While giving its support to the Ukrainian war effort abroad, the Tory government is waging a battle on home soil with the trade unions. As in Ukraine, however, this conflict hasn’t gone as expected. The Tories have been bogged down and are looking vulnerable.
Rishi Sunak was hoping for a breathing space in advance of the local elections, which offer a small snapshot of the mood in society.
With a general election approaching in the next year or so, the Tories are desperately seeking to quell the wave of industrial militancy that has hit Britain in recent months, in an effort to boost their polling figures.
But the tsunami of strikes shows no sign of letting up, with nurses, teachers, and civil servants all walking out over the last week. The class war continues unabated.
Away from the industrial front, meanwhile, other problems are bubbling up.
The UK economy remains mired in stagnation and crisis, with the IMF predicting that it will be the weakest economy of the G7 countries in the year ahead – the worst performing in terms of growth, inflation, investment, and most other indicators.
British capitalism, without doubt, is the sick man of Europe.
“According to the IMF’s latest data, real gross domestic product per head in the UK rose by a mere 6 percent between 2008 and 2022,” explained Martin Wolf in the Financial Times. “This was the second worst performance in the G7, above Italy’s. To put this dire outcome in context, UK real GDP per head rose by an impressive 33 per cent in the 14 years to 2008.”
Furthermore, Wolf notes, between 2019 and 2022, real UK GDP per person shrank by 1.9 percent – the deepest fall in the G7.
This economic decline is reflected across British society, with public services and infrastructure falling apart as a result of years of austerity and inflation.
“Even if the government finds a way to break the deadlock over pay with unions,” states the Financial Times in this respect, “it will still face a slow-burn staffing crisis across the public sector workforce.”
Dominic Raab has been forced to stand down from his position as deputy PM, following accusations of bullying in Whitehall. The CBI, the bosses’ union, is imploding, as business leaders withdraw their support in response to claims of a toxic culture at the lobbying group. And even the SNP is embroiled in allegations of impropriety.
Most notable, however, is the festering wound that is the monarchy.
The ruling class were hoping that the upcoming coronation of King Charles III would provide some distraction. But the latest YouGov poll indicates that more than 60% of Britons are completely disinterested in this spectacle – just as most people showed little genuine enthusiasm for the flag-waving surrounding last year’s Jubilee or royal funeral.
Workers and youth have much more important matters to focus on, than celebrating the ascendancy of the latest royal parasite. Back in the real world, in everyday life, things are going from bad to worse.
Workers are being driven to the wall. They are being gradually burned out from stress and overwork, and are facing a cost-of-living catastrophe.
Working people are saying, loud and clear: Enough is enough! We are not prepared to take any more!
Similarly, many workers regard the local elections as a complete irrelevance. They have no faith that any of the parties will resolve the decades-long downward spiral in living standards and public services.
No doubt, the Tories will face the brunt of the losses in terms of seats, having plummeted in the opinion polls. The disaster of the Boris Johnson years – and the Liz Truss days – are still fresh in people’s minds.
But this instability and turbulence at the top is only a reflection of the increasingly shaky foundations of British capitalism. Behind the social decline lies the organic crisis of the capitalist system. And the ruling class wants the working class to pay the bill.
As Martin Wolf, a leading strategist of capital, explains:
“Yes, the shocks of the past few years have been large and unexpected. But what has made them particularly difficult to cope with was the long period of stagnation and austerity that preceded them. Indeed, everything has become far harder to manage in this context.”
All the Tories have been doing, in his words, “is dancing on the decks of the Titanic”.
The ruling class understands that the Tory government has run out of steam. It is time to hand over power to the Starmer gang, they realise, to do the real dirty work for capitalism.
There is understandably little confidence amongst workers and youth in Starmer’s Labour, however, which has been keen to offer as few promises as possible.
Labour’s main line of attack against Sunak is not over austerity or the cost of living, but on the question of crime, attempting to paint the Tory leader as being soft on offenders.
This puts Starmer’s Labour in the camp of the hang-‘em, flog-‘em brigade, who make up the ranks of the Tory Party. It shows they have nothing positive to offer the working class.
Starmer is incapable of challenging the Tories over their defence of the rotten capitalist system, as he energetically supports capitalism. In fact, he is keen to steal the Tories’ clothes, proudly proclaiming that Labour is the true party of business and of ‘law and order’.
If people bother to vote for Labour, therefore, either in these local elections or at the next general election, they are likely to do so without any enthusiasm – holding their nose as they put the ballot paper in the box.
We must tell the truth. What Starmer is offering is more of the same. If he gets into power, which seems likely, he will act little differently from the Tories. ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer is in the pocket of the establishment, and will faithfully do their bidding.
The problem facing the ruling class, and its agents in the Labour Party, however, is that the working class has been reawakened over the past year, and is now flexing its muscles.
Workers will not stand idly by while Labour continues with Tory policies. They have been battered for decades, and have now reached their limits. This means that a head on collision is being prepared, between the organised working class and a right-wing Labour government.
Consciousness is very conservative, in normal times. People cling to what they know. But it is now being transformed by a series of hammer blows and shocks. Trotsky called this the “molecular process” taking place in the minds of the masses.
As a result, the deteriorating objective situation is preparing revolutionary upheavals in one country after another – Britain included.
In the past, during the postwar upswing, the capitalist system could afford reforms; and under pressure from the working class, the capitalists made certain concessions.
Today, the deepening crisis of capitalism means that the system can no longer afford reforms, only counter-reforms. The cupboard is bare. And the situation is getting worse.
The new generation are already drawing revolutionary conclusions. Already, according to recent polls, a third of young people in Britain – those aged 34 or under – believe that communism is the ideal social system. And no wonder. Their life experience has only been one of endless crises, cuts, and catastrophes.
In the coming years, this radicalisation of consciousness will intensify, as workers see that even the smallest reform is not possible within the limits of capitalism. There will come a realisation that fundamental change is needed.
“It is hard to believe that the UK will thrive, perhaps even survive, as a peaceful and orderly democratic society without faster economic growth,” states Wolf in the FT, reflecting the fears of the serious representatives of the ruling class.
But the prospect of faster growth is ruled out, given the impasse of capitalism – globally and in Britain.
Wolf doesn’t mince his words: “The UK is not alone in hitting the economic buffers. But its plight is dire.”
It is clear that the system is coming apart at the seams. It is in a dire state. The task facing the working class, however, is not to rescue capitalism, but to prepare for its overthrow. That must be the message of the hour!