The following is the editorial of ‘The socialist’ Weekly paper of the Socialist Party in England and Wales. This was Published on Monday 17 October before the resignations of home secretary Suella Braverman and prime minister Liz Truss, but its content has only been confirmed by these latest events.
Tory ‘markets’ meltdown
Build a mass workers’ party to fight for a socialist alternative
After twelve years of Tory-led governments lining the pockets of the richest and inflicting austerity on the majority, the Tories are reaching the end of the road. This Tory government is melting down in front of our eyes.
Truss is on her way out of office and is already out of power. Jeremy Hunt has been brought in as chancellor in a desperate bid to try to convince the markets that this is a ‘responsible’ Tory government, by ripping up what remains of Truss’ mini-budget.
The Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, has welcomed Hunt’s proposals as a ‘meeting of minds’. But what does Hunt’s ‘responsible approach’ consist of? Yes, reversing tax cuts which would have mainly benefited the rich and the big corporations, but also trying to implement savage austerity: further slashing public spending by around £40 billion. In addition, the energy price cap is now set to end in April next year. Even with it, bills have doubled from a year ago, now they are set to rise further next spring.
This is a clear reminder that it was not the cruelty of Truss’ blatant support for inequality which Tory grandees, the senior civil servants and the Bank of England objected to, but only her government’s crass stupidity in discounting the dangers ahead. It was clear that her unfunded tax cuts would trigger the markets – which already sensed blood in the water given the parlous state of British capitalism – starting to increase the cost of government borrowing and selling sterling. It was also clear that her blatant pro-rich policies – after 14 years where payments to shareholders have increased three times faster than workers’ wages – would trash what little support the Tory government still has in the population.
Ultimately, however, the Truss catastrophe is an indication of, rather than the cause of, the accelerating Tory party meltdown, which is in turn a result of the deep and growing crisis of ailing British capitalism. There is no way out of this nightmare for the Tory party.
Hunt’s attempts to implement a new round of austerity are taking place against the background of the biggest fall in real wages since the 1950s, more than a decade of cuts to public services, and with the NHS in a state of collapse. Most importantly, they are taking place when there is a rising tide of strikes, as workers fight to defend their living conditions. If Tory MPs agree a new round of austerity in these conditions, it will lead to a gigantic social revolt. Sensing that, many may choose to save their own skins and not vote for measures that would guarantee them losing their seats at the next election. And the markets – taking the measure of the scale of the Tories impotence – may not be reassured by Hunt’s efforts to appease them.
At their recent conference, Tory MPs were muttering about how to avoid a ‘Canadian scenario’, where their sister party went from leading a majority government to having two MPs in the 1993 general election. Avoiding this now appears to be the most they can hope to achieve. Plots to force Truss out, and avoid letting the Tory party membership having a vote on her replacement, may succeed, but they will not put the Tory party together again.
The leadership of the trade union movement, the Trades Union Congress (TUC), is meeting in Brighton from 18-20 October . It is urgent that it draws up a plan of coordinated strike action to fight the cost-of-living crisis and to force a general election to get the whole Tory government out as soon as possible. The government is in its death agony, but that will not prevent it from raining down attacks on the working class, including the threat of trying to implement new anti-union laws. Nor will it stop the employers doing the same – as shown by Royal Mail’s threats of mass compulsory redundancies. It is vital therefore that the workers’ movement steps up the struggle.
The need for an industrial fightback will not be removed when the Tories are finally forced out. Labour is now soaring in the opinion polls as a result of the widespread and overwhelming desire to ditch the Tories. Starmer’s speech to Labour Party conference, however, contained many of the same phrases as Hunt’s over the last few days about being “responsible” and making “difficult choices, particularly when managing the country’s finances”. When Tesco boss, John Allen praised Labour as “the only team on the field”, it was another indication that the majority of big business now believes Labour would do a better job than the Tories now can in defending their interests. But the interests of the capitalist elite are diametrically opposed to those of the working-class majority.
Starmer and the Labour leadership have ripped up Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto, including the pledges to renationalise energy, mail, water and telecoms. Instead of nationalising energy companies, Labour proposed a price cap on bills for just six months – a policy now adopted by Hunt! Sam Tarry, now deselected as parliamentary candidate for Ilford South, was sacked from the front bench for the ‘crime’ of saying workers need a pay rise. The Labour leadership is hell bent on reassuring ‘the markets’ that it would be ‘responsible’. But what does that mean? ‘The markets’ are not some kind of independent arbiters of sensible financial policies; they are driven by the gambling of super-wealthy speculators and managers of financial institutions across the world, interested only in their own profits.
Sir Keir Starmer’s ‘New Labour’ doing the bidding of the ‘markets’ therefore means the trade union movement will need to be ready to organise a fight for workers’ interests under a Labour government. That also raises the need to start building a political alternative that will fight for those interests. A start needs to be made at the next general election – with trade union and socialist candidates standing against pro-capitalist Labour candidates. We need to begin to build a mass workers’ party that will stand up for the interests of the working class, and fight for a programme to take the levers of power out of the hands of the unelected capitalist elites. It was New Labour ‘mark one’ that made the Bank of England ‘independent’, removing any control of it by elected governments. That should be immediately reversed, along with the nationalisation of the banks and finance companies under democratic workers’ control and management. This, along with nationalisation of the major corporations, would lay the basis to begin to build a democratic socialist plan of production, designed to meet the needs of the majority rather than providing unimaginable wealth for the few.