Theresa May and the beginning of something old

Theresa May and the beginning of something old

 

Teresa May was elected by the grand total of 0.0004% of the UK population, just 22 Tory MPs decided in the end that May would lead the UK. Putting names to the faces of these sometimes obscure Tory MPs can be tricky and its often easier to put the name to the scandal. For example, one of the motley crew of 22 MPs is Oliver Letwin an antique from Thatcher’s time, it was revealed in 2015 in one of his private memos to Thatcher that he implied black communities have ‘bad moral attitudes’. Rob Semple is another name you might remember after he stepped down from the conservative party’s ‘bullying inquiry’ after he was repeatedly named by potential witnesses as the reason they wouldn’t give evidence at the inquiry. Lord Lupton also brought the Conservative Party negative media attention after allegations of cronyism were rife when he donated 2.5 million to the Tory Party and was subsequently turned into a Lord.

So far the media have failed to really pin down May and after 3 months in power no one yet has summarised her ideology or sold the public an interesting life story. Many media outlets (such as VICE News) have drawn the obvious comparisons with Thatcher, both have been called ‘hard women’ by people who have worked for them and both women went to Oxford University. However the rhetoric espoused by May is a sharp contrast to Thatcher, where Thatcher boomed ‘There is no such thing as political violence …there is only criminal murder, criminal bombing and criminal violence’ to men starving themselves over the right to not wear a prison uniform. May on the other hand has almost stolen the rhetoric of Corbyn’s Labour Party and at a recent press conference she spoke of ‘A vision for a country that works not for the privileged few but that works for every one of us, because we are going to give people more control over their lives and that’s how, together we will build a better Britain’. This speech was a calculated pitch that carved out political centre ground and often sounded like she was attacking the current status quo built up by Cameron. May even used Marxist rhetoric it noting that ‘it wasn’t the wealthy who made the biggest sacrifices after the financial crash, but ordinary, working-class families’, this grab for the aesthetics of the centre left is nothing new however and has been built up slowly by Cameron who showed that the Tories have learnt to adopt the language of social progress when it suits.

 This new carefully constructed language of social unity is much more dangerous than the brash and hardened fighting words of Thatcher as through soft soothing sounds May is able to drip her poison into the political mainstream. At the ruling party’s conference May slipped in her promise that she would not ‘let those activist left-wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave’ this sounds like a promise to the military elite that war crimes will be happily overlooked and takes on an extremely sinister message when you consider the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989 by a British backed death squad. May also borrowed the rhetoric of the growing British far-right and attacked those that ‘behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road’. May went on to continually use the term ‘the nation’, ‘the national interest’, ‘the whole nation’ and ‘the wealth of the nation’, making continual reference to Britain as a single unit and the importance of the Westminster’s government’s role, here May rejected Thatchers devotion to the free market and instead made a speech that to many Tories 10 years ago would have been blasphemy, May praised government intervention in the market and tore down the altar to free trade that Thatcher and others had built from the 80s onwards. This is a stark reminder that the rhetoric and image of the free market was just that, image and rhetoric and it was devoid of substance or logic.  Similarly to how Jeremy Corbyn tearing down the altar to Blairism, May is tearing down the altar of Thatcherism and has brought the Tory party back to its original ideologies of social conservatism above all else, law and order at any cost, traditional family units and the near rabid praise for the last scraps of imperial empire. This return to pre-Thatcherite Toryism is a return to the same bleak party that published flyers that read ‘if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote liberal or labour’.

Sam Kriss the writer, makes the informed point that the left has now become so focused on fighting big finance and austerity that they have forgotten who they are fighting, that big business and austerity are just tools and tactics and that the right wing is about the power of one social class over the others. This domination of one class over another found its disguise in Thatcher, the rhetoric of the free market and the denial of society, and after this it morphed into the ‘balancing-the-books’ and ‘living within our means’ rhetoric mastered by Blair and peddled by Cameron, the exploiter class has now adopted May, her soft language of social cohesion and the rhetoric of anti-immigrant British nationalism while gently reminiscing about the halcyon days of imperial empire. The British right exploded as it went through a metamorphosis this summer during the Brexit referendum and after leaving a sitting MP dead on the streets has not just stolen the rhetoric of the centre but has also introduced the far-right into the now socially acceptable mainstream where lists are being compiled of foreign workers and Irish partition will be reinforced with a vigour not seen since the height of the Troubles. This same rhetoric poisoned Europe before after a decade long economic crisis, and if nothing else this speech by May and her actions as PM for the last 3 months should serve as a wake up call to the left, in Ireland, in Britain, across Europe and the world.  We have seen this ideology rise before in Europe, except this time around it has a significant, wealthy and dangerous body of support across the Atlantic.

In response to Paul Gallagher, the ex Attorney-General

In response to Paul Gallagher, the ex Attorney-General

Paul Gallagher recently remarked that the 1916 Rising had ‘absolutely no legitimacy whatsoever’, this is the ex attorney-general who served under governments led by Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen (the government who lost Ireland’s sovereignty). Removing the argument that legitimacy is an entirely subjective term, I can assume that Gallagher is referring to democratic legitimacy. The claim that the leaders of 1916 had no legitimacy is a complex one but it’s worth putting democratic legitimacy in the context of early 20th century Ireland. Ireland at the time was governed by Westminster, this government practised what many of us would see today as a pseudo-democracy, to start off with, 50% of the population were unable to vote in any elections because they had the audacity to be born women. Working-class people were also unable to vote if they didn’t own land, and of course with the dismal wages and various obstacles to gaining higher education (including an all out ban on Catholics and women attending Trinity College) these working-class people were unable to muster enough wages to buy land or partake in social mobility and this remained the case across the United Kingdom until the introduction of the ‘Representation of the People Act’ in 1918. Also in 1916, as is the case today, an unelected monarch who has their power passed through a blood line remains the head of state in Britain. Today, if a government was elected when women or people who didn’t own land couldn’t vote, would we refer to that government as democratic? Or legitimate? We wouldn’t because it isn’t any of those things. If a government then decided to enter a war with another imperial empire and then decided to send multitudes of working class people (who couldn’t vote) to war eventually against their will, would this act be legitimate? Would the war be just? Of course it wouldn’t.

Gallagher claims violence was the legacy of the 1916 rising, but this violent uprising occurred in the context of mass imperial violence across Europe. A recent study suggests 485 people died in the Easter Rising, whereas 49,500 Irish people died in WW1 in a disastrous and inhumane slaughter of mostly working class people on all sides. None of the leaders of the 1916 rising campaigned for a draft for this imperial war, but Redmond and others in the Irish Parliamentary Party did call for a draft and actively encouraged Irish people to join the British Army to fight in a war that none of them had the option to vote for. Is Redmond a legitimate power? A man elected without a single female or working class vote? Surely not. Westminster was a parliament of the landowning elite for the land owning elite and their various business and imperial interests. This government didn’t represent Ireland’s working classes or landless middle class, neither did it represent Irish women. The Westminster government that the leaders of the 1916 rising rebelled against was entirely illegitimate. When land owners in the IPP asked for Home Rule it was rejected twice, twice it was rejected by Britain’s landowning and business elite, on the third time it was rejected by the House of Lords, a house which no member was elected to, but served instead at the behest of an unelected monarch, a crown passed down through a blood line that descends from William the Conqueror who himself was the descendent of a Viking raider, does any of that sound democratically legitimate?

And when the people of Ireland organised themselves democratically in their everyday lives, by the secret ballot (now used today in elections) in their workplaces and then brought those democratic decisions to the business elite that controlled their parliament they were brutalised at the hands of the state forces. In the 1913 lockout approximately 20,000 Irish workers, male and female, young and old democratically organised themselves in their workplaces and fought for the right to collectively bargain with their employers for safer conditions and fairer pay, many died in the 1913-1914 class conflict at the hands of the RIC, as many died in the Easter Rising, however this is a fraction of the number who died due to diseases linked to poverty like tuberculosis, a 1912 report found that TB related deaths in Ireland were a massive 50% higher than in England or Scotland and were directly linked to poor living conditions, a consequence of the exploitative nature of the land owning and capitalist class who ruled in an illegitimate parliament.

 

The most important point of all is that the leaders of the 1916 rising didn’t declare themselves democratically legitimate, they declared themselves a provisional government, care takers until a real democracy could be established (the democracy that was found a mere three years later in the first Dail where all men and women could vote). This first Dail was a direct consequence of the actions and ideology of the 1916 Rising and included representations for all of Ireland’s citizens, it didn’t discriminate based on sex or social class. This first Dail brought a real democracy to Ireland, not the pseudo democracy of land owners and unelected lords found in Westminster. This first Dail was organised by the survivors of the 1916 Rising and was a direct consequence of their actions, although admittedly it included an abysmal percentage of Women and due to the Labour Party not running in 1918 many urban and working class areas did not get proper representation it was a progressive step in a real representational democracy. Gallagher’s claim that the events of 1916 ‘in hindsight’ were not legitimate are unfounded. ‘In hindsight’ Britain’s entire imperialist history in Ireland was illegitimate, from land seizures, resource thefts and Cromwellian slaughters to mass political transportation to Australia. Ireland’s working classes, its peasantry and proletariat had no say in the running of their country or their workplaces and their attempts to gain this self determination through parliamentary means, through mass movement and through insurgency was continually met with brutality. The land owners, the lords and ladies and the industrialists all profited off the backs of this working class, the aristocrats who were given land by unelected officials or monarchs flourished on the property they illegitimately owned and the businesses and factories these profits led to. It is only in the resistance and rebellion to this system that Irish people attempted to build a new world where their human needs and self-determination were catered for, not the want of the foreign and domestic greedy few. The rebellions and associated movements of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867, 1882, 1913, 1916 and 1969 were rebellions against this illegitimate system of undemocratic rule which denied people self determination and economic justice.