Editorial of the Socialist issue 1160

Split Tories and spineless Starmer

Build a new mass party for workers

Boris Johnson, photo Chatham House/CC

Boris Johnson, photo Chatham House/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

It’s a little like ‘A Christmas Carol’ meets ‘Groundhog Day’ – except with no jokes and no heartwarming resolution.

Last year, Johnson’s unclear message on Covid measures was mocked as: ‘Don’t go to work, go to work, don’t take public transport, go to work, don’t go to work.’ This year it is ‘Don’t go to work, do go to Christmas parties’.

The lives and livelihoods of millions of people are being ravaged.

In the face of the new Omicron variant, crisis continues for workers on the front line dealing with Covid – in the hospitals, care homes, GP surgeries, but also in schools, shops, refuse collection, and so on. They are among those facing service cuts, staff shortages, and money-grubbing privatisation – and are also on the front line of the cost of living crisis, prices rising quicker than pay.

No wonder there is growing anger in society – if not yet fully expressed.

It is absolutely clear, despite its parliamentary majority, that this is a weak Tory government – as the Socialist Party has made clear since the day after the 2019 election.

Voter satisfaction with Johnson is at an all-time low. 65% of those polled say they are dissatisfied with his leadership amid the allegations of sleaze, corruption and lockdown rule breaches in recent weeks.

As the Socialist goes to press, the Johnson government faces what could be its biggest parliamentary rebellion yet. And even if the Tories manage to hold their historically safe seat in the North Shropshire by-election on 16 December, a severe dent to their majority will be a further blow for Johnson. Scores of Tory MPs will be terrified for their own majorities.

Tory splits

No one can deny that the Tories are a split party now. The only debate is over how many splits – and who would win if they united temporarily to oust Johnson. They disagree on a way forward in the crisis, but they are all united by their desire to defend the capitalist system, which ultimately means attacks on the working class.

Across the country, workers are getting organised to fight the bosses’ attacks, and scoring victories. Even the Christmas wonderland of Knightsbridge has seen class struggle, with chefs at Harrods winning a 25% pay increase after they threatened strike action.

The only person who seems to maintain a zen-like calm is Sir Keir Starmer, supposedly the leader of the official opposition to the government. He took to the airwaves on 13 December to deliver his pompous speech promising his continued lack of opposition. He resurrected one of Johnson’s lines from 2020 – also a lie – that it was necessary to act in the “national interest”.

National unity sham

As the Socialist Party explained when Johnson used the phrase in 2020, there is no such thing as national interest or national unity. There is no single national interest, but different class interests, laid bare by the pandemic itself – with profiteering, crony contracts, and fire and rehire.

It has been made clear that there is one rule for us, and another for the rich and powerful. Most recently with the Downing Street Christmas parties, previously with the adventures of Dominic Cummings.

Starmer is reinforcing his message that he and the Labour Party will represent the interests of the bosses, not the working class. This message is being further reinforced by Labour-led councils continuing to execute Tory austerity.

However, in the absence of a working-class political alternative, Starmer’s Labour can be the beneficiary of the anger and hatred of the Tories. So too could right-wing voices who seek to channel the anger into the dead-end of division.

Starmer’s current lead in the polls marks the first time a Labour leader has come out on top with the pollsters since January 2008. But this does not indicate a deep support for his reheated Blairism. A Starmer government, should it come to pass, would also quickly face the same working-class anger.

A new mass workers’ party could express the anger and aspirations of working-class people. It could demand democratic trade union oversight of emergency measures taken to contain the virus and the nationalisation of the big pharmaceutical companies to guarantee research, production and supply of medicines, vaccines and treatments.

Trade union struggles for a pay rise would be strengthened by a party that backs a call for a £15-an-hour minimum wage for all, without exemptions, with an annual increase linked to average earnings or inflation, whichever is higher.

The Socialist Party will support and fight for every step towards the workers’ movement founding such a party. This includes standing no-cuts candidates as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the May 2022 local elections. It means encouraging as many trade unionists as possible to stand as anti-austerity candidates in those elections. It means getting organised in our workplaces, communities and campuses to fight the Tories, the bosses, and the capitalist system they represent.