearly a lot of UK taxpayers money is being diverted into the EU and it could be more usefully employed. Harking back to the £350m per week claim however was a clear provocation on Johnson’s part, purely a piece of internal politics rather than an appeal to the people. It is no secret that Theresa May’s tenure as Tory party leader is only sustained due to the fact that no one else is currently prepared to take on the dirty work of Brexit.
However, as Johnson knows, the merest slip could change the balance and being in position to step in could give him an advantage. For many the Johnson brand is toxic, even in some parts of the Tory party, but others may conclude that his high profile may be enough to help the Tories cling to office.
May’s address in Florence attempted to placate the ‘leave at all cost’ lobby on the one hand, while balancing out the demands of British business and capital, to be given more time to prepare for the changes Brexit will bring. The two year transition period proposed by May sees her please no one, with the hardline leave camp seeing it as too long and many businesses seeing it as being too short. On this timetable the UK would not fully leave the EU until 2021, five years after the referendum vote of June 2016.
For British capital the EU departure process is one of working out ways in which the City of London and UK corporations can have their cake and eat it. They want to enjoy the benefits to exploit a captive market, which the EU provides, including the free movement of cheap labour, but not be constrained by the limited social and human rights legislation, which are part of EU law. The irony is that the fabled social protections of the EU, much beloved of the Remain camp, are built on shifting sands and are uneven across the EU. The unemployed of the second rank EU states in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland are testament to the EU’s failings.
Outside of the EU, able to determine its own public spending priorities; able to determine an open and fair immigration process; able to set its own trade union and human rights agenda; able to disassociate itself from the aggressive NATO alliance; it is possible to see a different future for the UK based upon socialist values. Not surprisingly, Theresa May’s speech made no reference to this. There is no room for such values in the script being prepared by Boris Johnson. Labour has its own internal struggles in uniting around such a vision but getting the Tories out and seeing Jeremy Corbyn in 10, Downing Street would be a start.