Why the Tories Are Asking Labour for Ideas

Another sign of a party that has nothing to say.
July 11, 2017, 7:30am
(Ik Aldama/DPA/PA Images)

Damien Green, one of the Prime Minister's few remaining allies, told the BBC on Monday morning that: "Labour may well have some ideas, on workers' rights for instance, that we can listen to."

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That sentence would have been unimaginable to hear a few weeks ago. Green also added that no political party "has the monopoly on wisdom". Although his qualified words – full of subjunctives and possibilities – don't mean anything substantial, it's the sign of a pretty remarkable transformation: a deeply authoritarian Prime Minister, who claimed to call a general election because of too much opposition interfering with the national will, has been reduced to asking that opposition "contribute" to her government's viability.


Green's intervention came after the latest episode in the Prime Minister's self-inflicted nightmare played out across the 'papers. "May's cry for help to Corbyn" said the Telegraph, "May Appeals To Labour For Policy Ideas", said the Guardian.

In a speech today, May is going to appeal to Labour and other opposition parties to try and save her from her own MPs who are right behind her, waiting to stab her in the back. This is ahead of the government's publication of the repeal bill on Thursday – the controversial legislation that will translate European law into British law to avoid a vacuum the day after Brexit actually happens (if it ever does).

Getting the Repeal Bill through will require significant cross-party support so, without a parliamentary majority, May is going to have to play nice, incorporating suggestions from Labour, like safeguarding, or even strengthening, workers' and environmental protections inscribed by EU legislation.

Before the general election when the Conservatives had a majority, there were worries that the repeal bill would be a mechanism for instigating a Tory coup, using it as an opportunity to further refashion the country in their image. The consensus now is that any repeal bill, which will be debated in autumn, will end up being a lot less Tory. The Liberal Democrat spokesperson said the final bill "will look like a Christmas tree because of the number of amendments that will be hung onto it".


May will give her speech before the publication of a review into the so-called gig economy. The review itself will likely be used as evidence that the government is somewhat committed to improving the conditions for workers in Britain, even if its panel did include an early investor to Deliveroo. Although it falls short of Labour's promise to abolish zero-hour contracts, or institute a compulsory minimum wage, it's expected to recommend giving precarious workers, like Uber drivers or Deliveroo riders the right to fixed-hours contracts and request more money if bosses refuse to give guaranteed hours and sick pay.

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Overall, this confused thrashing around signals a structural problem that Conservatives are finally being forced to reckon with: the legacy of the 2008 financial crisis. In the following decade, real wages have fallen by five percent, a record in the OECD beaten only by Greece; economic productivity has stagnated while that of France, US and Germany has grown; and the machinations of the City of London have continued unabated – laying the groundwork for a future crisis.

Although the Brexit vote and the General Election surprise result were down to numerous complex factors, they were also facts of a post-crisis society: a clear signal that British capitalism, with its over-dependence on finance capital and real estate, isn't working.

The Tories have been leading a class war in defence of this system for the past seven years in the name of "austerity". Now they find themselves abandoning old tactics and looking for new ideas to poach from the other side. At a moment that requires genuine political change, voters are unlikely to convinced by a mildly left-wing re-brand from the Tories. Especially when they and the press have spent so much time vilifying the leader of the opposition for being the real deal.