Editorial of the Socialist issue 1132

Capitalist sleaze and cronyism

The fight for a working-class political voice continues

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No one views Westminster sleaze as new. It’s universally seen as ongoing as well as shameful. However, the latest round of scandals is meeting growing anger, along with questioning in capitalist and Tory circles as to whether Boris Johnson is becoming too great a liability.

Worried about how the investigation into Johnson’s home decor spending would impact on the 6 May elections, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said Johnson should resign if he’s broken the ministerial code. Few people expect he would do so though, faced with that situation alone.

Not only has the prime minister become more and more discredited, but the whole system of capitalist ‘parliamentary democracy’ is descending further into a mire. The ‘ministerial code’ – created by ministers – contains the facade that “integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency, honesty and leadership in the public interest – must be honoured at all times”.

In the court of public opinion Johnson has already broken this a great many times – and in numerous ways. The travesty too is that he, as prime minister, is the final arbiter regarding breaches of the code.

All the recent scandals – the handing of lucrative coronavirus-related contracts to the Tories’ rich friends; the planning decision of housing minister Jenrick that financially aided a Tory donor; the lobbying of ministers by Dyson and Greensill; the ‘Carrie Antoinette’ Downing Street flat refurbishment – have involved so-called ‘conflicts of interest’ between public good and private profit.

In reality, though, Johnson and Co have no conflict of interest. They are 100% concerned with their own present or future wealth and that of the captains of big business who they are in politics to represent.

The government has had a temporary reprieve in its standing due to the rapid Covid vaccine roll-out. There are already signs of this ‘bounce’ weakening though, despite the lack of any real opposition from Starmer’s Labour.

Doubtless, a factor in this weakening is anger at the sleaze – the behaviour viewed as corrupt and maybe illegal. Added to this is outrage against government decisions that ride roughshod over people’s living standards and wellbeing while perhaps being fully legal.

Lately, this includes favouring the big construction companies over leaseholders who can’t afford to remedy the cost-cutting fire traps built by those same big firms. It also includes pushing into the distance an inquiry into the government decisions which massively worsened the Covid death toll.

Both of these callous stances have caused some disquiet among Tory MPs who are disturbed about the reaction from their constituents. Last week, 32 of them rebelled when the Tory party voted in the Commons against protecting leaseholders from fire safety costs.

Regarding a Covid inquiry, former Tory cabinet ministers Norman Fowler and David Lidington are among those who have joined calls for it to proceed without delay.

This limited ‘opposition’ is little different to that of the Starmerite right-wing Labour MPs. They, in reality, share the concerns of those Tories over how best to manage British capitalism and protect its top corporations and institutions, with as little instability and working-class backlash as possible.

The time cannot come soon enough when workers once again have political representatives at parliamentary level who will see private sector involvements for MPs as taboo and who will only take the equivalent of an average worker’s wage. In the 1980s, three Labour MPs who supported Militant (predecessor to the Socialist Party) did exactly that.

Part of the role of workers’ MPs will be to expose the lack of democracy in the capitalist parliamentary system and to argue for genuine, socialist democracy. To aid accountability, all MPs should be subject to re-election at least every two years and to instant recall if they depart from the interests of those who vote them in.

The Socialist Party has been helping to rebuild the prospect of such representatives through our involvement in standing candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in the 6 May local, mayoral, Scotland and Wales elections.