Boris steps back, but the Tory blitzkrieg continues
10 July 2022
Boris Johnson delivers his resignation statement.
The mass resignation of British government figures in a desperate battle to oust Boris Johnson was based on a simple narrative. Boris was a compulsive liar with an indifference to legality and the scale of his lying meant that he had discredited the Tory party and the government to such an extent that they were likely to fall with him.
One candidate for the party leadership, former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, elevated the issue of integrity to a damascene conversion. A prayer meeting had opened his eyes and brought him to the point of resignation. The problem with the Boris the criminal liar narrative, is that it distracts from the common Tory project of tax cuts, austerity, militarism and the destruction of democratic rights.
In his defence Johnson had an equally simple narrative. It was the big lie, the Brexit lie, that got Brexit through, won a massive majority for the Tories and held together the various coalitions that make up the party. As for criminality, the whole party had profited from criminality, maybe without drawing as much attention to themselves as Boris and his cronies did.
But in reality, it is the big lie, the Brexit lie, that has led to a crisis in the Conservative party and in British society as a whole.
The claim was that Brexit would unlock the productive potential of British society. Money saved from contributions to Europe would fund a renewed NHS. Deregulation would lead to an explosion in productivity, as would a new global Britain with new trade deals. A difficulty with the Good Friday Agreement, guaranteed by a European "backstop" was overcome with a special "Northern Ireland Protocol" that established a border in the Irish Sea.
Nothing worked. The NHS and other public services declined. The economy overall went into reverse. There were no significant trade deals. Labour productivity and profitability fell. The Northern Ireland Protocol was rejected by Boris, who had drawn it up. The British parliament voted to break international law and reject the protocol, citing a unionist revolt in Ireland that had clearly run into the sand.
Johnson was walking a tightrope. He promised different and contradictory things to different people. Now there will be civil war as the factions clash over the future direction of the party. The central legacy of Brexit will remain, but will the kamikaze strategy of pushing forward with plans to tear up the agreement and breaking with Europe go ahead?
That's open to question. Johnsonís move was aimed more at distracting from the overall failure of the government than a serious strategy. Tory grandees will want a working arrangement with Europe, but there are plenty on the far right who will fight back. In the background stands the Democratic Unionist Party. Boris was not their friend, but the illusion that he was, covered their unwillingness to continue with the current power sharing administration. They will be able to sit back during the ongoing confusion, but when the dust settles, they will have to sign up to the Tory deal and see a further fragmentation of unionism.
Britain has returned to Europe, not to the economic confederation, but as a spearhead for warmongering and militarization. We now have the Commander in Chief of the British army pronouncing a new war policy aimed at Russia, mass training of Ukrainian fighters in Britain and open involvement in the war. There is closer liaison with the US and, as a result, carte blanche from Biden to bend the Good Friday Agreement in an attempt to pressure Europe.
Another fracture line is around the cost of living. Once again, the grandees want to follow traditional austerity policies and Johnsonís followers want to amend that with some government spending to hold onto red wall constituencies won from Labour.
All are in agreement around the need to cut taxes for the rich, ignore health and environmental concerns, tear apart human rights guarantees and exert even tighter control over the courts and the media. Normally these convulsions in the Tory party would see a remobilisation of working-class organisations.
Unfortunately, the opposition is Sir Kier Starmer and the post-Corbyn Labour Party. Starmer has produced a policy that simply echoes government policy. The difference with the Tories is that Labour would implement Brexit more efficiently and Starmer is a reliable servant of capitalism, as opposed to the unreliable Johnson. His main strategy, to proclaim that he is not Boris, is now negated - the next Tory leader can make the same claim.
Starmer's main job has been to crush the very idea that Labour is a left party and to expel or silence socialists. He has been aided by a generalised reluctance within the British socialist movement to oppose Brexit, to oppose the national chauvinism on which it is based and to propose an internationalist alternative around the unity and solidarity of the European working class. The capitulation of the majority of socialists is so extreme that they now line up with NATO in their approach to the war in Ukraine.
There is one big difference in the political climate since Johnson swept to power. There are even more extreme attacks on the living standards of the working class and these have forced union leaderships, led by the RMT, to endorse strike action.
A long struggle lies ahead. As sections of the working class move into action, levels of class combativity and consciousness will rise. The struggle will require a political programme that can be fought for inside and outside the British Labour Party.
That programme will run straight into the issue of Brexit. The chaos and decay in British society today are not due to Johnsonís incompetence but are built into the incoherence of British nationalist reaction. A fighting working class movement must be built on internationalism and solidarity.