Editorial from Socialist Alternative in England, Wales and Scotland
2022 has begun with huge political drama and crisis for Johnson and the Tory government he leads. Johnson’s seemingly impregnable parliamentary majority of 77 of only 2 years ago is now under threat. Late last year, 98 MP’s voted against Johnson’s Covid Plan B but all this was before the ‘partygate’ scandal which has gripped the nation. Despite all his protests about believing he was at a work function in May 2020, whilst booze and food were flowing, only 13% of the British population believe he is telling the truth. Only one third of Tory voters now back Johnson and according to latest opinion polls, he is set to lose 42 of the 45 so-called red wall seats which the Tories won in 2019. No wonder then that two thirds of the population now think Johnson should resign. Whatever happens over the next few weeks, Johnson is permanently hobbled and like his predecessor Theresa May who he conspired to remove, he is now a dead man walking.
Whilst this represents a huge shift in public opinion, these recent developments have been a long time brewing. When Johnson was elected in 2019, and many were in despair about the scale of Labour’s defeat, Socialist Alternative well understood that the latent anger and frustration about inequality and poverty in this country as a result of the financial crash of 2008-9, would well back to the surface. We pointed to the historic Youth Strike 4 Climate movement, a growing anti-oppression mood and an international wave of mass struggle as clear indications of what was to come. The last two years of Covid lockdown has only served to fuel that anger, and little wonder.
Wealth of the super rich skyrockets
Oxfam’s 2022 report on world poverty has revealed that the wealth of the 10 richest billionaires on the planet doubled during lockdown from $700bn to $1.5 trillion, a rate of $1.3 billion per day! The combined wealth of the world’s billionaires surged to $5 trillion, the biggest increase since records began, and a larger annual increase than the last 14 years put together. Across the world, women lost $800bn in earnings in 2020 with 13 million fewer in work and half the world’s population saw their wealth decline by 11%. The last two years have seen a scandalous widening of the gap between the super rich and the rest of us.
The tragic death toll from Covid has fallen on the most disadvantaged communities. Those from a working class background, especially black, elderly, and disabled people have seen appalling death rates. The sick idea, perpetrated by the Tories, that ‘we have all been in this together’ has not resounded for most families. As Covid restrictions begin to be lifted once again, working class families will be drawing up their own balance sheets. The outpouring of anger around ‘partygate’ is a direct reflection of these combined experiences. Over 800,000 have received fixed penalty notices for breaking Covid restrictions; nearly 900 people died from Covid on the day of the December Downing St party that led to the resignation of Johnson’s chief media advisor Allegra Stratton late last year.
Tories in Crisis
The overwhelming feeling across the country is that there is one rule for them and another for us and Johnson’s excuses are not washing. As one pollster put it, the anger the Tories successfully tapped into in 2019 by arguing we ‘should take back control’, is now being directed at the out of touch Downing Street clique, led by the hapless Johnson. No civil service report will save his reputation.
What is worse for Johnson, it is not just working class voters who ‘lent’ him their support in 2019, who are deserting him. Those middle class voters, wooed by Cameron back in 2015, have also turned against the Tories. The Amersham and North Shropshire by-election results saw Tory support collapse. If an election were called tomorrow, it is predicted that Johnson would lose 100 seats and usher in a collapse of his government. It is these voting figures which are causing unrest among the many warring factions in the Tory Party and why there has so far been one defection and many more indicating they have lost confidence in Johnson. The Tory Party is now split into at least 4 factions: Brexit loyalists, anti-Brexit opponents, the 2019 intake with their own agendas and the so-called One Nation Tories. Despite being the most successful right wing capitalist party in history, they are now in danger of pulling themselves apart. The Tories are entering dangerous and unprecedented choppy waters.
Johnson’s futile attempt to divert attention from his own lies by launching the so-called Red Meat project has also backfired on him. First he froze the licence fee for the BBC for the next two years which will see programmes scaled back and many staff made redundant. This is part of a wider attack on what the Tories see as ‘easy’ targets and an escalation of his culture wars on society, trying to sow divisions across the country. Whilst some will feel the BBC is out of touch and no longer relevant, stuffed with overpaid mostly male directors and media ‘stars’, a large minority of his own MP’s have publicly said they will not support losing a public broadcasting outlet. Likewise, he also decided to bring in the Royal Navy to ‘deal with’ migrants crossing the channel. This idea has frankly bombed. The Navy themselves have said they will not be ‘pushing back’ migrants or returning them to France. Much of what he is asking them to do is illegal and completely unworkable. Just like the coastguards, many people in the Navy, speaking off the record, have said they are far more likely to be rescuing stricken migrants in their dinghies than towing them back to France! However these reactionary and divisive proposals serve to show what a desperate and threatened Tory Party is capable of.
‘Cost of living crunch’
Whilst Johnson may think they are coming out of the woods with Covid, there are very serious problems now facing them. In assessing the year ahead, the Resolution Foundation correctly predicted that 2022 will be the year of the ‘cost of living crunch’. They estimate that every household will face an annual squeeze of £1200 in their incomes, describing it as a ‘catastrophe’ for millions of families. In a survey of public opinion, the Financial Times noted that “consumers are bracing themselves for surging inflation, fuel bills and the prospect of interest rate rises”. Consumer confidence they said has dropped to its lowest level for 11 months, the month of the last lockdown! Consumer inflation is now running in reality at its fastest rate in 30 years. By April this year, inflation is forecast to be running at 7% but the greatest fear working people have is of the huge hike in fuel bills which will land on their doorsteps at the same time as the hike in National Insurance contributions.
Runaway inflation is a completely new threat for many working people. It is largely down to the hike in gas and oil prices, together with supply chain crises, labour and raw material shortages and ongoing house price inflation. Taken together, this represents a ‘perfect storm’ for working class families and of course the capitalists will pass on their extra costs straight to us. We need only look at the eye watering profits energy and oil companies have been posting to realise who will pay for this crisis. Taken together with the drop in Universal Credit last year, millions of working people will be forced into desperate straits, many having to decide whether they can afford to feed themselves or heat their homes.
Johnson’s parliamentary opponents offer no solutions
Chancellor of the Exchequer and Tory leader hopeful, Rishi Sunak, is caught in a dilemma about how to react. Sunak is desperately trying to rein in public spending which has created a mountain of debt over the last 2 years, whilst being conscious that they have to be seen to be trying to help. Talk of a warm homes discount will not be enough as average bills are set to rise to £1500 or even £2000. A crunch is fast approaching and it is abundantly clear that we will need drastic action from politicians to offset this cut in our living standards. Yet it is very clear that politicians of any stripe will not come to our rescue.
Starmer’s Labour Party is currently basking in Johnson’s unpopularity yet a lot of the anger directed at the Downing Street establishment includes the whole of the political elite, including Starmer himself. Whilst he may feel he has taken a scalp by accepting Christian Wakeford, the Bury South Tory MP, into his ranks, in reality he has angered millions of left leaning people by unquestionably accepting him as a Labour member whilst Jeremy Corbyn remains suspended! When asked about how they will tackle the fuel bill hike, Labour has promised much of the same: help with warm homes discounts and bringing down VAT on our bills. This cannot and will not be adequate compensation. We need action at source, namely the nationalisation of the fuel companies, as promised under Corbyn, to stop the profiteering and bring in affordable energy bills. This has to be accompanied by a rapid move away from the UK’s reliance on the fossil fuel industry, which maintains a vice-like grip on the energy market, and a move towards environmentally friendly fuel resources, such as wind, solar and other renewable energy. On that basis we could begin to tackle the cost of living crisis as well as the climate emergency, while protecting jobs and potentially creating millions of new ones with trade union conditions.
Workers can win
Working people will have to fall back on their own strength to combat the growing threat of inflation. The brilliant victory for the Eastbourne bin drivers who won a minimum rise this year of 11% and a guarantee their hourly rate will reach a minimum of £13.50 per hour in April 2023 – effectively a 19% rise for the lowest paid – has shown the way. This was after a six day strike with more to follow. This is just one example of many local disputes where workers have used their collective muscle and unique bargaining strength, given the current labour shortages, to win significant pay battles. Despite these examples, last November average wages actually fell by 0.9% when measured against the rate of inflation which is only set to go up from here. What is now required is determined, united, and coordinated action by the whole of the trade union movement to win significant pay increases, with a sliding scale of incremental increases to counter rising prices.
Whilst such a fightback is urgently required, we also need to address the political crisis. The Tories are already plotting to find a new leader and to start again as if nothing has happened. Neither Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss, the two current front runners, are in any way capable of resolving the many issues that the working class and young people face. Alongside industrial action, we need coordinated mass protests, strikes and civil disobedience to bring down the whole Tory government. Based on this kind of action, we can rebuild in the hot furnace of struggle, a new left party which can genuinely represent the aspirations and hopes of millions of working class and young people. The nightmares and more importantly sacrifices of the last two years cannot have been in vain. Socialist Alternative, will stand with workers and young people on the front lines of all and any of these struggles to help rid us of Johnson and his cronies, and to fight for a socialist society free from oppression, poverty and environmental destruction.
Socialist Alternative fights for
- A mass movement to drive out Johnson and his Tory government
- An end the cost of living crisis by coordinating and organising a huge strike wave to fight for decent pay rises pegged to the rate of inflation
- Public ownership of the fuel companies and an urgent move toward renewable fuel sources, with retraining and redeployment where necessary to ensure no job losses, as well as creating millions of new green jobs
- A new mass left party of struggle run by and for working class and young people