At this year’s ‘virtual’ Tory Party conference, held last week, Boris Johnson promised to make Britain a “new Jerusalem” – a green and pleasant land, bursting with new homes and highly-skilled jobs.
But the reality for millions is anything but pleasant, as the Tories prepare to ‘balance the books’ – meaning years of further austerity.
Behind Johnson’s usual bombast and empty promises the message was clear: state support to keep workers employed must soon come to an end.
But don’t worry – the forces of ‘free enterprise’ will be unleashed to “build back better”, making Britain, “the greatest place on earth”.
How is this “green and pleasant land” to be built? According to Johnson, the Tories will “create the conditions for a dynamic recovery that is led not by the state, but by free enterprise”.
Yet millions could be forgiven for scepticism towards the dynamism of the market, given that it was ‘free enterprise’ that has produced the broken status quo.
What a bizarre speech by @BorisJohnson today. Full of vague comments about how great free enterprise is, and specific comments about the many ways in which he is planning to interfere with it.— Jamie Whyte (@_JamieWhyte) October 6, 2020
Indeed if the pandemic has proved anything, it is that ‘free enterprise’ means the freedom for workers to lose their jobs, and for small businesses to go bankrupt. Meanwhile, billionaires are free to rake in super-profits.
If ‘free enterprise’ was so dynamic, then why have governments worldwide been forced to spend trillions bailing out big business?
Yet Johnson tried to lecture us that “it isn’t the state that produces the new drugs, and the therapies we are now using. It wasn’t the state that made the gloves, the masks, and the ventilators that we needed at such speed.”
Johnson must surely be aware of the fact that the British state has recently coughed up nearly a billion pounds towards funding research and development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.
It is true that the state did not make the gloves, masks, and ventilators so urgently needed by millions. But what Johnson conveniently forgot to say is that the state has spent billions in funding the private sector to make such equipment.
The whole thing stinks.— Dan Carden MP (@DanCardenMP) October 14, 2020
This Government’s incompetence, its cronyism, its ideological obsession with outsourcing and rip-off privatisation has undermined our NHS and put lives at risk.
Time to kick the profiteers out of the system and put local public health teams in charge. pic.twitter.com/ivqRy4WgOe
And in several cases, government contracts for PPE – worth hundreds of millions of pounds – were awarded to the Tories’ friends and donors.
Johnson’s version of ‘free enterprise’ therefore appears to mean the freedom of his wealthy chums to get rich –- at the expense of the state.
Despite endless propaganda to the contrary, it is clear that the state can step in to keep people employed, house the homeless, and prevent evictions.
Many are rightly questioning: if this can be done during a global health emergency, why can’t it be done in so-called ‘normal’ times?
Aware of this dilemma, Johnson used his speech to stress that:
“We must not draw the wrong economic conclusion from this crisis...It is clear that there must be a moment where the state stands back, and lets the private sector get on with it.”
Balancing the books
This was the main theme of Rishi Sunak’s conference speech, who stressed that the government would do whatever it takes to “balance the books”, after racking up a predicted deficit this year of £300bn.
“Hard choices are everywhere,” Sunak warned. But for the ruling class and their political representatives, the choices are never that hard. At the end of the day, they will always decide to make the working class foot the bill for the crisis.
Sunak is of course hinting that austerity and tax rises are on the order of the day. Millions will see their living standards collapse.
The real ‘hard choices’ will be forced onto millions struggling to get by. For many, this will mean a ‘choice’ between eating or heating.
The labour movement cannot allow this to happen. The old policies of class-collaboration must be thrown out in place of bold, militant action.
Only with the socialist transformation of society – putting workers in control of their own lives – will we escape this nightmare of capitalism, and build a genuine green and pleasant world.