Liz Truss’s remarkable implosion has devastated the Conservatives’ poll lead despite their parliamentary majority – now is the time to build links between unions, campaigns and the left representatives in public office, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE
OVER five decades of political activity in Britain, I have seen plenty of governments that I didn’t think much of. But while there have been many unpopular administrations, it’s hard to remember any quite as shambolic and widely discredited as this one.
With a prime minister (and two of her most senior appointments) lasting less than two months and the spectacle of Tory MPs openly laying into the government in interviews, this is a Conservative Party that is not only unpopular but not taken seriously.
As it turned out, Liz Truss wasn’t even in the post long enough for the biography detailing her rise to power (designed as a cash-in for Christmas) to be published, let alone for the next general election.
Such a spectacular disintegration is all the more remarkable considering the large Conservative majority and the fact that, as recently as 12 months ago, they were still enjoying a 10-point lead in opinion polling.
But while the cost-of-living crisis and various sleaze and corruption scandals have undoubtedly driven this rapid collapse in support, the internal tensions on display also have some deeper roots.
There is a certain irony in the fact that the debate over Britain’s relationship with the European Union, an issue which probably caused more division in the Tory ranks than any other in post-war history, was ultimately what provided them with a get-out-of-jail card in the two elections they’ve managed to win a majority in over the last 30 years.
David Cameron’s opportunistic turn towards promising a referendum on membership, combined with Labour’s disastrous pledge to stick to George Osborne’s spending limits and accept the case for austerity, proved enough to counter the threat posed by Ukip in marginal seats in 2015, and Boris Johnson managed to hoover up support in Leave-voting areas three years ago, allowing the party to gain seats normally far beyond its reach.
Let’s look at two relatively recent examples of their weakness from recent history: failing to win a majority in 2010 in the aftermath of the financial crisis and a significant push to undermine Gordon Brown (including from some within the Labour Party: it’s always worth remembering that even the architect of New Labour’s economic programme was insufficiently committed to neoliberalism for the liking of many Blairites), and again in 2017 (despite a rather more vicious campaign waged against Jeremy Corbyn).
The pattern is clear: when the Tories are forced to talk about their actual policy agenda on substantive issues, they tend to fall flat.
And for all the gimmicks and distractions the Truss government tried to use, ranging from the surreal (ranting about “north London townhouses” at party conference) to the shameful (targeting refugees and asylum-seekers), the scale of the crisis facing millions of people is simply becoming too big to point away from.
As farcical as the soap opera in Parliament can get, the consequences of the policies being pursued there are set to be devastating.
A report from the social policy unit at the University of York warned that, even with the lightweight “rebate” being offered by the Tories, more than three-quarters of households in Britain are set to face fuel poverty by the new year.
This is a shocking statistic in and of itself, but it will be all the more damaging in the context of spiralling food prices and record high average rent levels in cities like London.
It’s little wonder then, that a party committed to squeezing the living standards of the already struggling majority to pay for the greed of the class they represent is also determined to close down the avenues through which people protest and resist their agenda.
The fact that recent industrial action has not only been highly effective, but, in spite of demonisation from the government and much of our media (with this paper being an honourable exception), met strong levels of public support has made them even more determined to introduce yet another round of anti-trade union legislation.
This clampdown also extends to street movements. Having passed the Police Act (described by Liberty as “a huge and dense piece of legislation with seriously worrying consequences”) earlier this year, ministers (and now ex-ministers) are targeting environmental protesters such as Extinction Rebellion with increasingly draconian rhetoric.
I don’t think I’m being too cynical when I suggest there may be a link between this and their promotion of the unpopular and dangerous policy of fracking.
Understandably, given the political situation inside the Labour Party, some on the left are debating the best way to organise and confront these attacks.
But, far from being separate options, it’s vital that we build unity between trade unions, social movements and left representatives in public office. Any of these growing in strength is an important boost to the others.
Without suggesting that Britain is about to see some sort of revolutionary upsurge in the immediate future, this truly looks like a governing party unable to go on ruling in the old way.
It’s up to all of us to ensure that what replaces it represents a better future for our communities and the planet we all depend on.
This article originally appeared in The Morning Star