Reflections on the last few weeks in UK politics, by John Medhurst, author of the forthcoming No Less Than Mystic: A History of the Russian Revolution for a 21st Century Left (out August 2017).
This is a British revolution.
As I write, the last few weeks have seen:
- An apparently secure and unassailable Tory Prime Minister, Theresa May, call a General Election that looked set to produce a Tory landslide and the annihilation of the Labour Party.
- The Labour Party respond with a bold, radical manifesto that promised nationalisation of privatised services such as the Royal Mail, energy companies, the buses and railways; a 50% tax rate for the top 5% of earners allied to increased Corporation tax to fund the NHS; scrapping of student Tuition Fees, the re-introduction of Grants and the cancellation of all existing student debt; a ban on Fracking; and state-led public investment to grow the economy, including a million new homes and the capping of rent increases.
- A response from young people that exceeded even the most optimistic expectations, as this historically under-registered and under-engaged group turned out to vote for Labour in record numbers.
- The belated emergence of a solidly oppositional, reactive and effective social media presence into the British political arena, so much so that where the Sun once boasted it won elections for the Tories, that same media now looks a paper tiger, shouting splenetic hate in an echo chamber.
- The visible, palpable collapse of Tory swagger and energy after losing its majority and coming within a whisker of being defeated by a confident socialist opposition.
- That same party’s desperate and unprincipled willingness to endanger the Good Friday Agreement and peace in Northern Ireland in order to prop itself up with a handful of votes from a fringe Unionist party renowned for vicious homophobia.
- The Brexit process thrown into utter chaos, as the government struggles to construct a coherent negotiating strategy, with a cross-party majority in the new Parliament pushing for a “soft Brexit” that retains access to the European Single Market.
- A terrible fire ripping through a local council tower block in a poor area of the richest borough in the country, Kensington and Chelsea. A fire that could have been contained had not the council and the arms-length body to which it outsourced estate management used the cheapest and most flammable material to clad the building.
- A horrific (and still rising) death toll of mostly ethnic minority, poor and disabled tenants.
- A brief visit to the scene by Theresa May in which she met senior fire and police officials but failed to meet survivors and volunteer workers, in stark contrast to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
- A tsunami of outrage and bad publicity descending on May’s head, a massive, irrecoverable political blunder that will define her and her premiership.
- Corbyn’s call for the requisitioning of the many vacant properties in the borough, left empty as investments by rich or non-domiciled residents, and wide-spread popular support for this policy.
- The cold, indifferent response from the council to survivors, leaving them for days on the floor of local churches and sports centres, failing to co-ordinate emergency collections, failing to inform those put into hotels of other relief, or provide food beyond a free breakfast.
- Massive anger sweeping the local community, resulting in the storming and occupation of Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall. At the same time, a spontaneous mass march on Downing St to demand May resign and justice be done for the survivors.
- Labour calling for a million-person march to overturn a failing and bankrupt government. Labour now six points ahead in the polls, with Corbyn vastly more popular than May.
- Corbyn’s astonishing appearance at Glastonbury as thousands of festival goers chant his name and he delivers a blast of pure socialist passion, concluding with Shelley’s “Masque of Anarchy” to rapturous applause.