Wednesday 20th June saw the Tory Party revert to type as the Nasty Party. Forcing Naz Shah MP to
vote in a wheelchair clutching a sick bowl on her lap echoed what the Tories did in 1950-51. Facing a Labour government down to a majority of only 5 they forced Labour MPs to come to Westminster in ambulances and vote by being pushed on hospital trollies. The Conservative Party smelled power, and won the election of 1951 with a comfortable majority. The Tories are the ultimate power grabbers, and this was feral party on form.
The key fact is that Dominic Grieves voted against his own amendment, and only he can know the reasons why. However after he had attended a meeting in Europe House with members of Open Britain – the Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubhry group – The Daily Mail attacked him in a front page article. Betrayed by the gutter press, Grieves had no friends in high places. The disciplinary agents at Westminster are not known as ‘whippers in’ for nothing, and the Tories have always put the other parties in the shade for rigid discipline.
The Westminster bubble knows what is happening, but the voters have very little idea what is going on, any more than members of the old Communist Party knew how Stalin imposed his policies. The trigger fact going into the “Meaningless” vote on the Tory Deal in the autumn is that their MPs have been forced back into line whatever their personal views. The Labour Party can do nothing about that and as Labour lacks the numbers to win a vote there is no point in attacking the front bench. Any defeat for Theresa May must mean a broad alliance including some Tory rebels. The issue is how to produce that broad alliance when the Tory MPs may well have Central Office briefing their constituency chairs on threats of what the constituency party may do to them.
The key to advance may lie in what happened two days earlier. On Monday 18th the Tory Party announced increased money to the NHS, sometime in the future. This will come from increased taxation, and Philip Hammond made it clear that otherwise there is no extra cash. This has only one meaning in the Brexit debate. There is no Brexit dividend. The Big Red Bus roamed in vain, and Boris Johnson is back in the limelight. He has been unusually silent since the announcement was made.
As the promise of £350 million per week from EU payments was a key part of the suprise victory of
Leave in the 2016 Referendum, the fact this does not exist has to come out of the shadows. Many soft Brexiteers will be put on the spot if Labour can make this a factor going into the autumn. A broad political coalition has to be formed to defeat May in the “Meaningless Vote” and this should be at the core. A Labour offensive on the missing billions would pay dividends. The Remain campaign told the truth about the effects of quitting the EU and Leave told porkies.
On the NHS, the biggest thorn in Tory flesh, Theresa May’s government is trying to regain lost political ground. But they cannot claim there is a Brexit dividend if the UK leaves the EU. The Tories are ruthless political operators, but on NHS finance and Brexit they are bang to rights. This, more than trickery on the EU withdrawal bill, is the key weakness Labour should be attacking.
Published on Labour List on 22nd June 2018