General election: Don’t vote, organise

Liverpool FRFI marches with the banner: 'A vote for Labour is a vote for genocide'. (Photo: FRFI)

On 22 May, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak finally threw in the towel and called a general election for 4 July. The disintegration of the Tory Party into warring factions within parliament, and the open hostility by many towards Sunak’s leadership meant that the ruling class had to call time on a government which had become a byword for incompetence, racism and reaction. Its flagship Rwanda deportation policy would have been hopelessly mired in legal challenges, the economy at best flat-lining, the prospect of promised tax cuts in the autumn a fantasy. To go to the country now would offer the best chance of limiting the expected scale of Tory constituency losses.

 

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Tory civil war

Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman

The outbreak of war between the various factions of the Tory Party is a consequence of the crisis that the government, far from resolving, has made worse. Capitalism’s global crisis of profitability, of over-accumulation, has hit the British economy with particular force because of Brexit. Prominent Brexiteers have fallen out with each other as they invent the supposed benefits of Brexit. Former Business Secretary Rees-Mogg has criticised his successor Kemi Badenoch for removing the so-called ‘sunset’ clause in the Retained EU Law Bill. This would have automatically revoked all EU law retained in existing legislation and would have created chaos. Coming after the Tories’ disastrous performance in the May local elections, these divisions are tearing the party apart. Circling Prime Minister Rishi Sunak like a shark, Home Secretary Suella Braverman acts with impunity as she manoeuvres to become the next Tory Party leader.

 

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The Constitutional Monarchy: a very British arrangement

A magnificent display of British exceptionalism was on show at the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. The dressing-up box of militarism with its gorgeous uniforms represented every battle since Waterloo and throughout the British Empire. Here too were feudal symbols of authority, swords and jewels from the 12th century, resurrected and repurposed by the Victorians. In descending order from the Monarch as Head of the Protestant Church of England were archbishops, bishops, other clergy, parliamentary ministers, the military, the police force, judges, magistrates and public servants. All had been appointed to their posts with the oath ‘I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God’. This same oath of allegiance has been pledged by thousands born overseas at British citizenship ceremonies.

 

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Ruling class in crisis

As we go to press, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, the two short-listed candidates to replace Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, are competing for the votes of the reactionary elderly racists who make up the overwhelming bulk of the 160,000 members of the Tory Party. On 7 July Boris Johnson finally resigned as Prime Minister after the ruling class despaired of the litany of lies he and his ministers were telling Parliament and the public over the Pincher case and sent for his executioner, Lord McDonald. Allowing him to continue would undermine illusions in parliamentary democracy at a time when maintaining them was crucial for political stability. That Sunak and Truss were both up to their necks in the mire of cronyism and corruption that characterised the Johnson administration will not matter to the Tory electorate. It will instead want to hear fairy tales about Britain’s global role, tax cuts and future prosperity, all leavened with some comforting prejudice against migrants, asylum seekers and benefit claimants. But behind the crisis gripping the Tory Party lies one far deeper: that of a British imperialism in long-term relative decline.

 

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Tories in turmoil

Boris Johnson's silhouette at Downing Street

Never mind the tens-of-thousands who died while Number 10 politicians and staff boozed it up in Downing Street – thanks to the intervention of the Metropolitan Police and a soft report from Sue Gray, the Tories are hanging on to their leader. Boris Johnson’s position is far from secure, but he is helped by the fact that his closest rivals have suffered too – their reputations badly damaged – leaving the party’s rival factions with little to gain from a leadership contest. 

 

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Moscow to London: QUIET FLOWS THE DOSH

In March this year, as Russian troops prepared to enter Mariupol and talk began of chemical warfare, Boris Johnson thought this the final act of ‘a cynical and barbaric government’. He’d already promised to ‘tighten the noose around Putin’s regime’. That now meant going after Russia’s money men. He needn’t have gone far as they only live next door and own much of Westminster. ‘With their close links to Putin,’ said foreign secretary Liz Truss, the Belgravia oligarchs ‘are complicit in his aggression.’ It is supposed these men can bring pressure to bear on Moscow – perhaps even that they will prove the undoing of their president. From now and until the Ides of March, these Russians lose their legally protected place in England’s oligarchy.

 

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24-hour party people

Revellers in Boris Johnson masks outside Downing Street

The Conservative Party is in disarray and Prime Minister Boris Johnson is fighting for his political life. Following the string of revelations about ‘bring your own booze’ parties, Christmas quizzes, and ‘work meetings’ with canapes and wine that appear to have been held pretty much non-stop at Downing Street, government departments and party headquarters over the course of the pandemic, the governing party is riven by factions, with leaders of the Scottish Conservative Party and some of Johnson’s own English MPs openly calling for him to go. The MP Caroline Nokes accused him of ‘damaging the whole Conservative brand’. Others are more quietly plotting his downfall. Just 54 letters to the chair of the influential 1922 Committee are needed to trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister. This display of outrage has little to do with a sudden onset of moral rectitude in a party that has none, and everything to do with a real fear of losing their seats in any future election. However, a large number – playing for time to see which way to jump – have said they will wait for the findings of the Sue Gray investigation into the ‘party gate’ debacle before deciding whether to act against the prime minister.

 

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Cabinet reshuffle – send in the clowns

Official Tory Cabinet photo September 2021 (photo: Number 10 | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

On 15 September, Boris Johnson, play-acting in his very own episode of The Apprentice, issued a volley of ‘You’re fired’ and ‘You’re hired’ edicts to the members of the clique who currently rule over us. Delighted as we may be to see the back of some of these odious pariahs, in the British government, the door to the Tory Cabinet is a revolving one.

 

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Covid rifts in the ruling class

Dominic Cummings gives evidence to MPs on the Tory government's handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic (image: House of Commons)

On the evening of Friday 13 November 2020 the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings exited 10 Downing Street carrying a large cardboard box. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had ordered him to leave with immediate effect after a bitter dispute involving Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds. Six months later Cummings took his revenge. Giving evidence over almost seven hours to a joint hearing of the Commons Health and Science committees on 26 May 2021, he launched an extraordinary attack on the Prime Minister, detailing a picture of chaos, indecision and deceit at the heart of the government as it attempted to contain the coronavirus crisis. DAVID YAFFE reports.

 

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British government: the Fumbling Temeraire

Tory ministers and the Fighting Temeraire painting

Having reassembled its ‘Star Chamber’ of legal eagles at the turn of the year – probably at the public’s great expense – the European Research Group (ERG) finally decided to call it a day. Just after lunch on 29 December 2020, its chair, Mark Francois MP, granted assent to the prime minister’s Brexit deal. With that, 30-odd years of Tory squabbling over Europe came to an official close – triggering a frantic search by backbenchers for something new to fight about. Now in Downing Street, fishy new sovereignty or none, the sun is about to set on the PM’s flagship policy as it drifts toward the breaker’s yard. Mr Johnson must convince party colleagues that there’s a point to his administration beyond Brexit. There isn’t, so it’s a tough sell even for him. What else has he got to offer them? Besides the six impossible things he believes before breakfast, an airy constitution leaves little room for intention, let alone conviction – this is an opportunist-hack turned opportunist-politician; the odd contrarian flourish notwithstanding, he has always bobbed along with prevailing winds and currents. Two months of fumbling for something that resembles policy direction and his ‘team’ are already leafing back through the Dominic Cummings Playbook. It’s a quick read. Brexit is done, so that leaves civil service reform. It’s controversial, it’s costly to the public purse, it’s entirely superficial – in short: a fool’s errand. Perfect then.

 

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The Conservative Party: a cock and bull story

Top: Matt Hancock. Middle: Priti Patel. Bottom: Michael Gove.

Britain’s antidote to serious government entered Phase III trials in November. With Brexit’s long prologue closing on 1 January 2021, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has ensured a smooth transition to disaster, fast-tracking its own development from sound election victors to European basket case in under 12 months. Immediate side-effects include inflammation in devolved regions, visible Allegra Stratton and potentially chronic Priti Patel. Perhaps they see it as shock therapy: a normalisation of crisis that might dull the public senses. Certainly they know there’s a lot more pain to come.

 

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Johnson's Worldbeaters

Boris Johnson on his way to Covid-19 briefing

Brexit and a nascent English populism have split conservatives, made anarchists of some of them, then handed them the reins. Dominic Cummings in Number 10; Boris Johnson babbling in his pocket; a Cabinet assortment of crank and crook – one third fanatical, two thirds ornamental – soldier and shopkeeper thrown in with the usual lawyer and toff. And what a torrid time they’ve had of it, the poor devils. Chasing the science, manoeuvring activist lawyers, mutant algorithms, the law. Cometh the hour, cometh the man – but they must have put him on furlough. 

 

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Dominic Cummings: ‘a man of the people’

There are people best kept in the shadows as they patrol the corridors of power, and certainly not presented in Downing Street’s rose garden. But Dominic Cummings is, according to former Prime Minister David Cameron, a ‘career psychopath’ and he could not help but stumble into the daylight. Now, Boris Johnson’s loyalty to his Chief Adviser threatens to wound this Conservative government — a wound that will not heal for as long Cummings remains. At the last count, 45 Tory MPs had called for Cummings to be sacked or to resign.

 

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General election: Labour faces meltdown

UK 2019 General Election results map (source: Election Maps UK)

The general election was a disaster for the Labour Party. Despite facing a Tory Party responsible for ten years of austerity which had savaged working class living conditions, a party led moreover by a proven racist, sexist, incompetent, coward and serial liar, Labour never landed a single body blow. Jeremy Corbyn’s disdainful declaration that he was ‘not a boxer’ was sheer arrogance: working class people had a right to expect some anger from him, some expression of raw class hatred for those who for a decade had imposed such suffering on millions of people – but it never happened. His ‘kinder, gentler politics’ was the height of self-indulgence. Prime Minister Johnson’s government now has a free parliamentary hand in implementing its reactionary populist programme. Labour's collapse has comprehensively exposed the illusion that any real change can be achieved through the parliamentary system, by putting a cross on a piece of paper every five years. Any meaningful resistance to the reactionary programme of the re-booted Conservative Party, and the further attacks on the working class that are to come, will have to be built on the streets.

 

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Enough is enough

dont vote

It has been a surprising ‘snap’ election campaign ever since Prime Minister May broke yet another pledge – in this case not to call an early election – when she saw the chance to settle Tory divisions with an easy victory against both Labour and UKIP before economic and political chaos (the Brexit negotiations) besets Britain.

The overwhelmingly-Tory press performed as required, desperately trying to deflect voters’ attention from May’s U-turns and miscalculations on social care and police numbers, filling their pages with calls for more immigration controls and fewer human rights. George Osborne, former Chancellor deposed by May, now press baron (editor) at the London Evening Standard, spent the entire campaign lobbing criticisms at May, but came up with resounding support just before polling day to maintain his Conservative credentials. He needn’t have bothered: May’s tottering campaign meant he could resume the lobbing even before the count was complete.

 

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Burnham elected Manchester mayor on low turnout

Andy Burnham at Labour Conference 2016

On 4 May 2017, to little surprise, Andy Burnham took his seat as the first Mayor of Greater Manchester, a position undemocratically forced upon the people of the city and its surrounding areas. Their adamant rejection of the role, decided in a local referendum in 2012, has been ignored. This is a compromise designed to solidify the power base of local leaders in return for complicity on a cruel austerity agenda. Burnham's election on a turnout of 29% highlights general disillusion with the state of local politics in the region.

 

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Green Party: Rebels or reformists?

In March, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett came under attack in Britain’s right-wing media after a stuttering LBC radio performance where she struggled to explain how the party would pay for half a million new social homes. What followed was a grim character assassination in a demonstration of how bourgeois politics focuses on individual personality, with a predictable dose of Daily Mail sexism. This charade led to a nose-dive in Bennett’s approval levels, but The Independent’s Favourability Index still shows the Green Party neck and neck with UKIP and above Cameron’s LibDem coalition partners. The Green Party are clearly a rising force in British ‘democracy’, but as communists we have to analyse whether they can offer a real alternative to capitalist austerity and imperialism.

 

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Margaret Thatcher: a carnival of reaction

Writing on the eve of Mrs Thatcher’s resignation as Prime Minister in 1990 we said: ‘Political success and survival ultimately depend on economics. The deep, apparently insoluble crisis of British capitalism lay behind Thatcher coming to power and her failure to resolve that crisis, in the end, will see her off’ (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 98, December 1990/January 1991). Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet colleagues turned against her and drove her out of office. Now Thatcher is to be given a ceremonial funeral service at St Paul’s Cathedral in London on 17 April at vast expense, with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in attendance. Parliament has been recalled to pay homage and the Union flag is being flown at half mast over the Palace of Westminster.

 

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Polling chaos: Thousands denied the vote

Amid the chaos, incompetence and sheer stupidity that marked the polling arrangements, what emerged most starkly was the total contempt in which the so-called ‘democratic’ system in Britain holds its electorate.

Across the country, thousands of voters in Britain’s inner cities were denied a vote. The Electoral Commission gives an initial figure of 1,129 but concedes that this estimate is incomplete, with many Acting Returning Officers unable to provide accurate information and no accounting of the hundreds who simply left when told they were unlikely to get to vote.

 

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So farewell then… (and good riddance)

Many MPs stood down at the election, realising that their corrupt activities would lead to defeat at the ballot box. There were, however, a few ‘Portillo’ moments, when MPs who richly deserved to be defeated received their just deserts:

Jacqui Smith, Oxford graduate. A ‘Blair babe’ who remained loyal, she wept when Blair departed. As Home Secretary she tried to extend detention without charge to 42 days and declared war on immigrants. She introduced the ID cards system and stated that most people were in favour of it – a lie. Designating her sister’s spare bedroom in London as her main residence, she claimed more than £110,000 for her ‘second home’ in her constituency where her husband and family lived. Her husband claimed expenses for pornographic films and wrote letters to the press praising his wife’s activities without revealing their relationship. Smith said that she would not feel safe on the streets of London at night and that walking the streets at night was not ‘a thing that people do’.

 

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General election: ruling class remains in power

david cameron and nick cleggAfter five days’ negotiations, the Liberal Democrats have finally agreed to form a neo-liberal coalition with the Tories. The ruling class was never bothered about the political complexion of any incoming government so long as it was committed to axe public spending and make the working class pay for the crisis. The Liberal Democrats had always stated that such cuts should not start this year, but then conceded this to its Tory partners. Socialists however should have no regrets about the defeat of the Labour Party, sealed by the resignation of Gordon Brown as party leader. Its warmongering, its attacks on civil liberties, on asylum seekers and on immigrants made it no better than the Tories (see FRFI 214: General Election – General fraud). Had it been elected, it would have attacked public sector workers as viciously as the incoming coalition.

 

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How the left failed in Birmingham

During and after the events of 8 August in Birmingham, it was apparent that certain groups on the left and so-called Muslim leaders had no appetite to build a counter-demonstration against the English Defence League (EDL), as ASSED BAIG of Birmingham UAF reports. They let down the Muslim community. When the EDL demonstrated in Birmingham with a police escort, what was our response? The only group to call for a counter demo was the SWP and some independent, non-affiliated Muslims.

 

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British democracy the stench of corruption

It is a truth acknowledged by working class people all over the world that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. Three weeks of daily exposure of the corruption of the British Parliament by the Daily Telegraph newspaper has driven home the point. So far the Telegraph has examined the expense accounts of fewer than half of the current 646 Members of Parliament. As we go to press, ten of the worst offenders have announced that they will not stand at the next election. Many more will face the wrath of their constituents and are trembling in their (hand-made) boots at what is to come. The European elections are imminent and a general election is looming.

 

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Failure for Respect – the European elections

The outcome of the 10 June European and Greater London Assembly (GLA) elections was a major setback for the political strategy of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Its Respect coalition failed to get any candidate elected to either the GLA or European parliament. Out of the ten European constituencies Respect stood in, it only broke the 1.5% barrier in three, and only in London did Respect poll more than the British National Party (BNP). Bob Shepherd reports.

 

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Pitching for the top job

Chancellor Brown’s tenth budget is designed to be his last one. ‘The British economy is strong and strengthening’, he declares at the beginning of the budget speech, rattling off reams of statistics to drive his point home. This ‘new economic stability’, the result of his stewardship, makes Britain ‘better placed than ever to be one of the global economy’s success stories’. Surely he now must move on to replace an increasingly discredited prime minister Tony Blair before any further damage can be done. That is what he wanted us to believe as he delivered what the Financial Times called ‘not so much a budget, more a lengthy application for the job of prime minister.’

 

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The race to be Prime Minister has started...

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle;
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.

Just then flew down a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar-barrel;
Which frightened both the heroes so,
They quite forgot their quarrel.


Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking Glass

There are still some in Britain who believe that the Labour Party will be born again through the appointment of a new Prime Minister when Tony Blair finally shuffles off. There are even some on the left who think that Gordon Brown is closer to ‘Old Labour’ than Blair’s New Labour – by which they mean that with Brown in the driving seat, the Labour Party will restore its allegiance to the working class, trade unions and ‘socialism’. ‘Give them another chance’, they will cry. Think again. Gordon Brown is every inch an imperialist, just like Blair and the Labour Party they both belong to. This is Brown’s record on some of the main issues.

 

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Editorial: London Mayor Election

'If voting changed anything, they'd abolish it' 

In May, Londoners will be asked to vote for a new kind of political animal - a London Mayor. There have been many mayors of course - most of them ceremonial like their chains. Even the Lord Mayor to the super-rich corporations in the City of London does not have power to do anything except promote the rich and patronise the poor through charity. But the 'new' political animal, the Mayor of London (Year 2K), will, they say, have the power to run London along the lines of the Mayor of New York City, USA. He or she (let's face it, he) will be a 'mover and shaker'.

 

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Editorial: London Mayor Election 'All that's solid melts...'

On 4 May, Ken Livingstone was elected London's first independent metropolitan mayor, gaining 667,877 first preference votes (38.9%). His nearest rival, Conservative Steven Norris, took 464,434 votes (27%) and the official Labour candidate Frank Dobson came a poor third with 223,884 votes (13%). Across the country, in local council elections the Labour Party suffered a consistent drubbing: Labour lost 573 seats compared to Conservative gains of 593. What was also consistent was the appallingly low turn-out for both mayoral and local elections. In London 1.7 million votes were cast out of a possible 5 million (32%); in some areas of the country the turnout was less than 25%.

 

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Editorial: Terrorised by the Tories

Suddenly, there is panic on the left: with a general election likely in spring next year, Labour is trailing in the opinion polls, for the first time since shortly after the 1992 election. And the margin is not small: a poll just before the Labour Party conference gave the Tories an 8% lead. Hague's brutal, racist and populist policies seem to be an attractive option for the middle class and their allies in the upper sections of the working class, whose votes determine the outcome of general elections in this country.

These opinion poll results were a political thunderbolt for the left. Writing in The Guardian (21 September), John O'Farrell stated that `a Tory government is once again a genuine prospect that we have an urgent duty to prevent. So now is the time for everyone on the left to focus on returning a Labour government next year. To all the people who supported Ken Livingstone, all the people who backed Labour in opposition but would rather snipe from the sidelines than be tainted by support; all the people who vote Liberal, Green or Socialist Labour; the time for such luxuries is over now.' The chips are down for O'Farrell: forget the brutalities of the current Labour government, the same brutalities committed by a Tory government are too awful to contemplate.

 

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Budget: no choice for the working class

Every Labour budget since 1997 has been driven by one real consideration – to ensure that the coalition of forces that elected Labour into office remains on board. Labour has to be able to govern in the interests of banking and multinational capital yet keep the support of the professional, middle and upper working classes (middle classes).

Labour's first two budgets assured banking and corporate capital that British capitalism was safe in its hands. Monetary policy was handed over to the Bank of England and a ruthless fiscal policy put in place to slash the public sector deficit and reduce the level of public debt to national income. 'Enterprise' was to be promoted through tax cuts and privatisation. Policies were put in place to discipline the poor working class, and inequality continued to grow as Labour steadfastly stood by its promise not to raise direct taxes on the middle classes. This neo-liberal dogma was called 'prudence'.

 

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