England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Tory vs. Tory-lite: Which way forward after the election?

The Tories are gasping their last desperate breath before their 14 years in office comes to an end. After 14 years of ruthless austerity, a crumbling NHS, the super-rich getting richer and the rest of us getting poorer, millions will vote to finally get the Tories out.

But a Labour government will be just as committed to serving the interests of big business, as Starmer’s current purge of Left MPs further demonstrates. A new left, anti-war political party with socialist policies must be urgently built to challenge the capitalist parties.

“Things can only get wetter”

When Sunak announced the 4 July General Election, drenched in rain and drowned out by the tune of D:Ream’s “Things Can Only Get Better”, reports came in of Tory MPs in a state of disbelief. Ministers had been ambushed with this shock announcement.

There is currently deep depression in the Tory Party. Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker has reportedly chosen to holiday in Greece rather than knock on doors. The re-emergence of Nigel Farage, taking over the racist right-wing Reform UK party poses even more trouble. Around 80 Tory MPs have quit before facing their electoral oblivion, with a number hopping on Farage’s bandwagon. These are rats jumping from a sinking ship.

Sunak trails Labour by around 20 points. Clearly, he wants the defeat out of the way so he can retire to California with his billionaire buddies. But despite a temporary ‘recovery’ in the economy, things still look bleak for the rest of us. Unemployment, inflation and interest rates all look set to rise as the bosses make workers pay for their crisis. Meanwhile, war and militarism are surging around the world, and “our” capitalist leaders have a lot of blood on their hands.

National Service: A sad, desperate joke

Filling the headlines is Sunak’s announcement of mandatory ‘National Service’ for 18 year olds. Giving young people the ‘choice’ of either military service for a year or 25 days of compulsory ‘volunteering’. This has been universally, and deservingly, met with ridicule. Instead of meaningful jobs and affordable housing, all this government has to offer young people is forced labour and conscription!

But why has Sunak made this bizarre pledge at this time? He is, above all, interested in waging a Trump-style campaign, relentlessly demonising Palestine solidarity protesters (“extremists”), along with migrants, refugees and all those who the ruling class can use as scapegoats. But it also reflects the growing drive to war internationally. The Israeli state’s genocidal onslaught on Gaza, the war in Ukraine and the power struggle between US and China give an alarming window into capitalism’s new Age of Disorder.

Sunak and Starmer have tried to paint this ‘New Cold War’ as a conflict between ‘dictatorship’ and ‘democracy’, but neither side represents the interests of workers and youth. They are solely in it for their prestige and power. We need to build an international, anti-war movement, based on mass struggle and demanding money for jobs, education, health and the climate, not for arms!

Starmer will be no alternative

Though Labour are likely to win, this doesn’t mean Starmer and his pro-war, pro-capitalist platform are popular. He has endlessly promised ‘change’ from chaos and instability on the campaign trail. But that chaos for working class people did not just come from the Tories alone. It came from the system that they represent: capitalism. This is why sewage has been pumped into our rivers by the water companies. This is why young renters cannot dream of ever owning a home. And Labour promises no break from this profit-first system, which would be needed to truly end the chaos.

Starmer has placed Labour ‘back in the service’ not of working people, but of the bosses, warmongers and imperialists. He has lined up with the brutal Israeli slaughter in Gaza, supporting the “right” of Israel to cut off food, water and electricity to the Palestinians. It is only thanks to the mass movement on the streets for a permanent ceasefire that he has since been forced to backtrack slightly.

He has made extremely clear how his government will fund militarisation and war, promising to ramp up arms spending. He has pledged to use repressive state powers and take on the Tories’ ‘law and order’ mantle, and is looking to deport and operate the existing ‘hostile environment’ policy for refugees more efficiently than the Tories, even trying to place himself to the right of the Tories’ rotten campaign on the issue of immigration.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, meanwhile, has bent over backwards to show her credentials as a safe pair of hands for the bosses. And it has worked! On 27 May, a public letter was published from 121 multi-millionaires, including executives and former executives in JP Morgan, Heathrow, Aston Martin and infamous anti-union exploitative employer JD Sports. One of these bosses, Heathrow airport owner John Holland-Kaye was a ruthless profiteer who gained infamy during the pandemic for firing and rehiring over 4,000 airport staff and pocketing the proceeds.

Speaking the next day, Reeves promised to lead “the most pro-growth, pro-business Treasury our country has ever seen”. It is no surprise that, Reflecting Keir and Rachel’s pals in the corporate world, pro-worker policies have been thrown in the bin. Banning fire and rehire? No more. Taxing the rich? Forget about it. Scrapping tuition fees? Keep dreaming.

Likewise in Scotland, although Labour are set to win back seats from the SNP, this does not mean Scottish Labour is popular. Many will ‘hold their noses’ and cast their vote Labour to get the Tories out.
The SNP’s poor expected performance reflects a deeper crisis for a party which has been mired by numerous corruption scandals. But it has also failed over the last decade to mount a serious challenge for a second independence referendum, instead relying on a dead-end strategy on relying on Britain’s undemocratic court system. Their support for big business policies and privatisation have also damaged the idea that they represent a ‘progressive’ and left-wing alternative.

None of this means the mood for independence and self-determination among millions of workers and youth in Scotland has disappeared however. Rather it must be channeled into a new left party, fighting for independence with a socialist programme based on workers’ struggle – something the SNP has no interest in building.

Only mass struggle will bring change

Undoubtedly, millions will cast their votes to get the Tories out. But Starmer’s government will quickly be marred by deep crisis. Starmer’s inability to solve the issues faced by working-class people will breed the kinds of disappointment and discontent which, in country after country, has been seized by the far-right. Farage and Reform’s campaign has already sought to fill this vacuum. If a fighting, left and socialist alternative is not built, right-wing forces will fill the vacuum created by disappointment with Labour.

Only mass resistance will bring change under a Labour government. Some union leaders will inevitably try to put a pause on the struggle of the trade unions, under the guise of ‘giving Starmer a chance’ and to “see what he will do”. But he has already made clear what he will do! The unions must prepare for a new round of struggle, pouring resources into recruiting thousands of new, fighting union reps to rebuild a new strike wave which can send a clear message to Starmer that workers will not be taken for granted. The junior doctors’ strike from 27 June to 2 July (two days before the election) points towards the kind of action needed.

The mass movement against the genocidal onslaught on Gaza will also need to be pushed to the next level. To force an end to British arms deliveries to Israel, unions would need to prepare mass workers’ action, with workers refusing to produce, transport and ship the weapons used to destroy Rafah. This would not only strike a blow against the war machine – it would also show the power of the working class majority when organised and prepared to fight.

Build a new party!

We urgently need a new left anti-war party with socialist policies to provide a meaningful alternative to Labour. Starmer has purged every last trace of the Corbyn era from the Labour Party, including Corbyn himself, along with the horrific targeting of Diane Abbott and Faiza Shaheen.

Socialist Alternative welcomes and strongly supports the decision of Corbyn and other anti-war, left-wing independents to stand under the banner of ‘No Ceasefire, No Vote’. Independent campaigns to defend Corbyn and Shaheen’s seats would create further space for discussions about building a crucial working-class opposition to a Starmer government. But we can’t stop there! We must use these campaigns as the launchpad for a new left party, led by and for working-class people and youth.

A mass conference of resistance after the election could serve as a focal point for building this alternative. This should bring together those fighting to defend Corbyn and Shaheen, those who have taken part in the historic mass protests in solidarity with the people of Gaza, junior doctors and other workers out on strike for a decent pay rise, and all others looking to build a fighting resistance, to lay the basis for a new party.

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