By Martin Breen
The Tory candidates to be the next Prime Minister are telling us all how reactionary they are. The labour movement as a whole and the left in particular should believe them.
The centrepiece of the disputes between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have centred on tax policy. But these are not issues of principle, just of timing. Their vicious campaigns have instead revealed a shared commitment to attacking workers’ rights and to doubling down on their racist immigration policies as well as an attack on ‘woke’, which is nothing more than a campaign against demands for equality for all the oppressed.
The candidates are agreed on all essentials of policy. There is only a furious debate on the tactical issue of when to implement tax cuts. They are both believers in a small state, which means they are intent on further cuts to public services, outsourcing and privatisation. They also agree most recently on a commitment to outlaw strikes.
The campaign has also revealed the extent of their reactionary turn. It is widely reported that legislation to outlaw strikes has been drafted three years ago. But it is only now, with the revival of industrial militancy meeting the further shift of the Tory party rightwards, that the two rivals feel emboldened to commit to implementing this policy.
Socialist Action has previously explained that this is a clear shift rightwards, even from Johnson who was probably the most right wing Prime Minister in modern history. The explanation for this trajectory lies in the crisis of the British economy and society, and the ruling class response which is to ‘Americanise’ both.
The two candidates have been so forthright in outlining their policy programme that the Tory party machine stopped the public televised debates. In addition to attacking unions, promoting racism, cutting public services they are also clear that they will increase military spending, deny Scotland another democratic referendum, rip the NI Protocol, further undermine democratic rights and roll back commitments made on tackling climate change.
This is not solely a domestic affair. The international backdrop is crucial to the entire project. The US is experiencing a structural economic crisis and has also entered recession, when Biden’s Administration had aimed to spend its way to catch-up with China coming out of lockdown. Instead, their disastrous policies have simply widened the structural growth gap with China.
The US response to economic failure has been war and subordinating Europe to its own interests. Of the two policies, it is the subordination of its EU rivals which has so far been more successful.
Post-Brexit Britain is an important part of that project, immediately weakening the EU itself, allowing major US corporations greater access to British markets especially in healthcare, and preparing Britain and eventually the EU as low-wage, de-unionised and deregulated satellite of the US economy.
This is the political programme that was being aired and had to be hidden from TV viewers because it is massively unpopular. It is the reason why, in the middle of the sharpest decline in living standards on record, there has been no debate about how to address it. The fierce assault on living standards is part of their common programme.
But the Tories are hemmed in on two fronts. Not only is their programme hugely unpopular, it also has zero prospect of reversing the plunge in living standards in line with the electoral timetable (with an election due in December 2024 at the latest).
This should translate into a Labour victory, or at the very least a Labour-led government. But Starmer has also hemmed himself in on two fronts, first by tail-ending so much of Tory policy and secondly by ruling out any type of agreement with the SNP, and then, almost as an afterthought ruling out a deal with LibDems. The latter may be one of the many pledges Starmer later discards as inconvenient.
But it should be clear Labour has no economic policy to resolve the current crisis. It also has no distinct or separate policy from the Tories on war, on the EU, on Covid, on the strike wave, or other key issues. It even seems to have discarded its highly popular policy for a windfall tax on energy companies, or barely now mentions it.
Instead, the real opposition to this government comes from the striking workers and their unions growing militancy. The depth of the fall in living standards means many workers are going to be drawn into these struggles and that they will find support from millions more.
This is already causing serious repercussions inside the labour movement and Labour Party. The most high-profile of these was the decision to sack Sam Tarry from the frontbench for attending a picket line. But others include the near unanimity across the left in support of electing the Grassroots 5 to Labour’s NEC (with Momentum holding out against left unity), open criticism of Starmer from union leaders and widespread discussion about the profiteering by major companies. As both the crisis and the militancy are unlikely to recede any time soon, further developments on these lines can be expected.