Editorial of the Socialist issue 1174

Shopping in supermarket. Photo: Public domain
Shopping in supermarket. Photo: Public domain

Two months ago, there was a rising pile of ‘no-confidence’ letters in Prime Minister Boris Johnson from Tory MPs. Shaken by the Downing Street ‘partygate’ revelations, those MPs felt they had to echo public disgust and say that Johnson should go.

On 6 February, the i-newspaper concluded that Johnson “faces no let-up in his leadership crisis and needs a decisive development in his favour this week to see off a confidence vote”.

In the following days, expectations of Russia invading Ukraine intensified, and not long after came the decisive development – the outbreak of war – that cut across the attacks on Johnson. The Tories used the background of the war and the huge wave of concern for its victims to close ranks and try to suppress the partygate scandal.

However, with the police now issuing penalty notices to Downing Street partygoers, the nightmare leap in energy costs on 1 April, Rishi Sunak’s poverty-escalating Spring budget, not to mention the end of free Covid test kits when infections are at the highest level ever, the government is heading back towards its pre-Ukraine war crisis situation.

The cost-of-living crisis, in particular, is of massive dimensions, sharply impacting on the standard of living – or worse, covering basics – of the majority of people in society. Government ministers blaming it on the Covid pandemic and then the Ukraine war is wearing thin.

The extra help they have given households to cope with energy bills is derisory, and their attempts at deception don’t go unnoticed. For instance, although the Ukraine war is disrupting energy markets, April’s sharp rise in the energy price cap was set before the war began. 

And mass outrage at partygate is still being fed. Initially, due to Tory politicians treating themselves and their staff as above the anti-Covid rules they themselves had made, the anger is now deepening further as those same Tories try to escape with fines they can easily pay, and with anonymity regarding them.

Under pressure of all this, and more, there is no easing of infighting among Tory seniors, ministers and MPs. Government policies are criticised by party grandees; Johnson and Sunak have been reported as being at loggerheads, and disquiet on the backbenches is resurfacing. There’s hardly an issue they all agree on – from the level and distribution of taxation, to where wind turbines should be situated.

The prospect of heavy losses in May’s local elections lies among their next fears. But any idea that the government will reverse its unpopularity was squashed by the behaviour of top Tories on the eve of the energy price escalation – quaffing champagne at Claridge’s hotel in Mayfair, at a reception to woo Tory donors.

Worlds apart

More and more they are exposing themselves as living in a different world to the rest of us, along with the ruling class they represent.

They and their families benefit directly from the pro-rich budgets and laws they pass, and they know that if their parliamentary careers end, they will simply shift into even more lucrative positions in the upper echelons of the private or public sector.  

Sunak doesn’t even need that prospect to maintain a super-rich lifestyle. While he increases poverty and desperation for millions of people in his role as chancellor, his wife receives millions of pounds a year from investments, and they have jetted off to spend Easter at her luxury penthouse apartment overlooking a Santa Monica beach in California.

With neither Blairite Labour nor the smaller pro-capitalist parties in parliament offering any real alternative, there is a gaping hole where working-class interests lie.

However, the growing volatility, insecurity, anger and inequality of this period – which are set to continue – are adding daily to the burning need for workers to have their own political voice.

A step towards that are the electoral challenges currently being prepared in many areas of the country by Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidates for the 5 May local elections. They are showing that workers’ interests can be presented to voters.

This is a path that an increasing number of trade unionists, anti-cuts campaigners, and all who need socialist change will need to support or take, along with building a new mass workers’ party that can challenge all the variants of pro-capitalist agendas.

Pay, benefits, pensions

  • An immediate above-inflation pay rise for workers to restore wages after over a decade of pay freezes and below-inflation rises
  • Regular pay increases for all, linked to trade-union agreed measures of inflation
  • Raise the minimum wage to £15 an hour, without exemptions
  • Restore the pension triple lock
  • Restore the additional £20-a-week Universal Credit payment. End the benefit cap
  • Living benefits and pensions for all who need them, rising with the cost of living

Housing

  • Freeze council and social housing rents
  • Rent controls to cap rents – decided by elected bodies of tenants, housing workers and trade union representatives

Make the rich pay, not the workers

  • No rise in national insurance or council tax, scrap student debt
  • No worker should be made to pay more tax, raise tax thresholds in line with inflation
  • Take the wealth off the super-rich, nationalise the top 150 companies and banks to be run under democratic working-class control and management, with compensation only on the basis of proven need

Price rises

  • Reverse the rise in the energy price cap. Nationalise energy and other utilities under democratic workers’ control and management to reduce bills by removing the profit motive
  • No increase in public transport fares. Return transport into public hands, to guarantee a fully funded, free, environmentally friendly, sustainable transport system
  • Stop price rises, end bosses’ profiteering. Open the books of big retailers to inspection by trade unions. Nationalise the big retailers under democratic workers’ control to be run to meet need, not for profit

New workers’ party

  • No trust in Starmer’s Labour to fight in our interests. For a new mass workers’ party based on trade union and workers’ struggle

Socialism

  • End the chaos of the capitalist market. For a socialist plan of production, based on the need of the overwhelming majority, not for profit