England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

2024: A year of crisis and struggle begins

2024 begins with the acute crisis in Gaza looming over world and national events which is impacting on all levels of society, especially so in Britain. The Ukraine War enters its third year, with no end in sight, and the latest COP28 summit finished with no obvious commitment to keep to the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. 2024 has begun as 2023 ended; mired in crisis and disorder.

By Mike Forster, Socialist Alternative West Yorkshire

Britain’s economic and social woes are reflected in the unpopularity of this lame duck Tory government, which has reached new lows in opinion polls. According to the Resolution Foundation, the British economy is saddled with low economic growth, persistently high inflation and interest rates, as well as ongoing low productivity and wages. Towards the end of last year, the British economy went into reverse, contracting by 0.3% with no prospect of any immediate recovery. The most optimistic scenario for 2024 is stagnation or worse still, recession. The UK has entered a long period of stagflation, rising prices and a stagnant economy.

Energy bills will go up again by another 5% this year, near doubling the cost since 2020-21 and average food prices have shot up by 20% in the same period. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 7.3m families last year went without essentials such as a warm home, food or toiletries and 6m are going hungry or skipping meals.

Desperate to try and bribe his way out of the crisis, Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement last year proposed to reduce National Insurance by 2p, giving workers an extra £15pw or £2 per day. Yet this only reversed by only 20% the overall tax hike workers have faced in the last 18 months since Truss crashed the economy. Britain now has the highest tax levels for 75 years. 

Hunt’s Autumn budget revealed the sheer scale of British capitalism’s ongoing decline

These tax rises will coincide with the end of fixed rate mortgage deals for millions who own their own homes, who can expect a jump in housing costs of 40%. The situation in the rented sector is even worse. The average rent on a newly let home in Great Britain rose to £1,348 pcm in November 2023, up 10.2% or £125 pcm on the same month last year. That is the seventh double-digit increase in the last 12 months, as well as the highest November increase since at least 2013. In this context, it is no surprise that homelessness and evictions are on the rise.

All these factors will exacerbate the cost of living crisis. Hunt factored into his 2023 Autumn Statement hidden cuts in public spending of £20bn by 2025. This will impact massively on local councils which now face a spending black hole of £3.5bn. Nottingham was the fourth council in 2023 to declare bankruptcy with at least another 26 councils expected to follow suit this year. 

In reality, all public services are facing an unending crisis in social care, the NHS, and education. They will all face relative or absolute cuts over the next five years. Little wonder that 80% of the population believe public services are in crisis and that Britain is truly broken.

No end in sight for Tory crisis 

Facing this tsunami of problems, the Tory Party is tearing itself apart. In order to strengthen its fragile hold on power, the government has doubled down on its ‘Rwanda Plan’ – part of their campaign to scapegoat refugees and asylum seekers. However, this approach is only serving to further split the Tory Party which was already divided on how to approach it.

The ‘One Nation’ Tories have said they will not tolerate any further legal restrictions on asylum seekers, especially if it falls foul of the European Court of Human Rights, or the British Supreme Court. But the hard right in the Party are likewise biding their time, encouraged by last year’s resignation of Robert Jenrick who has veered to the right in an attempt to join Suella Braverman as the standard bearers of Trumpist right-wing policies in the Party. They are likewise intent on hardening up the policy. 

In reality, the Tories have reached an impasse. Immigration is not the electorate’s principal concern but Sunak is thrashing around to find a way of arresting electoral wipeout. By bringing David Cameron into his Cabinet, he is hoping to please both wings of his Party and has ended up being more isolated and unpopular. The Tories are on course for at least five years in opposition, if not longer. After the election, they are likely to spend the next few years fighting over the Tory Party’s future, but the rank and file members are seeking a rightward lurch to create a British right wing populist party which they assume could help them back into office. 

“In reality, the Tories have reached an impasse.”

Sunak’s admiration for the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, speaks volumes about their future direction of travel. This internal crisis in the Tory Party will open up a new chapter of ruptured politics which will pose serious future challenges for both the capitalist class and the left. 

Incoming Labour government will have nothing to offer 

These future developments will be exacerbated by Starmer’s retreat to the right as he gets closer to a general election. This reached a new low when he expressed his admiration for the hated ex-Tory PM Margaret Thatcher. Even Tony Blair is warning him not to go too far to the right! His unconditional support for the Israeli state in the Gaza conflict has brought him into conflict with ten of his shadow cabinet who resigned last year and numerous local councillors who have also stood down. Yet still he ploughs on imagining that his tack to the right will attract disillusioned Tory voters. Labour has now pledged to stick within the ‘fiscal rules’, and will not make any commitments to increase funding for public services.

There is huge public support for the renationalisation of failed privatised companies such as rail, water, or post, along with properly funding the NHS, education, social care and council services. Millions would be inspired by a party that placed these demands front and centre in a future general election, but unfortunately no such party will be on offer in 2024. Instead, we are being offered either Starmer or Sunak, and many working-class people would turn up their noses at both! Despite this, we are likely to see the return of Labour in the next general election, which will be taking place within the next 12 months, largely because of the massive unpopularity of the Tories.

Starmer’s lining up behind massacre in Gaza reveals his real pro-capitalist agenda

Starmer’s government will not enjoy the honeymoon which Tony Blair enjoyed in 1997 when he was first elected. It will be a government of immediate and prolonged crisis because of the acute economic problems they will inherit, along with the unstable international situation.

A Starmer government will not bring an end to the cost of living crisis that has crippled working-class households. Living standards will come under attack, essential services will be left underfunded and the huge gap between the rich and the poor will widen as Labour prove themselves loyal servants of the capitalist class. And anger will grow in society, exacerbated by the ongoing pledge of capitalist politicians to find the money for unending wars in Ukraine and the Middle East at the expense of the suffering masses at home and abroad.

Such a scenario raises the immediate prospect of growing opposition on the streets and in our communities. For socialists, trade unionists and other campaigners, that opposition poses the potential for a working-class fightback against the crisis of this system. 

But we won’t be the only ones looking to build an opposition to Labour. If we fail to do so, the Tory right, and reactionary right-wing parties like Reform UK will be able to pose as an alternative, echoing the gains of the far-right in Argentina, the Netherlands and elsewhere in 2023. As we recently saw in the Dublin riots, the chaos and crisis we are living through can be channelled in a dangerous, reactionary direction if the left and the workers’ movement fail to mount a serious challenge. There is a responsibility on the organised trade union and labour movement to guard and organise against such developments. 

“We won’t be the only ones looking to build an opposition to Labour. If we fail to do so, the Tory right, and reactionary right-wing parties like Reform UK will be able to pose as an alternative, echoing the gains of the far-right in Argentina, the Netherlands and elsewhere in 2023.”

Working-class resistance is key

In 2022-3, the UK witnessed the biggest strike wave for over 30 years. The seemingly inactive working class fought its way back into the public eye. For three months from the end of 2022 into the Spring of 2023, hardly a day passed without some form of strike action. Too often, union leaders struck deals for inflation pay rises well below inflation – refusing to mobilise their members and take the action as far as it could have gone.

However the Tories entered into these strikes saying there could be no negotiations or improvements in pay. Yet one by one, they reached settlements which went beyond what the government had been prepared to concede. This has not been lost on thousands of workers. It is clear that by getting organised we can resist the grinding down of our pay and living standards. 

Examples like the stunning victory won by workers at Ash Field Academy in Leicester, or National Express workers in the West Midlands, show that it was possible to win much more. Taking the lessons of these victories will be a crucial next step in rearming the workers movement in the coming year.  

“Examples like the stunning victory won by workers at Ash Field Academy in Leicester, or National Express workers in the West Midlands, show that it was possible to win much more.”

Whilst 2024 sees junior doctors and train drivers still on strike, the pay disputes went into a lull in the second half of 2023. But the cost of living crisis has not ended! This year, workers will be forced to engage in further battles to secure better pay rises. For example, in the NHS and education, workers are beginning to make plans for another round of industrial action. They will be joined by community activists angry about cuts to local services alongside young people fighting for the environment, against war, misogyny and transphobia. Through these movements, the call for an alternative to Labour will grow. Socialist Alternative will continue fighting for a mass left party of struggle to provide such an alternative.

2024 will also begin with further mass mobilisations against the genocidal attacks on Gaza which have so far seen millions taking to the streets worldwide, furious with the forced displacement and expropriation of the Palestinian people. This will be repeated in Britain until there is some kind of ceasefire. However, the anger expressed on the streets, and the polarisation this has caused, will leave a lasting legacy in our communities and on the streets for many years. Socialists will remain part of this anti-war movement, outlining and explaining a socialist answer to war and imperialism.

In the last four turbulent years, we have witnessed a pandemic, recession, inter-imperialist war and the cost of living crisis. During that period, Britain has had four prime ministers with unending political dramas and crises. Public faith in political parties is at an all time low and the never-ending economic malaise of British capitalism has produced eye watering gaps between the rich and the poor. Inequality in the UK, according to the Financial Times, is higher than any other European country. There is a general sense of unease which is feeding into a growing anger in communities that we cannot go on living like this.  

Whilst 2024 is likely to see the back of the Tory government, none of these acute problems will be resolved by a right-wing, Starmer-led government. Society needs, more than ever before, the socialist ideas which Socialist Alternative is fighting for, which offer hope for the future.

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