England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Tories and Labour in crisis as siege on Gaza continues

Editorial from issue 41 of our monthly paper Socialist Alternative

In recent months, shockwaves have run through British politics. The leaders of both the main capitalist parties have faced the biggest internal crises of their tenures in office so far. Rishi Sunak was forced into a showdown with the new face of the Tories’ ultra-Trumpification – Suella Braverman. Meanwhile, Keir Starmer suffered a humiliating rebellion in parliament, along with a swathe of resignations ranging from cabinet to local council level across the UK.

While both parties’ crises have their own peculiar features, it is not hard to see the thread which tied them both together: the angry reaction of working-class people in England, Wales, Scotland and internationally at the unprecedented slaughter underway in the Gaza strip.

This is yet another example of global events having a massive impact on the domestic political situation in this new ‘age of disorder’. Socialists, as the only true internationalists, understand that while the capitalist system’s ruling-class gangs are national, its crises are international and it is global processes that set the tone for developments. The war on Gaza has also provoked crises for governments and establishment parties outside of Britain, with Joe Biden paying a price in the polls for his full-throated backing of the Israeli state’s bloody revenge attack. Egypt’s dictatorship has faced mass criticism in historic protests against the war and French President Macron has been forced into a hypocritical attack on the Netanyahu government’s military tactics.

International mass movement

These crises have erupted under the pressure of a growing mass protest movement internationally, giving voice to the outrage and solidarity felt by working-class and young people. As part of this, London saw one of the biggest antiwar demonstrations in recent history on 11 November, and local demonstrations have filled cities, towns and villages. With seemingly no end in sight to what has already become the bloodiest round of violence in the region since the 1948 Nakba, as the Israeli state intensifies its assault on Gaza and the threat of a wider regional war still looms large, the evolution of this movement will prove crucial.

The involvement of the organised working class, which has begun to play a more distinct role in the movement, is especially important and must be developed further to bring the full power of the working class into play. Socialist Alternative and ISA internationally (including our sister organisation in Israel-Palestine, Socialist Struggle Movement) have participated fully in this movement, offering a programme to stop the war and end occupation, siege and oppression through mass working-class struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

New stage of Tory crisis

Following Boris Johnson’s fall from power and Liz Truss’ defeat by a lettuce, the Tory right (not that they have a left!) was disorientated. While Rishi Sunak did not represent a meaningful retreat from the party’s post-2016 ‘Trumpification’, his arrival in Number 10 did significantly set back the internal cliques most firmly committed to taking this agenda further.

In recent months, these cliques have gone on the offensive and are attempting to reassert themselves. Suella Braverman, who now claims to have done a dodgy deal with Sunak in return for serving in his cabinet, emerged as their most prominent spokesperson. In the last few weeks of her time as Home Secretary, Braverman seemed to be simply googling “bizarre right-wing talking points” before making remarks in public.

From disgusting remarks about the homeless victims of the capitalist cost of living crisis, to particularly rabid anti-refugee rhetoric, Braverman finally hit peak “batshit” (to use her replacement James Cleverly’s alleged language) by attacking the racist, misogynistic London Met as supposed lefties, when criticising their allegedly soft treatment of protests for Palestinian lives – which she grotesquely dismissed as “hate marches”.

These provocations, which were combined with a clear challenge to Sunak’s authority, forced the PM to take Braverman and her cronies on, reshuffling the cabinet to sack her. Socialist Alternative’s readers will correctly be under no illusions as to this signifying any progressive credentials on Sunak’s part, who has sent not only many words of support, but warships to back the massacre in Gaza.

What this crisis ultimately represents is internal Tory fragmentation being accelerated as crises, poor polling and by-election disasters multiply, constantly enlarging the shadow of the Tories’ coming electoral oblivion. While Sunak’s desperate move to bring David Cameron back to the front line is a humiliating abandonment of his claims to lead a ‘change’ regime, it will not save his skin, and Tory crises will rumble on.

Neither will Braverman and her ilk be able to avert catastrophe for the Tory government. To a significant extent she actually represents a wing of the party committed to rebuilding the Tory brand as a turbocharged right wing populist opposition under a Labour government, which seems increasingly likely to follow the next general election. Internationally, they look to Trump in the US, who is currently leading the polls for the 2024 Presidential election, and the historic victory of the far-right Javier Milei in Argentina, as blueprints to regain power.

Labour

As Starmer’s Labour Party inches closer to government, its own crisis has given us further indications of what it will look like in power. In purging the left and failing to support workers fighting the cost of living crisis, Starmer has already gone out of his way to reassure the British ruling class that he intends to govern in their interests. Now, in relation to the war on Gaza, Starmer has fully channelled his inner Blair, and committed himself to act as a lapdog for Western imperialism. His refusal to support the widespread and very moderate demand for a ceasefire has badly exposed his leadership to millions of working-class people, many of whom Labour complacently rely upon as a loyal voting base.

In response, the crisis in Labour quickly surfaced with the resignation of dozens of figures, including hardcore Blairite MP Jess Phillips from the Labour frontbench. Councillors have resigned in several areas, and cost Labour overall control of councils including Burnley and Oxford.

Starmer’s opposition to a ceasefire, and other horrendous statements, including in defence of Israel’s ‘right’ to cut off food, water and medicine from Gaza, have had a powerful impact on the consciousness of many. Increasingly, local Labour MPs have become preferred targets for local anti war protests, with working-class communities correctly demanding accountability from those pretending to serve them.

Following the strike wave and the Labour leadership’s abject failure to defend working-class people, their betrayal of this new mass movement should be fully registered by union members and community campaigners everywhere. Put simply, what is on offer from Starmer’s Labour is yet another pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist government, and our class will need to organise to fight for our interests if it wins power. In Scotland, the SNP have called for a ceasefire, but it has no interest in waging such a struggle, which would require breaking with the interests of capitalism and imperialism.

Of course, many working-class people will vote Labour despite all this, such is the desire to send the Tories packing. However, in order to fight for our interests in the midst of the terrible crises of capitalism, the working class needs a party of its own.

We would support any steps by fighting trade unionists, those breaking from Labour and all those committed to building a genuine left voice coming together to discuss how this can be built. Left-wing figures such as Jeremy Corbyn and the leaders of the anti-war movement could use the mass demonstrations currently taking place as a launchpad for a new left party, based on the struggles of working-class people, youth and all the oppressed armed with a programme against imperialism, war, and capitalism.

Far more than just an electoral vehicle, such a party would make it possible to turn the sit-ins, blockades and trade union action currently being organised against arms companies and those complicit in the occupation into a mass, coordinated struggle to shut down Britain’s role in the war machine.

Such a party could bring together working-class struggles in the workplace, schools and communities, for workers’ demands over pay conditions, against gender violence and transphobia, against climate destruction, against racism, against war and all imperialism. A socialist alternative which breaks the power of the super-rich ruling elite, by taking the key sectors of the economy into public democratic ownership and putting society’s resources to work for people and the planet, must be fought for now more than ever. 

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