New Prime Minister? Or New System?

Across the political spectrum of the ruling class, Boris Johnson’s much-anticipated resignation has been received with relief. It’s easy to see why. As the only Prime Minister to break the law in office, and blatantly lie repeatedly to Parliament, he has certainly left a legacy, though not the one he hoped for.

Johnson’s leadership raison d’etre was to make sure Brexit was delivered, with or without a deal. A month later, he called for parliament to be prorogued thus avoiding any attempts from rival politicians to oppose a no-deal Brexit. The prorogue was soon declared unlawful by the Supreme Court. It seemed Johnson had as little clue as Theresa May as to how Brexit could possibly be negotiated in a way that would benefit anyone at all. His methodology was characterised by persistently talking about preparations for exiting the EU without a deal, while regularly telling us that this wouldn’t be his first choice. Unsurprisingly, Johnson deployed anti-immigrant rhetoric to justify Brexit. Of course, this was nothing new when it came to Brexit; in fact, it underpinned the entire campaign.

David Cameron called for the Brexit referendum, not out of any desire to see Britain leave the EU, but to temporarily quiet the Eurosceptic faction of the Conservatives who had been threatening a split since UKIP’s popularity undermined a potential Conservative majority. To the surprise of many, not least Cameron, Brexit narrowly won. Whilst this was blamed by liberal EU-fanatics on the rich and elderly, to many, it was a desperate vote for change and escape from a dire economic situation, influenced of course by nationalist propagandising. May, a Remainer, took over from Cameron, but eventually resigned due to pressure from the Eurosceptic faction to deliver a hard Brexit.

Johnson’s move into office was a clear turn further Right for the Conservative Party, drawing many parallels with Trump on the other side of the Atlantic. Both used their ‘simpleton’ personalities, making few pretences of intellectual rigour or economic know-how. Instead, they championed right-wing identity politics, based on vapid ‘truths’ and typical populist demagoguery. A lack of class-consciousness, even at its simplest level, opened up a path to nationalism, and when a General Election was called shortly after Johnson’s initial leadership, he won again with flying colours, despite recent resignations from the Conservative Party including his own brother. Corbyn’s Opposition may have won the hearts and votes of many optimistic leftists, but traditional Labour seats were won over by Johnson’s straight-talking commitment to ‘getting Brexit done’.

Having begun his career in journalism, freely using unquestionably xenophobic and racist slurs, Johnson turned to a career in politics by running as MP in a Conservative safe-seat. Despite his numerous well-publicised affairs, Johnson used TV appearances to appear as an amiable clown but was backed by a clever publicity machine which got him elected as Mayor of London just in time for the Olympics, his next publicity-seeking stunt. Eventually, Johnson faded into the Conservative backbenchers, before coming out of the woodwork to campaign for Brexit.(1) Such is the career necessary to become a Prime Minister of a former superpower. A list of Johnson’s familial misdemeanours, lies and racist and homophobic comments would be extensive, more extensive than his supposedly “endearing” bloopers, but it’s not the purpose of this article, and is available elsewhere. Suffice to say, the fact that Johnson lasted so long after having lied to parliament numerous times, and broken lockdown restrictions, is indicative of the embarrassing mess that counts for British bourgeois politics today.

Though Brexit constituted Johnson’s campaign, he will more likely be remembered for his irresponsible and, frankly, fatal leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic. He hoped for ‘Herd Immunity’, the idea that everybody should catch Covid early on so as to overcome the pandemic. That the disabled, the elderly, and other vulnerable people would die en masse as a consequence was of no interest to Johnson’s laissez-faire idiocy. He dawdled in taking action, delaying lockdowns, and not heeding scientific advice until far too late, leaving Britain’s cases to rise higher and higher. His press conferences were ridiculed for their vagueness, with many left confused as to whether they were meant to be leaving their homes to go to work or not. The priorities of the capitalists were laid out. The wealth of the ruling-classes - first. Public health - second. Businesses were kept open for as long as possible while hospitals ran out of beds for the sick. When restaurants reopened, the absurd 'Eat Out To Help Out' campaign ensured people were once again crowded together spreading the virus - but putting money in the pockets of the food & beverage bosses. PPE ran short in hospitals, as the Conservative government had neglected to apply for resources, and healthcare workers had to buy their own equipment. Instead, £16bn was wasted on PPE through private contracts with friends, relatives, and donors to the Conservative Party providing completely ineffective equipment. Nearly £30bn was spent on the damp squib 'Test & Trace' headed of course by Baroness Harding, a Conservative member of the House Of Lords whose background was not in medicine but as CEO of TalkTalk, losing it £60m through a “failure to implement the most basic cyber security measures.”

Wave came after wave, lockdown followed lockdown, and people kept, tragically, and avoidably, dying. To see a Prime Minister so brazenly dismissive of public health, and so ignorant to the situation of his country, should have been enough to dispel any trust in the ruling-classes, let alone what was to come: the Prime Minister’s ignorance of his own rules. The rules had become more and more nonsensical and hard-to-follow. There were regularly shifting localised tiers, curfews, and technicalities such as the ‘substantial meal’ which aimed to define whether or not customers could be considered to be eating, supposedly safer than drinking. Of course, these rules didn’t matter for Johnson or his advisors. First, Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s chief advisor, broke the lockdown laws by travelling with symptoms. Johnson refused to dismiss Cummings. Later, Johnson himself was embroiled as multiple parties were exposed as having taken place at Downing Street around Christmas time during lockdown. Johnson lied again and again, and was found out again and again. Calls for him to resign were prevalent from within his party and the Opposition.

In response to mass movements such as Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter, Johnson’s party introduced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, cracking down on public demonstrations, damage against statues, and Traveller communities, and allowing police access to private records and the right to stop & search without suspicion. The bill was postponed after numerous protests, but eventually passed earlier this year with little attention, as was the Nationality and Borders Act, which can strip dual-nationals of their citizenship without notice, and further criminalises asylum seekers. More recently, while pretending to welcome Ukrainian refugees with open arms, Johnson at the same time announced plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

As a bourgeois leader, Johnson’s record is one of failure after failure. Brexit failed to relieve the economic crisis as promised, his handling of the pandemic worsened the crisis by far, and he has proved clueless at confronting the cost-of-living crisis. He has confronted these signal failures with diversionary initiatives such as 'Operation Save Big Dog'. His preparations to rip up the Brexit treaty he himself negotiated in respect to Northern Ireland threatens a trade war with Britain’s largest trading partner in the EU. But what eventually forced Johnson to resign were his many MPs and Cabinet members’ resignations when it came to light that Johnson had promoted Chris Pincher to Deputy Chief Whip, knowing full well his history of sexual harassment. A seemingly trivial issue in the light of his accumulation of failures, however, true to form, he lied about this too. Bourgeois politicians have always lied to us, the working-class. In Johnson’s case though, he lied to his parliamentary colleagues at a frequency they simply could not tolerate.

To focus on Johnson’s biography is somewhat to miss the point. He is merely one of many faces of the ruling-classes trying to keep their grip on capitalism as its inherent crisis unravels, and not only in the UK. In Italy, Mario Draghi has resigned after little more than a year, due to splits in the coalition government regarding the cost-of-living crisis. Similarly, Israel has called its 5th general election in 3 years, its ideologically disparate 8-party coalition and plan to rotate Prime Ministers unsurprisingly unfeasible. Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence has seen drastic fuel shortage, electricity blackouts and untenable levels of inflation. Brothers Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa have resigned as President and Prime Minister respectively, with the former now hiding away in Singapore from the wrath of the Sri Lankan public. Ecuador’s new conservative Prime Minister Lasso has so far survived calls for his impeachment after attacking widespread protests with deadly force. These protests too are a response to economic crisis. Bourgeois commentators say there is an international crisis of leadership but the case stands that the capitalist crisis has reached a point where the ruling-classes have very few options.

The current economic crisis has been in action ever since the 1970s after the post-war booms came to their end. Various measures have been deployed, by business owners and politicians of the Conservative Party and Labour Party alike, to save capitalism. Reorganising the economy through globalisation and placing power in the hands of banking speculators worked for a while but since the 2008 financial crash, the crisis has been worsening. The ruling-classes only have a few ways to deal with this. Intensifying the exploitation of workers is already well underway with real wages drastically low considering the current cost of living crisis and ongoing cuts to public services. And now, the world is moving towards war. Workers in the West are being told to get behind Ukraine and against Russia. But the war being fought is nothing to do with humanitarian justice and everything to do with competing economic interests in the region.

As the crisis has spun further out of their control, the politicians have become more obvious as clueless charlatans, and have shown little interest in feigning respectability or dignity. Johnson epitomises the shambolic flailing around of the ruling-classes, but he is one of many. Johnson was not the problem. We have never been interested in demanding a return to kinder, more respectable politicians. Our issues do not lie with moralistic cliches such as ‘integrity’ or ‘honesty’. Nor do we shout ‘Tories out!’ with its unsubtle implication of ‘Labour in!’. The problem lies with capitalism. It is the interests of the capitalist class as a whole leading us to war through their nationalist propaganda, the capitalist class itself that oversaw so many tragic deaths during Covid-19 but cared only about keeping businesses alive, the capitalist class itself that mistakenly entertained Brexit as a solution to their crisis. Johnson, more than other politicians before him, proved well that the politicians of that capitalist class do not know what they are doing in the face of an intractable crisis that promises only more stagnation. At the time of writing, the Tory leadership race has been whittled down to Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak. Whoever wins will have to intensify the attacks on the working-class to preserve the wealth of those who regard the Tories as “the natural party of government”. This will mean cutting wages and jobs in an effort to make the economy more profitable. They will continue in Johnson’s tradition of covering up the huge economic crisis with a call to nationalism, justifying wage cuts for “the good of the country.”

What follows will depend not on the corridors of power in Whitehall but in the response of the working-class. The class war has not gone away over the last few decades but the real test comes now. If workers accept real wage cuts after 10 years of wage freezer austerity, the crisis inherent to capitalism will continue to deepened everywhere, and the capitalists will edge nearer towards sending us to fight their wars, well beyond the current ones such as Ukraine. Whoever replaces Johnson in the UK, our fight is only for the international working-class, and it is a fight that the fate of humanity hangs on.

Communist Workers’ Organisation
26 July 2022

(1) Cameron correctly regarded Johnson’s shift to Brexit as a piece of self-promoting opportunism and we need look no further than his hero Winston Churchill who prided himself on his “ratting” and then “re-ratting” as he oscillated from Conservative to Liberal and back again to get high office.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022