Never before has a prime minister taken office with as little support as Liz Truss. Her only achievement is being less unpopular than Rishi Sunak with the tiny electorate of the Tory party membership. For most of the population, the question of which of the gruesome twosome won the Tory leadership is a second-rate issue, far behind how to pay the electricity bill or make the pay packet last until the end of the month. After all, whoever is at the helm, the Tory government will continue to try and make working-class people pay the price for the crisis of British capitalism.
For the majority of the capitalist class, however, Truss as prime minister is an alarming prospect. She has managed to claw her way to the top of the rapidly crumbling Tory party by claiming loyalty to her predecessor while continuing his legacy of right-wing ‘populist’ policies aimed only at the Daily Mail-reading Tory party membership. But the 81,326 members of the Tory party who voted for her are virtually the sum total of her support. She is the first Tory prime minister ever to have been elected without the support of the majority of Tory MPs; less than a third backed her in the final round of the parliamentary ballot.
Even among Tory voters, her popularity has plummeted. Among those who voted Tory in 2019 just 5% now believe that Truss “gets things done”, with -4% seeing her as a “strong leader”. Seeing these statistics, growing numbers of Johnson-supporting MPs are suffering ‘buyer’s remorse’, fearing that they have ditched him only to end up with an even more unpopular leader.
Pleading and pressure
All serious representatives of British capitalism are in despair at the prospect of her prime ministership. The more heavyweight right-wing press – including the Times, the Sunday Times, and the Financial Times – having campaigned to stop her winning, is now reduced to pleading with her to change course once elected, and, as the Sunday Times put it, “swap wild promises for reality”. Meanwhile, senior Tories are reportedly piling on the pressure for her to include figures from all sides of the warring Tory party in her cabinet. She, on the other hand, is rumoured to be planning to pack the cabinet with figures from the most right-wing section of the parliamentary Tory party, such as Iain Duncan Smith, John Redwood, and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Whatever the make-up of the cabinet, it will be facing multiple acute problems. As inflation soars, real incomes are set to suffer the deepest fall since 1955. This will be the case even if measures are taken to stop energy bills from rising even further than their already astronomical levels. Without it, it would be far worse.
The economy is heading towards a recession, with manufacturing already there. Public sector net debt, at £2.4 trillion, is already more than 95% of GDP, and the cost of servicing much of that debt is rising in tandem with interest rates. Meanwhile, the value of sterling is falling, further increasing the cost of both imported goods and government debt. And, as the growing strike wave shows, workers are not willing to take any more misery but are starting to fight back. Any Tory government would be plunged into crisis by Truss’s in-tray, which “has everything in it except Armageddon”, as one Tory grandee put it.
Reflection of capitalist decline
It is not a coincidence, however, that it is Truss who has ended up temporarily at the helm, considered highly unreliable by the capitalist elite. It reflects the fundamental and deep-rooted degeneration of the Tory party, which in turn – like Trumpism in the US Republican party – flows from the crisis of the capitalist system it defends. In the case of the Tory party, that is added to by the long, inglorious decline of British capitalism. The Tories were once arguably the most successful party on the planet, able to mediate the interests of different sections of the capitalist elite – largely behind closed doors – and to plan decades ahead how best to defend those interests. Today they are publicly tearing each other apart, unable to see even five days ahead.
Over the coming months, their gradual crumbling could be replaced by a complete implosion. Sunak, in an unprecedented attack on a rival in a Tory leadership contest, has responded to the markets beginning to bet against UK government debt by fanning the flames, accusing Truss of being “complacent and irresponsible” for ignoring the risk of markets losing confidence in the British economy.
In fact, the risk of the markets betting against British capitalism, leading to a more dramatic slide in sterling and a major crisis, would have also been present had Sunak won the leadership. Out of two woeful candidates, he became the preferred candidate of much of the capitalist class not because he could have done anything to lessen the crisis of British capitalism but because he attempted to appear more ‘responsible’, while also putting a more emollient gloss on the savage attacks to come on working and middle-class living standards. But just like Truss, a weak, divided government led by Sunak would have faced massive working-class opposition to his policies, and he would have been just as incapable of gluing the Tory party back together.
Nonetheless, there is no doubt that much of the capitalist class is concerned that Truss, because of her strident ‘ideological’ defence of inequality and other running sores of the system, could seriously endanger the interests of British capitalism. Never mind publicly attacking her as Sunak and others have done, Tory MPs could soon be voting against her policies if they consider it is in the interests of their class to do so. In the midst of the Brexit crisis, the likes of Michael Heseltine voted Liberal Democrat.
That was when Corbyn led Labour. More recently, Starmer has made clear that Tory MPs are welcome in his New Labour Party, and the rumours of a block of six Tory MPs switching to Labour have been widespread. Under Truss’s leadership, there could be far more than six Tories crossing the benches, reflecting sections of British capitalism seeing Starmer’s Labour as a more reliable representative of their interests than a Tory party in meltdown.
Workers’ movement response
What conclusions should the workers’ movement draw from all of this? Firstly that this is a weak government that can be defeated and forced out of office. That does not mean victory for the working class is certain at this stage, however. The one thing that every wing of the Tory party is united on is the need to make the working class pay for the crisis in their system. As explained in the Socialist this week, a determined, coordinated struggle is needed to defeat Truss and her cronies.
If Truss and the Tories are forced out of office, it will raise the confidence of the whole working class. However, there is unfortunately no prospect of a government led by Sir Keir Starmer acting in the interests of the majority. On the contrary, Starmer’s New Labour will be like Blair’s version – another government of the elite. This time, however, New Labour would be coming to power not in a period of relative economic stability, but during a deep crisis of British capitalism. Starmer’s capitalist backers will demand much more savage attacks on the working class than in the 1990s.
This also poses the urgent need for the workers’ movement to start building its own political party. We need MPs in the houses of Westminster who can give a voice to the growing industrial fightback. Rather than waiting for some future date to start to tackle this issue, the workers’ movement should take the first steps now, including preparing to stand candidates in the next general election whenever it comes.
Even an initially small block of MPs from a workers’ party that fought for socialist policies – starting with nationalisation, under democratic workers’ control, of energy, rail, mail and telecoms; mass council house building and a £15 an hour minimum wage – would enormously increase the fighting strength of the workers’ movement in the struggles ahead, and could quickly gain mass support. The ruling class and its political representatives are in complete disarray. The workers’ movement needs to seize the moment.