By George Banks
Thirteen years of Tory rule have brought us austerity, pandemic and inflation – on top of the triple threats of climate chaos, recession and war. It’s time for them to go.
In 2010, when the Tories were elected, there were 29 billionaires in the UK – now there are 171. The NHS is being run into the ground. Our schools are collapsing. An estimated 14.5 million people – 22% of the population – live below the poverty line.
For those of us in work, inflation has ripped through our wages, while the silent assassin, rising interest rates, are feeding into rocketing housing costs and may eventually bankrupt companies, destroying jobs and livelihoods. Despite heroic strike action, wage rises have been below inflation and now the Tories plan to cut benefits and pensions.
But for the Tories’ rich friends it’s another story. Oil and gas companies have made record profits while FTSE 100 CEO wages have soared 16%, twice the rate of inflation, to £3.9m a year.
The Tories epitomise the corruption and self-satisfied pomposity at the very heart of British capitalism. Johnson’s ‘Partygate’ scandal revealed that the Tories and their chums were dancing and getting pissed during lockdown, while the rest of us missed any contact with our loved ones, some missing our loved ones’ funerals.
Thirteen years of austerity, the fallout of Brexit and Liz Truss’ botched hard-right economic “reforms” have made the rich richer but have not stopped British capitalism’s decline, leaving workers poorer. Sunak – who has all the charisma of the investment banker he is – has left the Tories trailing Labour by 20% in the polls.
The Tory Party Conference took place on 1-4 October in Manchester, amidst a wave of working class protest. Desperately trying to shore up his popularity with the right, Sunak and arch-reactionary home secretary Braverman have launched their ‘election campaign’ with a host of reactionary policies.
Even the limited environmental policies promised by Boris Johnson – phasing out petrol-driven vehicles and decarbonising electricity production by 2030 – have been ditched. These meagre promises were already woefully insufficient, but now even the illusion of governmental action on the climate has been discarded.
The so-called ‘levelling up agenda’ has also unravelled, demonstrated by the decision to cancel the extension of HS2 to Manchester. The prioritisation of private motor vehicles over modernising the rail network will further weaken the UK’s ability to meet its internationally agreed climate targets. Policies like this put the lie to Sunak’s odious new slogan, ‘long term decisions for a brighter future’.
With nothing to offer the working class, who the Tories nevertheless expect to vote for them in large numbers, Sunak used his keynote speech to launch a vile attack against the most marginalised in society, the transgender community. He stated that the British public is being ‘bullied’ into believing that ‘people can be any sex they want to be’ and added ‘a man is a man, and a woman is a woman, that’s just common sense.’ These comments, although they have been met with international condemnation, drew loud cheers from the bigots in attendance.
These are not just empty words but have real life consequences: 4,732 hate crimes against transgender people were recorded last year, an 11% rise on the previous year and the highest figure since records began in 2012. The Home Office Hate Crime report stated that heavy discussion of ‘transgender issues’ by politicians and the media may have led to this increase.
Attacks on refugees and migrants have multiplied in recent months. Although initial attempts to house traumatised asylum seekers on it have fallen through, the Bibby Stockton remains ready to imprison 500 ‘inmates’. The same could be said of Rwanda. In spite of the European Court of Human Rights holding up her plans, it did not rule the scheme out on principle. Braverman’s recent appeal for the UN convention on human rights to be rewritten is only the latest reactionary stunt.
While the NHS has 110,000 unfilled vacancies, councils are going bankrupt and schools are crumbling to the ground, the Tories propose to ‘phase out’ inheritance tax – a boon to the richest who don’t even use these services.
Liz Truss also took the opportunity to reappear on the political scene, having cobbled together support from 60 MPs for her ‘Growth Group’ (the same amount as the Tory majority in the Commons). Obviously undeterred by her disastrous tenure as Prime Minister, which ended after only 49 days, Liz Truss proposed her solution for the country’s economic woes… more tax cuts, a smaller state, and more fracking. Her confidence that such measures would encourage the building of ‘half a million homes a year’ shows how deranged she truly is.
Last but not least the Tories continue to attack our democratic rights, using the recently passed Public Order Act to police and imprison protesters, ramping up anti-trade union legislation in an attempt to make effective industrial action illegal, and promising a review designed to grant impunity to armed police officers in the wake of the murder charge of Chris Kaba’s killer.
Stop the Tories
All in all, it is a deeply reactionary agenda. It must be stopped. However, Labour’s victory in the next election is far from a foregone conclusion. Despite Starmer’s attempts to appeal to the bosses as a safe pair of hands and his reluctance to promise even the most modest reforms for workers, he will still face the assault of the right-wing media when the election rolls around.
His unwillingness to put forward a positive policy vision for the working class will leave many feeling apathetic. He will not be able to rely on the army of enthusiastic volunteers that Corbyn had access to and he will still feel the wrath of the billionaire media for whom the Tories are always the preferred option.
Labour’s pitch rests on its links to the top levels of Britain’s pro-capitalist trade union bureaucracy, allowing it to more effectively pacify and police working class resistance to the restoration of ‘economic responsibility’. That is why the union tops’ ‘wait for Labour’ strategy will not be sufficient to meet workers’ demands. Starmer has made it clear that his government will be just as anti-migrant, pro-war and in the pockets of the rich as the Tories -–only with a more ‘humane’ and ‘efficient’ cover.
So it’s welcome that Unite’s Sharon Graham has announced a fight over policy with Starmer. But her alternative policies are inadequate and in some cases – more oil drilling licences, for example – reactionary. Unite should call an assembly of all organisations willing to challenge Labour’s Blairite agenda and fight for socialist measures. This way the working class, not just a few union bureaucrats, can decide on the policies we need to save the planet, make the rich pay for the economic crisis and stop future wars.
But only mass workers’ action— demonstrations, strikes, civil disobedience—can drive the Tories from office in the here and now. Only mass civil unrest can hold Starmer’s feet to the fire, if he does become prime minister, and put pressure on him to carry out policy reforms in the interest of workers.
By taking steps to organise ourselves as a class, we can become a counterweight to the influence of the capitalists and wage a successful struggle against the bosses to defend our pay, our services, our conditions of life.
Ultimately, only a government that rests on workers’ organisations such as strike committees, councils of action and workers’ defence guards can become a real workers’ government capable of overthrowing capitalist domination and clearing the road for the socialist transformation of society. Only a revolutionary party — not Labour which always concedes to the ruling class — can lead the struggle for this political transformation. This is the party Workers Power wants to build. If you do too – join us!