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    Saturday, June 17, 2017

    The Swift, Shocking Collapse Of Theresa May And The Tories

    It is hard to believe but it was just two months ago that Theresa May called a snap election in the UK. With polls showing around a 20 point lead for Conservatives, the expectation was that May would solidify her "strong" leadership position for the difficult Brexit negotiations ahead, the Tories would get a 75 to 100 seat majority in the House of Common, and the resulting Labour party losses would put them into minority status for a generation to come.

    It didn't quite work out that way. The election resulted in a hung Parliament. May and the Conservatives actually lost their 17 seat working majority and were forced to join with the anti-abortion, climate change denying Northern Irish DUP party in order to try and actually form a government. May, who had run as a "strong leader" that the UK needed to move forward for the next few years was severely weakened and just barely hung on to her leadership position and the PM job, at least for the short term, after having to confess her failures to her Tory peers. And things have only gotten worse since then.

    Buzzfeed released a shocking expose a few days ago which claims that Russia has assassinated at least 14 people on British soil. Some of those killed were Russian nationals, some British, and all had either fallen out of favor with the Kremlin and were involved in deals in Russia that fell through. The Russians and/or the Russian mafia have seemingly perfected the ability to kill someone and make it either look like natural causes or suicide, which makes proving murder far more difficult. But the UK government has also made remarkable efforts to ignore evidence and avoid pinning the blame on the Kremlin.

    According to a US national security source, the British, "downplayed involvement of Russians on their soil for years...The Brits made a deal years ago that the Russians could come in and spend money on housing and stimulate the economy and they’ll look the other way." Another national security adviser to the UK says the British "desperately don’t want to antagonise the Russians" and the government had no desire to take the "political risk of dealing firmly and effectively in whatever way with the activities of the Russian state and Russian-organised crime in the UK" because they feared backlash from the Kremlin and losing the influx of Russian money. (Please read the entire Buzzfeed article. It is an incredible tale of the amount of illicit money pouring out of Russia, the criminality involved, the total uselessness of anti-money laundering laws and the use of real estate transactions to avoid those laws, something relevant to Trump as well, and the impunity and brazenness of Russia's interference in other countries.)

    Many of those murders took place while Theresa May was the Home Secretary and she herself has intervened in some of these cases. She personally intervened to protect "international relations" with Russia in delaying the investigation into the death of Alexander Litvinenko. She also was involved in the government's decision to withhold evidence in the death of another Russian, Alexander Perepilichny.

    In addition, May has reduced the police budget by nearly $3 billion as part of the Conservatives' austerity budget and a switch in focus to anti-terrorism efforts. A number of senior police officials blame those cuts for reduced capabilities, especially in pursuing difficult investigations that these murders required.

    That push for austerity also was a major factor in the next disaster to befall May and that was the horrific fire at the Grenfell tower. Apparently, the private building manager that the council had employed to upgrade the building used cladding that is banned in the US and Germany specifically because of the fire hazard. Using fireproof cladding would have cost just an additional 5,000 pounds.

    The local council of Kensington and Chelsea has prided itself on its "efficiency", which is merely a euphemism for austerity. In 2014, the council rebated 100 pounds to every resident and last year actually had nearly $3.5 in its adult services budget that it could not find a way or need to spend. It is worth noting that this area was one of the biggest upsets for Labour in the election last week after being a long-time Tory stronghold.

    In addition, in 2014 the Conservative housing minister refused to increase fire safety regulation to include sprinklers. According to the MP, "We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation...The cost of fitting a fire sprinkler system may affect house building – something we want to encourage – so we must wait to see what impact that regulation has." If there was ever a policy decision that can be shown to lead directly to deaths, this might be it.

    Even worse for the Tories was Theresa May's initial response to the disaster. The day of the disaster she was silent until the evening. The next day she visited the site of the disaster, thanking emergency services, but pointedly ignoring the victims of the tragedy. She compounded that problem by being her usual evasive self and merely repeating talking points in subsequent interviews.

    Compare that to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who arrived after May, met the victims, treated them with empathy and compassion, and promised to find out what happened and help them move forward. It was yet again another remarkable contrast that highlighted May's seeming lack of connection with voters and a propensity to avoid direct questions with evasions and talking points, issues that helped doom her campaign.

    One Conservative MP described May thusly, "She's adrift" and therefore so is the Conservative party. Austerity is dead as is virtually the entirety of the Conservative party agenda. The task of finalizing a deal with the DUP and actually forming a government still needs to be completed and that will be followed by trying to build some sort of new, minimal governing agenda. And the difficult Brexit negotiations still lie ahead.

    One Tory MP lays out the future, saying, "The next six weeks will show we can’t do very much. It may be she lasts a bit longer, but it will be a sheer grinding down. People will be fed up with impotence." After that will come another leadership vote or even a new election. No one could have imagined this two months ago.

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