Divided Tory party selects third prime minister in one year

Rishi Sunak - Photo: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/CC

The final days of the Truss-led Tory government revealed a deeper than ever, jaw-dropping level of crisis in the Tory party. Following the total collapse of Liz Truss’s shortest-ever Tory leadership, the party’s MPs were again thrown back to looking for the least potentially disastrous new leader they could find.

Almost by default, they ended up choosing Rishi Sunak, despite him having been rejected by the Tory party membership less than two months previously.

Boris Johnson, who had rushed back to Britain from holiday to canvass support, was unsurprisingly dismissed by most Tory MPs as too unreliable and too tainted, especially as he will soon be coming under further official scrutiny over the Covid partygate scandal. That didn’t stop him from declaring that “this is simply not the right time”, suggesting he will try again in the future when a new Tory crisis develops.

Desperate for stability

A majority of Tory MPs, desperate to avoid an early general election, also saw Sunak as a safer option than the third contender, Penny Mordaunt. However, Sunak stands little chance of even initially being able to paper over the massive cracks in the parliamentary party. A number of Tory MPs have accused him of playing a role in bringing down Johnson and Truss – such as Christopher Chope who stated that Sunak will face an “ungovernable” parliamentary party.

Chope is among those Tories who would now prefer there to be a general election, in effect calling for the end of the Tories’ 12 years in power – cutting shorter their present downward spiral. They hope that their party could recover some functionality during a period out of office.

Most Tory MPs, however, faced with losing their seats in a general election, want the government to continue to cling on. That might prove impossible, as the degree of meltdown is so great that an early general election could be forced on them.

Rather than waiting to see, the trade union movement can make sure that the election takes place as soon as possible, by organising coordinated, stepped-up action.

This is now even more urgent given the colossal austerity drive being planned by this latest incarnation of the Tory government. Despite the current high inflation, rising interest rates and the sink towards recession, it wants to inflict drastic public service cuts and higher taxes, with the aim of appearing to be ‘fiscally responsible’ in the eyes of the capitalist finance markets.

The Tories will be hoping that some memory of Sunak’s furlough scheme and other assistance during the Covid pandemic will stick. But for them, that was only a temporary necessity. Sunak is a mega-rich former banker and has been a key player in a Tory government that has acted to protect the interests of the rich.

The mini-budget of Truss and Kwarteng, handing out billions in tax cuts mainly to the rich, had the effect of worsening the economic position of British capitalism, due to the reaction of the markets. Their debacle has added to the Covid pandemic and the Ukraine war as justifications that the Sunak government will give for cutting the living standards of a majority of people further to the bone. But the economy was in dire straits before Covid, the war and the Truss episode, and Sunak’s cuts will provide no solution for it. In fact, they will worsen the coming recession.

A day before Sunak was imposed as Tory leader, former governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King was interviewed on the BBC’s Kuenssberg programme, and called for a government that will be honest about the need for “a reduction in our national standard of living”. He elaborated: “We may need to confront the need to have significantly higher taxes on the average person. There isn’t enough money there amongst the rich.”

The money is there

Wrong: there are vast sums of money in the hands of the rich. The richest 250 people in Britain alone are estimated to have a total wealth of over £700 billion, and every year they collectively become richer.

King was partially right though when he countered Tory chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s assertion that “no government can control markets”. King said: “Markets are not in charge, governments and central banks are”. Yes: anathema to Mervyn King, a socialist government, backed by the majority of the working class and opposed to the capitalist markets, would be able to overrule them – and the banks too, which would be nationalised.  The spreading of democratic socialism internationally would allow that over-ruling to be maintained.

Workers in Britain clearly need such a socialist government, and many rightly realise that a Labour government won’t act in that necessary way. Kuenssberg also interviewed Labour leader Keir Starmer, who repeated points he made at Labour’s conference along the lines that a Labour government will be faced with “tough choices” and won’t be able to “do some of the things we want to do”.

None of the pro-capitalist politicians has any solution to the economy that will improve or even preserve the living standards of ordinary people.

Yet money doesn’t vanish into thin air. Most of the pounds being collectively lost by the working class and middle class are ending up in the bank accounts of the super-rich in Britain and globally. This is done through many routes of exploitation: the erosion of real wages, interest taken on loans, super-profits from energy production, and the fortunes made by gaming tycoons, among many others. This is capitalism; and the reason why a socialist alternative is more vital than ever.

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October 2022