The Tory leadership contest is a reactionary race to the bottom, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE
BRITISH politics all too often produces a race to the bottom, and there can be fewer better examples than the Conservative Party’s current leadership election.
If nothing else, the tone of the contest is proving true to the agenda that has run through their tenure in government: making the majority pay for the greed of the class that funds them, rolling back our hard-won rights, spreading division and siding with reaction across the world.
Even back when there were five candidates in the running, Rishi Sunak’s comment during a hustings that there was “unity” among all of the contenders when it came to “difficult decisions” over pay was revealing — whatever their view on the exact moment when Boris Johnson became a liability for their career prospects, the next Tory leader is guaranteed to be someone who will seek to further drive down living standards at a time millions are already feeling the squeeze.
From the bizarre proposal for regional pay boards that Liz Truss was forced to quickly bury to Sunak’s pledge to scrap degrees which “do not improve earning potential,” any pretence of the era of austerity being over increasingly feels like a distant memory.
And, as brutal as it was for communities across the country in 2010, the impact will be all the more savage in the context of having already experienced more than a decade of Tory rule, the experience of the pandemic and an enormous hike in prices and bills.
Naturally, this economic platform is set to be paired with an even more right-wing approach to foreign policy.
Truss has made it clear that militarism can expect to enjoy an exemption from austerity economics, committing to a further increase in defence spending (described as “jingoism and voodoo economics” by Chief Foreign Commentator for iNews Michael Day).
Sunak, meanwhile, seeks to prove his credentials on increasing tensions with China by demanding British educational institutions clamp down on the menace of Mandarin courses (a move which would no doubt be of great comfort to the millions worrying about how they will keep energy going in their homes over the coming months).
And in a campaign period which has seen yet another assault on the Palestinian people, which killed at least 49 (17 of which were children), both candidates have made their stance clear – with Sunak describing Israel as a “beacon of hope,” and Truss mooting the possibility of following in Trump’s footsteps and moving the British embassy to Jerusalem.
Both have pledged their support for the anti-democratic “Boycott Bill,” designed to squash international solidarity with a range of different causes.
With policies like these, it is perhaps understandable that they are keen to come up with gimmicks and distractions.
Sunak has announced his plans to focus on “standing up to left-wing agitators” and adding “vilification of the UK” to the government’s definition of extremism.
Truss wants to introduce a “British Bill of Rights” — not to enshrine the right to, say, housing or food of course, but to prevent legal challenges to the policy of deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda.
While some in the Tory Party seek to avoid the term “culture war” and others openly embrace it, there is a consensus in reality around ensuring that the political spectrum in Britain is narrowed down to a choice between neoliberalism and right-wing reaction.
This brings us to the question of the opposition.
There can be few moments in recent history, you might think, more favourable for a Labour leader: with a hugely unpopular Conservative Party mired in sleaze scandals and bitter faction fights overseeing an all-out assault on living standards, and being met with an increasingly confident response from the labour movement — including groups of workers who have traditionally been far from bastions of militancy.
Alas, the current leadership of the party seem determined to find ways to turn stories about Tory chaos into ones about internal Labour warfare.
The attempts to justify Sam Tarry’s removal as shadow minister for buses and local transport were, in some ways, even more telling than the act itself.
The stated grounds eventually shifted from the actual visiting of a picket line to supposedly “making up policy on the hoof” by saying that workers shouldn’t be expected to face a real terms pay cut!
Even Gordon Brown, hardly a hardened fighter for the Labour left, has made it clear that a stronger approach is needed.
This refusal to put forward a clear progressive alternative is not only wrong on principle, but missing a huge open goal. Poll after poll has shown overwhelming support for greater public ownership, including amongst Conservative voters.
The highly favourable response to media appearances from RMT representatives illustrates how strongly a message based in class politics resonates in the current period, as does the “Enough Is Enough” initiative’s launch video receiving over four million views in three days.
While the Tory circus rolls on, it’s up to the labour movement to rise to the occasion. That means supporting those fighting back (whether that be industrially or through campaigns and social movements), championing the platform being offered by organisations such as We Own It and left MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group, and, of course, ensuring this newspaper continues to be a consistent voice making the case for a better future!
This article originally appeared in The Morning Star