Blustering in Blackpool

12th June 2022

Johnson blusters in Blackpool, without illumination

It is said that the Roman Emperor Nero played upon his violin while Rome burned around him.  Hence the phrase, ‘fiddling while Rome burns’.  Whether the phrase does Nero an injustice or not, it can certainly be applied quite accurately to the attitude of British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, with regard to the economy.  Johnson, who it is now evident only enjoys the support of 59% of his own MPs, many of whom will be on the payroll, attempted to dodge his recent tribulations with a set piece speech in Blackpool on Thursday.  However, anyone looking for illumination will have been left pretty much in the dark as to what Johnson’s solution to the economic crisis might be.

“Sometimes the best way that government can help is simply to get out of the way”, blustered Johnson at one point, ironically echoing the views of millions that the sooner his administration gets out of the way, the better.  The Tories do not do irony though and Johnson, in true blue fashion, was talking about that old chestnut, deregulation.  Less state intervention, less regulation for the private sector, more cutting corners on health and safety.

Tax cuts, aways the cornerstone of Tory populist rhetoric were promised at some point, in an attempt to appease the 148 MPs who voted no confidence in Johnson.  The revival of an irresponsible Thatcherite policy, the right to buy, extended to housing associations was also trailed.  The dire consequences of Thatcher’s 1980’s policy, of taking significant amounts of housing stock out of the Council sector and into the market place, are still being felt in communities across Britain, where the concept of ‘affordable’ housing is for many a pipe dream.

In a further example of Johnson’s distance from reality he suggested that those on housing benefit should be able to use those benefits to get mortgages and buy their own homes.  Clearly Johnson has not had to deal with the realities of the property market recently, the difficulty of saving for a deposit while paying exorbitant rent, or the likelihood of lenders committing to support a mortgage application based upon your housing benefit income!

There is also the small matter of banks overreaching themselves, by lending to those who could not actually afford to pay, being a key factor in the 2008 financial crash.  Not a detail to concern Johnson though nor was the fact that it has been twelve years of Tory government, as the architects of austerity, which has seen the economy tank in such a way.

The OECD predicts that, of the world’s twenty leading economies, only Russia will have weaker growth than Britain next year.  In the face of this Johnson claims that voters can be “confident that things will get better, that we will emerge from this as a strong country with a healthy economy.”

As ever with Johnson, the detail was thin.  Quite who would emerge and in what state from ‘this‘ was left to the collective imagination, though it is a fair bet that it will be Johnson’s cronies who come out of it in better shape than most working families.   

With petrol heading for £2 a litre and energy bills set to soar further in the autumn it is hard to see where any real solace for working class families will come.  Where efforts to improve terms and conditions are made, as with rail strikes called by the RMT union at the end of June, workers are immediately demonised by the right wing press and the political establishment as ‘irresponsible’.  The action of the 50,000 RMT members could be joined by members of the clerical and professional staff union in the rail industry, TSSA, who are soon to take a vote in opposition to compulsory redundancies and in support of a cost of living pay increase.

A leader who has presided over the highest pandemic death rate in Europe, while throwing house parties; extended Tory mismanagement of the economy; is prepared to tear up international treaties to appease Unionists in Northern Ireland; and who is incapable of sticking to a policy line from one week to the next is apparently good enough for 211 Tory MPs. 

There should be scope for Labour to tear apart a Tory Party so divided that it cannot find an alternative leader more coherent than that.  However, Labour led by Kier Starmer has hardly strayed into such territory.  While Johnson was backing the architecture of austerity for the past decade, Starmer was one of the architects of Jeremy Corbyn’s demise, as Labour sought to make itself safe for the political establishment once again.

So, Labour is not proposing to reverse the disastrous ‘right to buy’ policy and insist on new council housing being built.  Labour is not proposing to stop pouring weapons in to the right wing nationalist government of Ukraine in order to de-escalate the conflict with Russia and seek a peaceful solution.  Labour is not proposing to nationalise energy companies in order to take back control and moderate prices for the consumer.  Labour is not proposing to nationalise the entire rail network in order to ensure health and safety standards are met for staff and the travelling public.  Labour is certainly not likely to be supporting striking rail workers.

All of these things are just modest adjustments within the terms of the capitalist economy.  They are not revolutionary, though a commitment to them might at least indicate a willingness to contemplate such a path. 

With a leader like Johnson it is little surprise that the Tories fiddle while Rome burns but for Labour simply playing second fiddle should not be good enough.  A plan to rise from the ashes of austerity is required, a sense of purpose, which will galvanise extra-Parliamentary action to force the Tories out and demand real change.  A manifesto for the many, not the few.

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