In the UK, the stakes couldn’t be higher
Liz Truss builds a policy of ‘collision racing’ as Labor casts itself as a government-in-waiting rather than an opposition force. Dr David Jenkins argues that if the coming Conservative onslaught is to be resisted, the British people will have to resort to militant action at street level.
Comment: In her acceptance speech, in which Liz Truss put into practice the advice she once gave former Tory MP Rory Stewart to ‘never say anything interesting’, the new leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister Briton paid tribute to his “friend” Boris Johnson. for “delivering Brexit, the Covid vaccine, and resisting Russian aggression”.
Truss has played in conservative galleries throughout her campaign, and part of that has been portraying herself as something of a continuity contender. Even though her path to the premiership was paved by the withdrawal of support from 60 MPs, she was careful to distance herself from the long-awaited knives that were planted in Johnson’s back.
But even with this cautious maneuver, Truss comes to power with less than a 60% share of membership support – she is the only candidate (out of four) to win since the introduction of all-member voting in 1998.
Moreover, and as far as the day-to-day running of the party is concerned, more importantly, Truss is not a favorite among his party’s members in parliament. Going into the selection process, she was not the favorite to win. (Interestingly, the chief whips – the people responsible for maintaining discipline among backbench MPs – all backed Rishi Sunak, her rival in the final stages of the contest.)
Truss has now assembled her team, which has no room for Sunak but has found positions for Kemi Badenoch, the “anti-revival,” daytime culture warrior; Jacob Rees-Mogg, an ardent Brexiteer committed to waging war on the civil service and the public sector in general; and Suella Braverman, who as Attorney General launched sustained attacks on the justice system and who now, as Home Secretary, is promising an even tougher (read: barbaric) stance on the immigration.
All of this provides part of the party political context in which the newly formed government must confront a number of converging crises. Rampant inflation, a cost of living crisis, precipitating a probable debt crisis for millions, an energy crisis, an increasingly troubled relationship with the EU, in which the protocol of the North Island and a promised “bonfire” of European regulations looms large and the ongoing climate crisis.
The British people must be prepared to learn and use the arsenal of rent strikes, walkouts, boycotts, sit-ins – anything that refuses to accept an unbearable and unsustainable status quo.
Where Truss has been clear about how to deal with these issues — like supporting fracking and granting 130 oil and gas drilling licenses — his proposals are both chilling and absurd. Once an exploration permit is granted, for example, it takes almost 30 years before anything comes out of the ground.
Where she has been less clear – for example, by promising to appoint a group of “world-class experts” whose advice will be taken – her ideological position on a number of issues indicates that, whatever proposals will arrive, they will be just as frightening.
Truss doesn’t even have the usual orthodoxies behind her. Throughout her candidacy, she has consistently emphasized the importance of tax cuts to her economic vision, though this is widely dismissed by institutions like the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and even the Fund. international monetary policy (IMF). When asked to name an expert who supported this policy, she could only name one, Patrick Minford.
As his cabinet selection signals, Truss does not reach out to the factions that split his own party. On the contrary, the evidence is that Truss is constructing a policy of “collision course”: we are entering the country of the “shock doctrine”, where a crisis should never be allowed to go to waste. Europe, borders, workers’ civil rights to strike, citizens’ rights to protest, the role of the justice system, climate change, redistribution, the so-called ‘culture wars’ – all of this will be used to divide , antagonize and push through an agenda that the majority of the British people do not support.
The small-c conservative – consisting of pragmatic adjustment policy in which the complexities inherent in reform must be at the top of politicians’ minds – has always been a useful rhetorical tool for conservatives.
But, in reality, the biggest trick the party ever pulled was convincing people that it was committed to such a variant of conservatism.
As co-author of Britannia Unchained, a pamphlet in which a new breed of Conservative politicians laid out the roadmap for a more libertarian and less regulated Britain, the current juncture offers plenty of opportunities to play ‘destruction creative” until the next elections. (Wes Streeting, Labor’s shadow secretary of health and social care, has blamed the Tories’ continued underinvestment in the NHS as showing they plan to even lose the next election, so time press on all that can be done.)
Despite all the talk of a restless party, with rumors that Johnson may even be trying to make a comeback, the Tories still have an 80-seat majority that the party, despite their ambivalence towards Truss, will wield unscrupulously.
Even more worrying is the fact that it is not entirely clear where a sufficiently strong opposition will come from. The unions, together with some Labor MPs, have launched a campaign, ‘Enough is enough’, which calls for real wage increases, lower energy bills, an end to fuel poverty, decent housing for all and a higher tax bill for the wealthy.
Only time will tell how successful it will be, but Labor as a whole has failed to support it. Presumably wanting to maintain their lead in the polls, the “managers” of this so-called socialist party did little to support them, ordering MPs to stay away from strikes by railway workers.
Labor presents itself as a government-in-waiting, rather than some sort of opposition force. But if the coming conservative onslaught – its regulatory bonfires, its culture wars, its murderous use of borders – is to be resisted, militant action at the street level will be needed.
The British people must be prepared to learn and use the arsenal of rent strikes, walkouts, boycotts, sit-ins (perhaps a British variant of Indian hartals) – anything that refuses to accept an unbearable status quo and unsustainable. The stakes couldn’t be higher.