Editorial from the October issue of Socialist Alternative’s monthly paper. To get your copy, contact us!
“We’ve had twelve years of the Tories, we’re at the dregs of what they’ve got available, and Liz Truss is the backwash of the available MPs.” Comedian Joe Lycett articulated the thoughts of many when he appeared on the show ‘Sunday’ with Laura Keunssberg following Truss’s Tory leadership election victory.
Truss’s ascension to Number 10 was quickly overshadowed by the accession of King Charles III following the death of his mother the Queen. “Weak, vain, interfering, and ill-equipped for the role of sovereign” was the description of Charles in a Reuters article. At a time when the British capitalist establishment faces a crisis both in terms of its position as a player on the world stage and in support for its institutions, this change of monarch presents a major potential problem for the ruling class.
Over her seventy year reign, Elizabeth generally managed to remain popular by diligently cultivating an (ultimately false) perception of being ‘above’ politics. She even seemed to weather recent scandals including allegations of racism within the family, and the association of Prince Andrew with Jeffrey Epstein – although the royal family as a whole has been tarnished by these revelations.
Charles is significantly less popular than his mother and therefore unlikely to maintain public support for the monarchy in the same way. The new King’s decision to swiftly inform 100 employees at his former official residence that they face redundancy will do nothing to boost his popularity.
And whereas we’ve seen a mood of national unity around the Queen’s death – albeit manufactured by the ruling class through an extended period of mourning – will this mood extend to the new King? It seems that the new “Carolean” era will most likely be marked by the further decline of British capitalism and increased instability.
What’s more, the ruling class will face this new era without the same confidence that their ‘weapon of last resort’ in the form of the monarchy. They could well be deprived of their ability to act without the authority and support the Queen once enjoyed.
The Queen’s coronation cost the equivalent of £46 million today. Charles has said that his own will be less lavish, but the question remains, how will a state funded coronation sit with the public at a time of severe financial hardship for the majority of people? Indeed, the cost of living crisis continues to be the most urgent issue facing the UK as millions of people face the uncertainty posed by skyrocketing food prices and household bills.
Similar to Charles as King, the appointment of Liz Truss as PM is not a gift for British capitalism, with even the right-wing press seeing her as the Trump-like figure she is, and panicking that she will actually honour her campaign promises. Truss herself is not in a strong position, she beat Rishi Sunak by a fairly slim margin and with the support of less than a third of Tory MPs. Her difficult scramble to assemble a cabinet has thrown up a predictably right-wing and loyal selection of “small-state” climate sceptics and anti-choice campaigners including such “dregs” as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Thérèse Coffey.
There has been some praise from the mainstream media for the diversity of her cabinet, the other top three positions have been taken by Kwasi Kwarteng, James Cleverly and Suella Braverman – the first time ever that not one of the four is held by a white man – but that is as far as the diversity goes.
Only 25% of Tory MPs are women and 6% are from minority backgrounds; the majority of the cabinet were privately educated and all are representatives of the elite. More importantly, the policies these ministers plan to implement will have a devastating impact on working-class people – and on working-class women and people of colour especially.
Chancellor Kwarteng has already shown whose interests he will serve with his plan to scrap caps on bankers’ bonuses, perhaps thinking that this controversial move would be cushioned by the announcement of a £150 billion package to help with energy bills.
This dramatic state intervention is a U-turn from Truss who had initially dismissed the idea of “handouts” tohelp struggling households. She clearly has no problem with “handouts” to the rich. Truss is committed to tax cuts, which predictably the wealthiest will benefit the most from, something that she has fiercely defended, saying “The people at the top of the income distribution pay more tax so inevitably when you cut taxes you tend to benefit people who are more likely to pay tax”.
Whereas on the surface £150 billion may sound impressive – more than double Rishi Sunak’s furlough package – it is being spent so grotesquely unfairlythat the majority of the money will essentially go tobail out and subsidise the profits of the energy giants. Nationalising the sector, even in the way this might be done by a capitalist government, would be cheaper. Such an approach could give the state permanent control over prices and even, especially if coupled with a huge programme of public works, lay the foundation for a transition to green energy.
But as things stand, families will still be facing gas and electric bills that are more than double last year’s, with the poorest having to make the choice between heating and eating. It does nothing to address the rising costs of other essentials like food and clothing. Combined with the planned tax cuts, the richest households are set to receive twice as much financial support as the worst off.
Truss may have hoped that her dramatic announcement would give her a bounce, but the Queen’s death has diverted attention. And there’s the question of who pays the price for capping the costs. Of course it will be ordinary people who foot the bill – the money is being raised through government borrowing, the cost of which the Tories will inevitably seek to foist onto the working class through increased taxation and likely cuts to spending on public services.
Meanwhile the energy companies will continue to enjoy staggering profits – an estimated £170 billion in excess profits during the two year energy price freeze. Even Tory voters – 75% of them – would support a windfall tax in the face of this outrageous profiteering. Truss’s state intervention comes hand in hand with promises to increase domestic oil and gas production. On the same day as a major climate study revealed that the world is on the brink of five disastrous tipping points, Truss vowed to lift a three-year ban on fracking in England.
As we face an impending disaster for our living standards and even the planet, it’s clear that Truss and the Tories must go! This is not an insurmountable task – according to a recent YouGov poll only 12% expect Liz Truss to be a good leader, 52% expect her to be poor or terrible, and the Tories are in a very weak position. Unfortunately Labour fail to offer an inspiring alternative as time and time again Keir Starmer shows his commitment to reliability for the ruling class rather than the 99%. What has been inspiring is the militancy of workers taking strike action up and down the country.
The Queen’s death has had a temporary effect on momentum, with several strikes having been called off and trade union leaders taking the decision to delay the TUC congress. This is a mistaken approach, and usefulfor the Tories who will try to use “national unity” for the time being to stabilise a volatile political situation in Britain. But the cost of living crisis will not pause, and neither should struggle! Enough is Enough rallies and demonstrations have electrified many workers and young people who are seeing the need to fight back against the cost of living crisis and this rotten Tory government.
Liz Truss leads a weak and divided party. If the trade union movement is bold and decisive she can be forced back and her government forced out. These actions are a positive step and will need to be built on as the basis of a new left working class party of struggle. Socialist Alternative will play an active role in this, fighting for a socialist programme to kick out the Tories, abolish the monarchy and the whole rotten system!