There is nothing more dangerous than a wounded and cornered animal. Following the Tories’ appalling showing in the July by-elections in Selby, Somerset, and Uxbridge, Sunak has learnt only one thing from their electoral humiliation – choosing to double down on culture wars, climate denial and general right wing populism.
The Tories’ only ray of light was the election result in Uxbridge which they narrowly won by attacking the Ultra Low Emission Zone. Ironically this was originally introduced by the then Greater London mayor, Boris Johnson. Sunak’s conclusion from this hollow victory is to claim the Tories are on ‘the side of the motorist’, to increase drilling in the North Sea for gas and oil, and to order a review into all traffic calming measures across the country.
By choosing to ignore the alarming increase in international climate disasters throughout the summer, Sunak is instead pitting the party against all scientific evidence in order to try to mitigate a worse electoral disaster in next year’s general election.
Desperate Tories seek to blame migrants
These measures have also been followed by a dramatic increase in vile and racist rhetoric against asylum seekers and refugees who are seeking to relocate to the UK. During August, the month when news stories usually slow down, the Tories sought to monopolise the headlines with increasingly rabid attacks on what they call ‘small boats’, seeking to house refugees on barges, in army barracks, or deporting them to the Ascension Islands as well as Rwanda. The Vice Chair of the party, Lee Anderson took his cue from Tory central office by publicly wishing refugees would ‘f**k off back to France’, taking the so-called debate even further into the gutter.
Yet every measure they have announced has ended in embarrassment and disaster for Sunak: the deportation proposal remains tied in up in the courts; refugees had to be escorted off the barge Bibby Stockholm after a dire warning of legionella bacteria with one refugee saying the government was ‘endangering’ migrants and treating them like ‘less than animals’. Meanwhile, local opposition to the use of army barracks has left the plans in disarray.
These failures will not stop the Tories from continuing their attacks on refugees and asylum seekers. They are merely seen as collateral damage in the government’s increasingly desperate attempts to shore up electoral support by trying to divide anti-Tory sentiment, despite all their failures. However by shifting the party further rightwards, they attract even more criticism from within their own party, including even Priti Patel, and with Zac Goldsmith now threatening to vote Labour, having already resigned from the government around the whole issue of the environment. As Sunak’s electoral base narrows, we can expect even more wild swings to the right as we edge closer to a general election.
This therefore puts into sharper focus the alternative response offered by Labour. This has been an even greater disappointment for those who see voting Labour as the best way to get rid of the Tories. On the environment, Starmer has ditched Labour’s earlier pledge to introduce ultra low emission zones across the country.
Referring to the by-election defeat in Uxbridge, Starmer said: ‘In an election, policy matters and we are doing something very wrong if policies put forward by the Labour Party end up on each and every Tory leaflet.’ While criticising the Tories’ failed barges policy, Labour has continued to argue they would have to be used in the short term until they could clear the backlog of asylum applications and has now ditched its previous commitment to ‘open borders’.
These ‘Tory-lite’ responses come alongside backsliding on just about every progressive policy announcement over the last two years. Starmer has scrapped the pledge to get rid of tuition fees and Universal Credit; abandoned the £28bnper-year Green Prosperity Plan; backtracked on creating publicly-owned ‘Great British Energy’; pulled back on pledges to tax the highest earners and the big tech companies. He has even announced that they will not block the government plans to develop the new huge Rosebank oil field off the Shetland Islands.
Taken together with the clamping down on any internal dissent within the Labour Party and the expulsion of literally thousands of left-wing critics, Starmer is busy making Labour a safe pair of hands for British capitalism. Although it is looking increasingly likely that Labour can win the next election, for millions of working class people, a Starmer-led Labour Party will not be reversing decades of Tory misery and decline.
All of which begs the question, is there any left-wing alternative to right-wing Labour? Support for parties left of Labour, such as the Greens in the recent by-elections, shows what might be possible. The sudden implosion of the Scottish National Party can open up space for a serious left challenge in Scotland around a bold call for Scottish independence, linked to a fight against attacks on working class people, including the defence of trans rights.
The campaign of Jamie Driscoll, the newly announced independent candidate for the North East Mayoral Combined Authority, has sparkwwwwed excitement among left forces in that region. Jamie is the current mayor but was barred from standing for Labour by Starmer. Now he has decided to stand as an independent. The Liverpool Community Independents have enjoyed limited but significant electoral success, also standing on a more radical left-wing ticket. They have now linked up with other smaller left wing groups to launch ‘Transform Politics’ which is pledging to stand in the next general election.
These are the beginnings of small green shoots which show the potential for Socialist Alternative’s call for a new left-wing party of mass struggle. As yet these forces are at an extremely early stage. We believe that, as disillusionment with a Starmer government takes hold, such forces can develop if they base themselves on working class struggle, supporting unions in struggle, fighting the Tory (and Labour) anti-refugee and antitrans agenda alongside community resistance to further attacks on our living standards. As such, we welcome these developments to the left of Labour, but will continue to raise our demands for such formations to adopt the fighting socialist programme and strategy that we need to build a movement against this rotten system.
We fight for:
- A mass rank-and-file conference of union and community activists to discuss next steps for the struggle against the Tories, including the question of political organisation
- A new left-wing party of mass struggle, democratically organised by and for workers and young people
- The adoption of bold socialist policies which must address the burning issues of poverty, low wages, poor housing, climate destruction and for mass united working class action against all forms of oppression and the capitalist system which breeds them