First there were 13. As the Socialist went to press at least one of the remaining six candidates will be knocked out of the Tory leadership election. By the end of the week, votes by Tory MPs will reduce the field to two. In the week starting 22 July, two will become one and, based on the votes of the 100,000 or so Tory Party members, Britain will have a new prime minister.
Reflected in this process is the splintering of the Tory party – they are unable to agree on a way forward, especially on Brexit. For hundreds of years this has been the most successful party in defending the capitalist system, of putting the interests and profits of big business, the bankers and the billionaires first. But today there is no clear idea among its members of parliament and leaders about how to best defend their system.
The Tory membership is overwhelmingly pro-Brexit. A new YouGov poll has found that 54% of members would put achieving Brexit above keeping their party together. Tory Remainer MPs Dominic Grieve and David Gauke currently face challenges from their constituency parties.
The only thing that many Tory members fear more than not coming out of the EU is a Jeremy Corbyn victory at a general election. YouGov says: “Half (51%) of Conservative Party members would rather call the whole thing off rather than allow the Labour leader to ascend to the position of prime minister. Nevertheless, four in ten (39%) are so committed to Brexit that they would want to see it brought about even if it brought their party’s nemesis to power.”
What lies behind this is the profound crisis of capitalism. It has been unable to recover from the 2007-8 crisis. For workers this means we live in ‘the age of insecurity’, of under-employment, low wages and precarious housing. The resulting instability is the root of the Tories’ crisis – and that of all the establishment parties across the world who can offer no solutions to people’s problems.
Recent surveys again and again reveal the resulting crisis of legitimacy of the institutions of capitalism – including parliament, the press, and especially the capitalist political parties. A BritainThinks survey found that 75% of people think that UK politics is not fit for purpose and less than 6% believe that politicians understand them.
Some Tory MPs have come behind Boris Johnson as the candidate they believe most likely to win among the party membership – but also as the ‘anti-establishment’ establishment figure they hope will square the circle of defending capitalism while also creating the impression of being outside the hated establishment.
With all eyes on Brexit, Johnson and the other candidates face little scrutiny on their other pledges and their records. That allows Johnson to play to different audiences. He has cultivated an image of a chaotic, irreverent buffoon who speaks his mind, who will not be subject to the rules of the game.
In 2018 he made headlines by saying “fuck business”. But big business doesn’t need to worry that Johnson doesn’t have their interests at heart. At the launch of his campaign Johnson claimed that as London mayor he was the “only politician who was willing to stick up for financial services”.
Tory Chancellor Philip Hammond’s pleas for no spending promises have fallen on deaf ears, as Johnson has said “we should be cutting business taxes” as well as promising to raise the threshold of the 40% income tax rate – with an eye to his current electorate. Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, has also pledged to slash corporation tax from 19% to just 12.5% – the same level as the Republic of Ireland.
What big business leaders do worry about is that Johnson could be compelled to implement a chaotic Brexit against their interests. That is because the EU is fundamentally Thatcherism on a continental scale – a bosses’ club to aid the profits of the capitalist class.
However, whatever role Johnson comes to play regarding Brexit, it is that class which he represents. The truth is revealed in his record. On the anniversary of the Grenfell tragedy it is worth remembering that he presided over the closure of ten fire stations and the removal of 27 fire engines as London mayor.
In 2014 London Underground workers voted for strike action and in response Tory members of the Johnson-headed London Assembly advocated banning strikes on the tube. That is because between 2005 and 2011 tube unions took over 30 days of strike action, costing London’s economy an estimated £100 million a day. Two million commuters travel to London each day. This reveals the enormous potential power the tube workers have.
In that round of the battle between bosses and workers, militant action by the RMT transport union defeated the Transport for London bosses who had Johnson firmly on their side. Boris Johnson and the rest of the Tory candidates may not agree on Brexit but they agree on making the working class pay for the ongoing crisis of their system.
Whoever wins the Tory leadership, workers need to prepare now to fight in the interests of our class. At local level victories are being clocked up by strikes of dinner ladies, tube workers, home care workers, bin workers, teachers and parents against education cuts and academies, and more.
The demand for a campaign to prepare for a new prime minister to face national coordinated action must start here. That action needs to combine defence of living standards with the demand for a general election to get the Tories out.
And that must be combined with a fight against the pro-capitalist elements in the Labour party. The campaign by the CWU and Unite unions against anti-Corbyn deputy leader Tom Watson must be stepped up – along with deselection of all the Blairites, restoration of the central role of the trade unions as part of democratising the party and the fight for a socialist programme in the interests of the working class.
Defeating the Tories means building mass action and transforming Labour into a mass socialist workers’ party regardless of who the new Tory leader is.