As government ministers and leading Tory figures abandon Boris Johnson’s government, he faces the most serious crisis of his time as Prime Minister.
Socialist Alternative (ISA in England, Wales and Scotland) statement
(This article was first published on 6 July 2022)
he Johnson government is on the ropes in the worst crisis so far of his tenure. For the first time, Cabinet heavyweights have openly deserted him. Others are doing their best to try and shore him up, but it is highly likely their efforts will ultimately be in vain.
This crisis for the government is rooted in the general crisis of British capitalism, with an economy heading for the abyss and a rising tide of working class struggle, which is beginning to grip the imaginations of millions of workers and youth.
This perfect storm of crisis has dynamited the basis for Johnson’s unstable right-populist Tory ‘coalition’. A new tumultuous period is opening up in British politics.
Tory Ministers have begun to jump, like rats from a sinking ship. Rishi Sunak said he can no longer defend Johnson’s behaviour. In his letter of resignation, Sunak explained that the public expect the “government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously” and later — clearly in reference to his disagreements with Johnson over economic policy — that if the public sense that “something is too good to be true, then it is not true”.
He has exposed the fault lines between his approach to the economy (seemingly in favour of greater ‘fiscal discipline’) and that of Johnson, who is likely to embark on further populist endeavours such as tax cuts for the Tory base, should he manage to cling onto power.
Sajid Javid called for “humility, grip and a new direction”, stating that his and Johnson’s approaches are “totally different”. Javid and Sunak were joined the following morning by Robin Walker, John Glenn and Will Quince, Ministers for Schools, the Treasury and for Children and Families, respectively, together with a host of more minor Cabinet figures and secretaries.
With these resignations and devastating letters of condemnation, most Prime Ministers would have understood the impossibility of continuing to govern in such a position. Johnson instead still vainly clings to the belief that he can defy gravity and has swiftly moved to replace Sunak and Javid.
Steve Barclay, Johnson’s former Chief of Staff, will now head up the Health Service at a time of acute crisis for healthcare across the country. Nadim Zahawi, who reportedly made being given the Chancellorship his condition for remaining in the cabinet, will inherit an economy with the worst inflation and economic forecast of any G20 country apart from Russia!
Zahawi’s replacement as Education Secretary, Michelle Donelan, was only elected to parliament in 2015 and in her CV she boasts marketing experience at Marie Claire magazine and for World Wrestling Entertainment. What marks out figures like her is their craven loyalty to Johnson.
Johnson has reached new depths of political cronyism to try and hold onto power. As one former minister wryly observed, he is like Rasputin, the Russian courtier, who refused to die despite several attempts on his life including poisoning, drowning and shooting.
Open Tory warfare
The Tory Party is now completely split and openly fractious. This is a completely new departure for what has been a crisis-ridden leadership since the Partygate scandals began to surface. Johnson has lurched from crisis to crisis, but the tolerance of his loyalists has been tested too far.
It is highly unlikely he will be able to stagger on for any measurable period. But he has his sights firmly fixed on the Summer recess in a fortnight, whilst his detractors are equally determined he will be out of Downing Street before the end of the month. The government is now totally paralysed and drifting, with its fortunes hitched to a Prime Minister whose only interest is in staying in power at whatever cost.
The straw that broke the camel’s back has been the denials and outright lies about the conduct, record and behaviour of the former Deputy Chief Whip, Chris Pincher. The details of this are not irrelevant. But the wider context — both the way Johnson’s decadence and hypocrisy epitomises the rottenness of the capitalist system and, crucially, the currently gathering momentum behind a wave of strikes — is what is really behind this crisis exploding.
Pincher has been widely reported as a serial sexual abuser and harrasser in and around Westminster and the Carlton Club, the Tory Party elite’s drinking hole. He was forced to resign the Whip’s office after complaints were made about him sexually assaulting a number of Tory activists in the Club, which is most likely only scratching the surface. Johnson at first hoped the issue was finished but it has of course emerged that Pincher has been investigated for such behaviour before in 2017 and was not exonerated.
At first, Johnson claimed he knew nothing of this when Pincher was appointed Deputy Chief Whip even though he had previously resigned after earlier allegations were made. It was left to a former Senior Civil Servant, Lord MacDonald, to take to the airwaves to prove that Johnson did know about Pincher’s conduct.
He was forced into yet another humiliating u-turn and offered another grovelling public apology. In reality, Johnson knew the kind of character Pincher was but needed an enforcer and loyalist to whip an increasingly rebellious parliamentary party. The truth has once again come out, to the humiliation of himself and the party as a whole.
In reality, Johnson had already lost the confidence of his backbenchers, the majority of whom supported the vote of no confidence which took place in June, as well as Conservative Party members throughout the country.
He is utterly discredited and exceptionally unpopular among the wider electorate. Where he was once considered their best asset to win elections, Johnson is now a huge liability in both the former ‘Red Wall’ and ‘True Blue’ seats of the Southern shires as the last two by-elections proved.
General Election disaster looms for the Party, especially whilst Johnson is at the helm. The Tory Party is and has always been utterly ruthless when its electoral future is threatened and senior figures will now be forced to move decisively to ditch Johnson as quickly as they dispatched May and Thatcher before, whatever his earlier successes. He will be likely just as obstinate in resisting, so his final exit, when it comes, will be both humiliating and bloody.
The sleaze and sexual assault scandals gripping the Party reveal a lot about the horrific culture of entitlement in Westminster and Parliament, which are largely cesspools of the British traditional elite.
The Tory Party (which has never been alone in such allegations of behaviour) is stuffed with arrogant entitled individuals who consider themselves completely above reproach whatever they do. Johnson has epitomised this attitude, but society has moved on as the #MeToo movement and huge public anger over the Sarah Everard case have shown.
The majority of working people find this sexist, misogynist, racist and oppressive behaviour utterly disgusting. Five Tory MPs have been forced to resign in the last year due to serious and shocking examples of such behaviour.
No less than 56 MPs are under investigation for serious misconduct including three cabinet ministers. No other workplace would tolerate such behaviour without immediate consequences. But this is a culture which Johnson has encouraged and fostered. And now his time is up.
Overwhelmed by capitalist crisis
In reality, however, the Pincher scandal will be a footnote in the history of Johnson’s demise. His credibility has been totally undermined by the Partygate scandals which have driven away large sections of his former supporters. A quagmire of crises currently engulf and overwhelm British capitalism.
Inflation has reached an all time high for this century and shows no signs of abating. Every day, more figures are released showing all sections of society being preoccupied with rising costs, with the poorest being hit the hardest, and no end in sight. This is feeding through into a massive cost of living crisis with living standards falling further and further behind.
Johnson’s only answer has been to double down and to call on the country to resist trade union power, in the form of the RMT strike action for better pay, working conditions, and job protection. Yet opinion polls show that despite the torrent of negative coverage in the capitalist media there is majority support for the RMT strikes — a mood which may now grow even further given Johnson’s precarious position.
No one will heed calls from a Prime Minister calling for restraint when his own Chancellor has called him ‘incompetent’. Workers will feel emboldened to push for fair pay claims against a weak government.
The Summer strike wave is set to continue, with workers balloting or preparing for action in mail, education, health, public administration, communications and elsewhere. This cannot be wished away from inside the chambers of Parliament. Likewise the UK is facing a looming economic recession which, it is estimated, will be the worst of any leading industrialised country with the exception of Russia.
This will further compound the existing crisis in workers’ living standards and cancel out the uptick in economic activity following Covid. We will likely see another rise in unemployment, company closures and further attacks on living standards.
The UK’s economic woes have been exacerbated by Johnson’s botched up Brexit deal which has seen exports hammered whilst more expensive imports have continued unhindered, adding to the inflationary spiral.
Johnson’s real vision of turning Britain into a modern day Singapore, reliant on finance, services and high tech, and importantly low wages, is being pursued, but without the infrastructure to carry this through.
This is now being compounded by Johnson’s decision to collapse the Northern Ireland protocol which will further exacerbate tensions with the EU and could result in another round of unnecessary trade wars, whilst raising sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland itself. Johnson will also be remembered as the Prime Minister who sped up the fracturing of the UK, with both the Welsh and Scottish Tory leaders calling for him to go.
These are multiple and interlinked economic and political crises in Britain, which themselves exist in the context of a whole series of global crises for capitalism — from the climate catastrophe to the New Cold War between the US and China.
The War in Ukraine, which forms a key frontier in this, is set to drag on for months and even years. Johnson’s attempts to strut around the world stage ramping up war rhetoric may have earned him the praise of Zelensky but will do nothing to help working-class people in Ukraine, and in fact will contribute to making the world more dangerous.
We cannot rely on the Tories to give him the push. Meanwhile Starmer’s Labour offers little fight and absolutely no political alternative. It is the responsibility of the working class movement fast developing in the workplaces to link up their struggles, escalate their action, and to give him one final shove.
But a change of faces and another Conservative Prime Minister will offer no relief from the acute crisis facing working class people. Johnson’s dangerous ‘culture wars’ approach of attacking oppressed people (most recently in the form of the horrific reactionary anti-refugee tirades) might be ratcheted up, with candidates to replace him seeking to win support from the party’s reactionary membership.
Force out Johnson and all the Tories!
The Tories must be forced out. And the workers’ movement has the potential to do this. The trade unions must take this opportunity to massively step up the offensive, escalating action with more strike days, coordination across sectors, and rapidly pressing forward with ballots.
Our movement has to move swiftly and decisively to push this hated government from power, using the combined strength of the organised working class, linked to the developing social struggles and cost of living protests, to create mass movement to bring the government down.
Such a movement must also have in its sights the rotten capitalist system, which the so-called opposition parties all now wholeheartedly embrace. Socialist ideas — of public ownership and democratic planning — offer the only genuine way out of the chaos and cruelty of capitalism.
Fighting for such ideas requires that we put on the agenda the question of a new left party of struggle that can advance workers’ interests on the political plane. But most of all it requires the building of an organisation with a clear Marxist programme for the transformation of society along socialist lines.