There is a genuine appetite for real change among the wider public, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE
THERE are many things the Conservative Party’s leadership election did not offer: an unexpected outcome being one of them.
In a contest so often dominated by talk of which figures turned on the previous prime minister, it was hard to find anything vaguely substantial in the way of actual politics.
That the European Research Group faction of MPs backed Liz Truss, who called for a Remain vote in 2016, in order to stop a pro-Leave Rishi Sunak is indicative of how many endorsements and alliances have been based purely on recent events.
So what can we expect from Truss in office?
As some commentators have noted, she was one of five Conservative MPs to co-author Britannia Unchained two years after first being elected to Parliament.
Infamous for its claim that workers in Britain were “amongst the worst idlers in the world,” the book served as something of a manifesto for a resurgent Tory right — championing wholehearted Thatcherite neoliberalism and decrying “a bloated state, high taxes and excessive regulation.”
Her very first day as prime minister has shown just how shallow this kind of politics is, with the government announcing what is effectively a £100 billion bailout for private energy companies — in a period where several have announced record profits.
For these devotees of the free market, intervention to ensure workers get decent pay, schools are properly funded or our health service can provide quality care to all those in need of it is unthinkable — but when it comes to offering firms ripping off the public a helping hand, the state has a responsibility to step up.
Whatever libertarian mantras they recite, the key question for Tories like these is not really the size of the state, but who it serves.
When the Conservatives adopted a national populist image in the aftermath of the Leave vote, media pundits consistently talked of them “parking their tanks on Labour’s lawn.”
Despite having made front pages photographed in a tank while foreign secretary (in a move that was undoubtedly all about British-Estonian relations and nothing to do with attempting to channel Margaret Thatcher), Truss appears to have swapped this for a drill.
With plans to put fracking on the agenda once again, it’s clear that people and planet will both be ranked below corporate greed when it comes to the priorities of this government.
If the example of her predecessor is anything to go by, the government is likely to try and distract from its policy agenda on the big issues with all sorts of stunts and gimmicks.
Even back when he stood against me for the London mayoralty, Boris Johnson’s various eccentric antics were always part of a calculated strategy — he never ran on a platform telling people he was going to carry out the closure of 10 fire stations.
We can expect plenty more comments along the lines of the bizarre claims Truss made during the leadership election, along with more sinister policies designed to promote division and target the right to protest.
And as I highlighted in a previous column for this paper, we can expect an even worse foreign policy — including increased militarism and attempts to undermine the peace process in Ireland for jingoistic posturing.
However, this is a hugely unpopular and unstable Conservative Party. According to YouGov less than a quarter of the public say they are pleased to see Truss take over, and the cost-of-living crisis combined with sleaze and corruption scandals have hit their support hard.
The Prime Minister’s position within the party itself is far from solid either. While there may have been an element of complacency with the outcome long considered a formality, her margin of victory was noticeably smaller than the rout many anticipated.
She was never the preferred choice of a majority of Tory MPs, with figures including veteran rightwinger Liam Fox opting for Sunak: and even among those opposed to the latter there was an often bitter row over which candidate should face him.
Most importantly, there is an increasingly apparent appetite for real change among the public.
We are not only seeing a new wave of industrial action, but widespread sympathy with it: with polls showing majority support for CWU members in dispute with Royal Mail, and rising backing for the RMT despite government and media demonisation.
The Enough Is Enough initiative now has around six million views on its launch video, and its rallies have seen packed venues.
This revolt against a system that squeezes living standards to fund ever-increasing profits is extending beyond areas of the country and parts of the workforce considered traditional bastions of the labour movement, with barristers among those out on strike in recent weeks.
Lamentably, Labour (alongside many other traditional left-leaning parties across Europe) missed a huge opportunity to make the case for a new economic model in the aftermath of the 2007-8 banking crisis because all too many senior figures remained (and remain) wedded to the policies that caused it.
It’s vital that this doesn’t happen again: all those fighting back against the reactionary agenda Truss represents should be supported, and so should those figures prepared to stand with them.
This article originally appeared in The Morning Star