Pawns in a wider game

15th November 2020

Cummings – merely a pawn?

Cronyism has always been part of the Tories’ stock in trade.  The old school tie network from Eton to Oxford, and onwards to the government and Cabinet, is a well worn route for the upper classes with aspirations.  The occasional upstart from the ranks of the lower middle classes are allowed through once in while but the Bullingdon Boys Club usually reasserts itself.

The pattern is mirrored in the upper echelons of the Civil Service, with the Oxbridge conveyor belt being the main supplier of Permanent Secretaries, designed to defend the status quo and all of the class privileges that come with it.  Scratch the surface of the UK’s spook services, MI5 and MI6, and the same pattern will emerge.  The Armed Forces ditto.

While industry and the business sector may allow for some degree of upward mobility, the system of knighthoods, lordships and sundry other honours are designed to make sure that those coming through the class glass ceiling and not going to be worrying too much about their roots.

Institutionally and constitutionally the Monarchy and the Church of England, as the State established church, are the cherry on the cake giving the veneer of longevity and legitimacy to the British ‘way of life’, stalwart safeguards against those who would denigrate British ‘values’.

The purpose of all of this backslapping camaraderie is to ensure that the capitalist system remains safe for capitalists and those who continue to benefit from the unequal distribution of resources, land and power.

The illusion of ‘democracy’ must be preserved however, which is why demagogues and petty tyrants will always identify themselves with the people, even when they are acting in ways which are diametrically opposed to the people’s interests.

Margaret Thatcher comparing running the economy to managing the household budget was one such ploy.  Boris Johnson’s talk of ‘levelling up’, a concept he patently has no interest in achieving, is another such Tory sleight of hand.  Failed TV personality and sometime millionaire, Donald Trump, built a successful pitch for the US Presidency around being an outsider and the voice of the ordinary disenfranchised US worker.  Trump may have been found out but he leaves behind a toxic legacy which will not be cleaned up overnight through the election of Joe Biden.     

The extent to which the working class can assert itself against such entrenched power and privilege depends to a large degree upon its strength in collective organisation and the ability of its leadership to expose the mendacity of those holding the reins of power.   

In the UK that means a Labour Party with a programme for change which can mobilise mass support on the streets and in communities, which can begin to speak truth to power and which must be committed at every level to change in society in the interests of the working class.  The stirrings of such an opportunity where there under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, certainly from 2015 to 2017, but were systematically extinguished by the enemies of change, both inside and outside of the Labour Party, resulting in the 2019 election defeat and the emergence of the supine Kier Starmer as Labour leader.

Having seen off the class enemy, for the time being at least, the ruling class can indulge in its own blood letting, having little opposition to deal with.   Thus, less than one year after an election victory which delivered an 80 strong Parliamentary majority, the inner circle around UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has fallen apart in spectacular fashion, with Director of Communications, Lee Cain, and chief political adviser, Dominic Cummings being shown the door.

The departures of Cain and Cummings are indicators of fissures which have been central to the Tory Party for half a century.  The faction which captured the high ground and ran a successful Brexit campaign is by no means representative of all Tory thinking.  There remains a strong allegiance in the Tory Party to a view which sees the safest haven for British capital as being within the EU bloc, better to exploit cheap East European labour and for the City of London to retain its pre-eminence in European financial trading.  There is broad agreement on this neo-liberal consensus in the Starmer led wing of the Labour Party.  

The Brexit leaning faction captured the populist high ground with a population disaffected by the lack of any tangible benefit to being in the EU and a Labour Party at war with itself, unable to articulate a clear alternative vision.  Johnson was a handy wise cracking poster boy, with little political conviction but enough ambition to front both the Leave campaign and the Tories election hopes.  His usefulness however, may be wearing thin.  As the deadline day for an EU trade deal looms, and the incompetence of the Johnson government has been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the pro-EU anti-Johnson Tories are beginning to make their play. 

In spite of his Parliamentary majority Johnson is not invulnerable.  There are those within the political establishment who would deeply desire a rapprochement with the EU.  The trade bloc may have its faults, even from a capitalist perspective, but is it better to sup with the devil you know than rely on the prospect of a trade deal with a volatile and divided United States?

The stakes remain high and there are many moves left to make.  Cain and, especially Cummings, may have an inflated sense of their self importance but could turn out to be mere pawns taken in a much wider opening gambit.  However the play develops, there will be no victory for the working class until the rules are changed, the board is cleared and new pieces are in play.  That will mean the Queen, knights and the bishops having to worry about their positions and their room for manoeuvre.

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