This morning I was asked on BBC 5Live, If I had a say in the Tory leadership, would I vote for Theresa May? To be honest the question stumped me – I said I couldn’t imagine any Tory leader doing any better. Leaving the studio I realised why I couldn’t answer the question – because the Tory leadership is irrelevant.
While her incompetence and dithering has contributed to it, the crisis in our government today is not actually Theresa May’s crisis. Ultimately, it has very little to do with her personally. What is happening today is the Tory Party finally coming to the place where the deep blue sea of Tory backbencher dreams meets the hard cliff edges of the modern world, and being unable as a party to move our country forward, no matter who is in charge of the party or what they propose to do. This is a crisis of the Tory Party as a party, as an organisation with any claim to lead the country.
Why is the Tory Party broken? Because for decades the Party has lived a lie - its leadership and supporters in business and civil society indulging a dream, a fantasy held dear by many of its backbenchers and its voters. The fantasy is really a post-imperial dream, the dream that the United Kingdom can stand alone in the world, either because these dreamers think we are still a great empire or because they think we can prosper in splendid isolation. Of course for the more libertarian Tories, underneath this is the desire that our society should be more like the United States — that we should have less social solidarity, and more greed, fewer rules and more guns.
In reality, our economy is integrated with Europe’s economy, the business community lives this reality every day in just in time supply chains that criss cross the channel. So long as the Tory party kept close to the needs of business, they had this in mind even all the while griping about the heavy hand of Brussels. But once David Cameron actually gave the dreamers in his party an effective course of political action by calling the Brexit referendum, the days of the Tory Party as a instrument of government were over.
And now it is clear that Theresa May’s Brexit deal is the minimum deal that Tory business leaders will accept, tangled, inconsistent, and unfair that it is — because it at least takes a stab at continuing economic integration with Europe. But it is equally clear that the Tory Party as a whole won’t, because they want the dream of splendid isolation, Empire 2.0, a return to Downton Abbey.
The truth is the Tory dream is as potentially destructive to the people and economy of our country as any mad Trotskyist’s dream of a planned economy or the nationalisation of all private property.
Labour has a different approach. While it is true there are both Brexiteers and Remainers in our party, we have a vision for the future, not a dream of the past. We understand how our country actually lives and works in today’s world. We seek common goals – a Britain for the many, not the few, where we invest in our communities, our schools and our infrastructure to build a high productivity high wage, high skill, economy a Britain where all who live here are welcome and valued. Labour has a vision for our relationship with Europe that promotes those values – and honours the result of the referendum.
We believe the way to do that in our nation’s interest is through a customs union that enables frictionless trade and respects the rights working people in the UK have won through our membership in the EU. Our plan doesn’t have the red lines and the contortions of Theresa May’s because Labour is not beholden to the Tories’ reactionary dreams.
Last week, at the Congress of the Party of European Socialists, Jeremy spoke eloquently of our vision for a socialist Europe whether we are inside the EU or outside it, and how we would fight with them for the Europe we wanted. The Conservatives can have no such vision for the future because they have conflicting and unresolvable views of today’s reality. At the very best, all they can offer is cheap labour, free market island on the edge of a great continent.
No matter what happens to Theresa May, the ideological fracture that Europe represents for the Tories divides them from government. It is time they step aside and give the working people of this country a chance to help our country in its hour of need.
Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central