Editorial of the Socialist issue 1137

Tory splits and infighting growing

Fight for a new mass workers’ party

Boris Johnson Estonian presidency/CC

Boris Johnson Estonian presidency/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

The latest opinion polls show the Tories around ten points ahead of Starmer’s Labour. No doubt Johnson is hoping he can continue to defy political gravity, aided by the abject failure of Starmer to act as an opposition. His hopes will come to nothing. As society begins to move out of lockdown, all the pent-up political and economic processes that have accumulated over the last fifteen months are starting to be unleashed.

That includes attacks by the Tory government on working-class people, as they try to make us pay for the Covid crisis. Cuts to Universal Credit, the ending of the furlough scheme, and real-terms pay cuts for public sector workers – including in the NHS – are the diet that Johnson and co. have prepared for us. Public services are on their knees, with 4.6 million people on waiting lists for NHS treatment. Meanwhile, in contrast to Johnson’s posturing about ‘levelling up’, his government is presiding over a tsunami of brutal ‘fire and rehire’ attempts by private sector bosses to ‘level down’ their workers’ pay and conditions.

At this stage, there may be some workers who are still hoping that Johnson ‘getting Brexit done’ might mean some improvement in their living conditions but, as Covid recedes, the low-paid, super-exploitative and crisis-ridden character of British capitalism will be thrown into sharp relief.

The Socialist Party campaigned to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum for completely opposite reasons to the right-wing nationalists of the Tory Party and UKIP. We oppose the EU – which is a bosses’ club driven by maximising the profits of the capitalist elites – and fight for international workers’ solidarity and a socialist Europe.

All Tory governments, whether pro or anti-EU, act in complete opposition to the interests of the working class. Johnson’s Brexit will mean Britain going further down the road of being a low-corporation tax, low-regulation economy, reliant for example on ‘free ports’ – aka super-exploitative tax-free zones.

It is also further weakening British capitalism, which is why the majority of big business did not support it. The OECD predicts that Britain will suffer the most post-pandemic ‘scarring’ of all the major economies, partly because of the government’s terrible handling of the pandemic, but also contributed to by Johnson’s Brexit.

Class anger

Johnson would be deluded to imagine that his government will not face multiple opposition movements to the post-Covid misery it is serving up. Those movements – like the Black Lives Matter demonstrations – will be fuelled by all the accumulated anger at what the working-class majority suffered during the pandemic.

And they will face not a strong government but a weak and deeply-divided Tory Party, as was shown by Cummings’ vitriol against his old boss, and developments since. The rebellion over international aid, timed to embarrass the government at the start of the G7 summit, involves a host of senior Tories including Theresa May, seven former Tory cabinet ministers and eight Tories who chair select committees, including the chairs of the defence committee and the foreign affairs committee.

Another indication of the growing schisms in the Tories was the resignation of the education tsar over the paltry sums the government was willing to spend on helping school pupils catch up – just one tenth of what he and the Tory education minister Gavin Williamson wanted.

Further infighting is also likely over any attempts to delay the complete lifting of Covid-preventative measures in the face of the rising Delta variant. In reality, one of the central reasons for the criminal failure to take effective action to deal with the rising virus last autumn was that the Tory backbenches were only willing to support it when disaster had already happened. Not only Johnson, but the whole parliamentary Tory Party, was indeed responsible for many tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

The current divisions in the Tory Party could be nothing, however, compared to what will develop under the impact of coming events. Johnson is a Poundland Trump, an English nationalist, who the capitalist class do not trust to reliably act in their interests.

Brexit is not a finished process. In the endless post-Brexit negotiations and skirmishes with the EU, this Tory government’s blundering will inevitably enrage big sections of the ruling elite. His government’s policies have already strengthened the struggle for independence in Scotland, and have inflamed sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland.

Sections of the Tory Party are putting up with him only because he appears to be able to win some working-class voters. This is largely an illusion. Plummeting support for Labour is a far bigger factor than an increase in Tory votes in Johnson’s electoral gains. Even this, however, will shatter as he fails to deliver for the so-called red wall voters.

Populist danger

Many workers who have voted Tory could be won to a mass workers’ party with a socialist programme if such a party existed. After all, over a million ex-UKIP voters supported Corbyn, despite his limits, in the 2017 election, when he was still pledging to implement the 2016 referendum result. In the absence of such a party, however, the danger to the workers’ movement is not the consolidation of stable working-class support for the Tories, but rather the development of unstable right-wing populist formations, including via splits in the Tory Party.

The capitalist class in Britain has its own crisis of political representation. Much of the capitalist elite would probably prefer a Starmer-led Labour government to Johnson’s unreliable populists, as he would be a more reliable representative of their interests – if only he seemed capable of winning an election.

The workers’ movement should take confidence from the crisis of capitalist politics, and the highly fragile nature of the Tory Party. However, a vital element in the struggle to defeat the Tories and to fight for a socialist alternative to this rotten capitalist system, is for the working class to have its own political voice, arguing for a socialist programme. Starmer’s Labour is the antithesis of that. Therefore, one of the crucial tasks in the coming stormy period is the fight for a new mass workers’ party.