Britain is in a profound crisis - the deepest in peacetime. From being one of the most stable countries in Europe, it has become the most unstable. In the coming months, this crisis will only intensify.
The serious strategists of capital are terrified of what is in store for them. Big business is wringing its hands. Johnson, who was not the desired candidate of the ruling class, is a wild card in the pack. He is dangerously unpredictable and cannot be trusted by the establishment.
Desperate to remain as prime minister, Boris is prepared to gamble everything in order to stay in Number 10, including leaving the EU without a deal. For him, carrying out Brexit before the current 31st October deadline is “do or die”, and to hell with the consequences. This could set in train a process that ends with the collapse of the UK economy, the breakup of the Union, and even a split in the Tory Party itself.
“Rarely has a peacetime British prime minister confronted circumstances as grave as those awaiting Boris Johnson,” states the Financial Times, the organ of big business.
“Rarely, too, has an incoming prime minister appeared, by temperament, character and record, so unequal to the magnitude of the task…If he botches his mission, he risks destroying his party; at worst, as a predecessor has warned, he could become the last prime minister of the United Kingdom.” (Financial Times, 24th July 2019)
This article is the editorial from the latest issue (no. 312) of Socialist Appeal. Buy your copy today, or subscribe online for Marxist analysis delivered to your doorstep.
General election on the cards
Following the defeat in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, Johnson’s government now has a majority of only one. In effect, given the divisions within the Tory Party, it is a minority government in all but name. This parliamentary logjam can only be broken with a general election. But even that is not guaranteed to end the deadlock.
Given the threat from the Brexit Party, Johnson has taken on the mantle of Farage. Boris has declared that Farage’s new party is irrelevant. The Tory Party under Johnson, after all, has become the Brexit Party.
EU leaders have ruled out any new deal. The only way for Boris to fulfil his Halloween Brexit pledge, therefore, is to go for a no-deal departure. But the establishment are frantically looking into every possible avenue of thwarting these plans through Parliament.
In response, Johnson has stated that he is ready to face any attempt to topple his government. He and his inner circle are already preparing for a “people versus the politicians” general election in the autumn.
Closest to the new PM is his newly appointed adviser Dominic Cummings, formerly director of the 2016 Vote Leave campaign. Senior Tories are growing alarmed at the unrivalled influence that Cummings has gained inside Number 10. Many believe that he is effectively Boris' Rasputin, holding the Tory leader spellbound with his Brexiteer conviction. One Conservative insider described the Prime Minister's new 'assistant' as running a "reign of terror" from Downing Street.
Britain's unwritten constitution has become a source of enormous instability, with each side making up the rules as they go along. It is possible that the Supreme Court may eventually be brought in to resolve the constitutional crisis. Some have even talked of the Queen being dragged into the melee. But such moves would bring all of these ‘democratic’ institutions into question, playing into the hands of Boris, Farage, and other demagogues.
Given the opposition from his own backbenches, Johnson could lose a vote of no confidence in early September, when Parliament reconvenes. Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, MPs would have 14 days to try to form an alternative government. If that fails, which seems inevitable, a general election must be called. But it will be down to Johnson to decide the date of the poll. He may therefore try to delay the election until November, by which point Britain will have crashed out of Europe.
Various other alternatives have been floated as a Plan B - namely some kind of cross-party government of ‘national unity’ designed to stop a train-crash Brexit. But this would require Johnson to resign, which is extremely unlikely given his ego. Boris seems determined to defy any conventions and call the bluff of his opponents. The establishment is therefore quickly running out of options.
As Max Hastings, his former editor at the Daily Telegraph, wrote: “He is unfit for national office, because it seems he cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification.”
In fact, Johnson has been studiously preparing for an election ever since he entered Downing Street. “People are working crazy hours. The government feels like a campaign unit preparing for a general election,” said one official.
Dilemmas and demagogues
Plunged into this chaotic situation, Britain would face a crisis general election, the likes of which we have never seen before.
Johnson is a complete demagogue, in the image of Trump. He will run an election campaign in the same manner as he ran the Leave campaign in 2016, full of empty bravado and false promises. He will whip up English nationalism. But above all, he will attempt to play the anti-establishment card, namely “the people versus the politicians”. His campaign will be driven not by policies, but playing on people’s emotions.
For Boris, it will be a “do or die” election. He will gamble everything on winning. Of course, he will get the full support of the gutter press, keen to paint his opponents as “enemies of the people”.
The ruling class are in a complete dilemma. They detest the idea of a Corbyn Labour government. However, they are certainly not keen on the maverick Boris ‘No-Deal Brexit’ Johnson as prime minister either.
The capitalist establishment would prefer a national government, involving the Blairites, Lib Dems and Tory moderates. But they have lost control of the situation and are being swept along by the current.
For a socialist Labour government!
What are the prospects of a Labour government? The political situation is extremely volatile. Much will depend on the election campaign, as in 2017. Back then, Theresa May hubristically called a snap election on the basis of a 20 point lead in the opinion polls. But the whole Tory campaign imploded, and May threw away her majority.
The shock of a possible no-deal Brexit will polarise the situation. A Tory Party campaigning in support of No Deal will split the Tory vote, with much of it going to the Lib Dems. However, the Tories hope to pick up the Brexit Party vote, especially in the working-class heartlands of the North and the Midlands. An election pact with the Brexit Party cannot be ruled out.
But none of this is certain. Workers in Leave-voting areas could easily swing behind Labour. This would be all the more likely if Corbyn fights on a bold left-wing manifesto, dealing with class issues. Under these circumstances, he could succeed in once again turning things around. This is the most likely perspective - although the Blairites will no doubt attempt to sabotage Labour’s campaign.
The whole of the left and the labour movement must fight for a Corbyn Labour government. But we must also offer a word of warning: when Corbyn does come to power, he will be met with an economic and social crisis. Under such conditions, Labour cannot tinker with the capitalist system, as has been attempted in the past.
The only solution to the problems of the working class is to take bold socialist measures: to take over the giant monopolies and banks, under workers’ control and management, as part of a socialist plan of production. Only then can the resources of society be used for the benefit of the majority, not the profits of a billionaire class.