By Mark Buckley
Boris Johnson has finally been forced out as Tory leader, but it should be clear there were no fundamental disagreements of principle or significant policy involved in this in dominant ruling class circles. These are agreed on the “Americanisation” of British society – austerity, low regulation, low business taxation and increased exploitation of the working class, with racist and other reactionary offensives as an attempt to distract public attention from this. One Tory leader was sacrificed in an attempt to preserve the Tory agenda as a whole.
The coup against Johnson has happened only because the representatives of capitalist class interests thought his personal unpopularity was dragging the Tory Party down with him and putting at risk their implementation of a reactionary agenda. To the serious resistance which is being shown to reductions in living standards, shown in the RMT and other strikes, the Tories also felt threatened by an electoral meltdown.
The capitalist class reorganises its leadership
For socialists the whole debacle around Johnson highlights fundamental truths about capitalism and the specific form of its rule in Britain. The first key point is that this Tory crisis is driven by long-term British capitalist economic decline – the consequences of which have become more acute because of the present international economic crisis around Covid.
As this website pointed out on Twitter, real British GDP growth has slowed from 3.5% annually in the 1950s to only an average of 0.4% over the last five years – see illustration below. According to the official forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) it will decline further. At the same, ever since the Global Financial Crisis in 2007 and 2008, G7 governments have tried to recover the blows to capital by increasing the exploitation of the working class and further misery for the poor and oppressed.
These worsening economic problems, in turn, have led to repeated political crises, a revolving door for Prime Ministers, referendum divisions, and coups against political leaders. This factor is what is driving the current political turmoil as living standards are now falling at the most rapid rate since statistics began. It is summarised by the fact that the next Tory leader will be the fourth Prime Minister in six years.
For the same reason, the Tory economic programme is incapable of resolving the crisis. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, which is designed purely for electoral propaganda, the capitalists, particularly in the context of Brexit, are attempting to pursue a deregulated, low-tax, small state. But as this is incapable of overcoming the economic crisis this economic failure acts as a strong deterrent to their own investment – British fixed investment is now lower than in 2016! As a result economic decline becomes self-reinforcing.
Ruling class reshuffles the pack
This acceleration in the pace of political turmoil also highlights the undemocratic nature of the British political system and its selection of leaders. The official propaganda is that voters choose who is to be Prime Minister, but in reality Prime Ministers are frequently installed or ousted by their own parties, responding to capitalist interests, not by voters. The last Prime Minister to be both voted in, and then out, at elections was Ted Heath in 1970 and 1974. All the others were either inaugurated or terminated, or both, without reference to the electorate.
The current crisis therefore demonstrates very clearly the Marxist truth that, “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie,” (The Communist Manifesto). There was a startlingly clear example of this truth during the earlier Tory vote of no confidence against Theresa May, which Johnson won, and now in the decision to remove Johnson himself.
In order to make clear what is driving the Tory Party a string of multimillionaire Conservative donors recently itemised the political agenda they had set Boris Johnson – see the illustration below. These are the ‘common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie’, or in modern parlance, the agreed agenda of the capitalist ruling class. They will therefore form the agenda of the next Tory leader as well
The agenda demanded of the Tory Party was letting Covid rip, regardless of the consequences for the population, in order to support business profits, promoting war in Ukraine, cutting business taxes and rules, and Brexit.
Naturally, this agenda will not change under any new Tory leader. At most, there may be a purely tactical let-up in the austerity offensive to help the Tory party through the next election. But, given the depth of the economic crisis, there can be no reversal of this fundamental policy from the perspective of the ruling class. It is an imperative to deal with the crisis of profitability.
Starmer’s right wing role
The policy of economic attacks on the population would not change under a right wing Labour led Starmer government either – the chances of which have increased given the scale of Tory crisis. The ruling class of every society aims to exercise power, or hegemony over every political force including the official opposition. Corbyn’s refusal to accept that role is why he remains such an anathema to the ruling class and its political representatives. But Corbyn has been removed and, unfortunately, pro-capitalist forces are firmly in control of the Labour leadership under Starmer.
As the crisis of the Tory party has unfolded, Starmer has gone out of his way to re-emphasise his support for a capitalist agenda. He supported the lethally catastrophic Johnson policy on Covid, supports the NATO-provoked war in Ukraine and calls only for more military spending and personnel, he has no fundamental differences on economic policy, and refuses to oppose the Tories authoritarian and racist legislation.
In recent days Starmer has added to this litany by allowing the demonisation of Corbyn-supporters, most especially, among MPs, the attempt to deselect Apsana Begum as well as Sam Tarry, has mounted an anti-democratic attack on the prospects of a second Scottish referendum, opposed striking workers and embraced Brexit, even echoing the Tory calls to ‘renegotiate’ the north of Ireland Protocol. Note that all of this complies with the openly declared ruling class agenda.
Increasing mass opposition to the Tory offensive
However, outside and against the Tories and Starmer’s programme, popular opposition to attacks on living standards has sharply increased. Most importantly the rail workers have initiated the most important series of strikes for well over a decade. Given the depth of the economic crisis, and the attacks on living standards, many other workers are likely to join in this resistance. Most powerfully this threatens further strikes but other forms of resistance are also developing – whether over racist treatment by the police, rejection to the US attack on abortion rights, the climate crisis or other, as yet unforeseen, mobilisations.
The immediate central political aim following from such mobilisations must be the removal not of one Tory leader but of the entire Tory government – and its replacement by a Labour one. In that struggle those on the left who say no vote should be cast for Labour because of the repellent policies of Starmer are wrong. Socialist propaganda will at best convince only a few people that right wing Labour policies show no way out of the situation. Only the experience of the consequences of a Starmer led government has the potential to convince the mass of people of it.
In the fight to get rid of the Tory government, and for a Labour one, it is vital for socialists to explain where the present economic turmoil comes from, as well as the vital role is played by resistance to the attacks faced by working people and the oppressed. They need to draw the links between them and explain the character of the present system and its main political representatives.
In summary Johnson has gone, the reactionary Tories remain. The immediate central political goal of socialists must be to ensure that the whole of the Tory government joins Johnson in being thrown out of the door.