This feels like the beginning of the end. The Tories are a complete shambles. The Dominic Cummings affair, and Boris Johnson’s attempts to defend his closest advisor, have provoked a furious backlash.
There has been clamour from all sides - including from leading Tories, and even from the Daily Mail - for Cummings to be sacked. This follows reports that he broke the government’s coronavirus lockdown rules by travelling 264 miles to his family home in Durham. According to polls, even a majority of Tories believe Cummings should go.
“What planet are they on?”
The Prime Minister’s defence of Cummings means that their fates are closely linked. But according to one member of the government, intransigent press conferences by Johnson and Cummings had only made the situation worse.
“Cummings is now doing real damage to the government and prime minister,” the anonymous source said. “Anyone else would have recognised that by now and would have resigned.”
In a front-page editorial, the pro-Tory, pro-Brexit Daily Mail asked: “What planet are they on?” Similar sentiments were expressed across the board in the headlines of today’s papers, admonishing the Downing Street Svengali for offering “no apology; no regrets”.
🚨Tomorrow's Daily Mail says Dominic Cummings must resign or be sacked pic.twitter.com/GAWQoJjjxC— John Stevens (@johnestevens) May 24, 2020
Others wryly joked that Cummings’ public statement made Prince Andrew’s excruciating interview seem relatively smooth by comparison.
Astonishingly, over the weekend, an anonymous top civil servant wrote on the official Twitter account of the UK Civil Service: “Arrogant and offensive. Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters?”
The tweet was deleted after 10 minutes. But the damage was done, as pictures of the tweet went viral on social media.
In case anyone missed this tweet from @UKCivilService:— Will 🏳️🌈🏴🇪🇺 (@MrBarberella) May 24, 2020
“Arrogant and offensive.
Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters?”
31k retweets in the 11 minutes before it was deleted 😂 pic.twitter.com/x8CK0undOS
“It’s hard to see how we can go on like this, expecting parents, teachers and the public to trust us when we bend the rules when it suits us,” said another Cabinet minister. “This lack of confidence will put lives in danger, and I worry we may never recover from this.”
Caroline Nokes, a former Tory minister, said: “There cannot be one rule for most of us and wriggle room for others. My inbox is rammed with very angry constituents and I do not blame them.”
Splits in the regime
These splits at the top — in the Tory government and the Cabinet — and the scandals over the handling of the pandemic are convulsing the government. Johnson and the Tories are like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Nothing is going right for them.
Even Tory voters have turned against them, after delivering Johnson a big majority last December. This now feels like an eon ago. Opinion polls have shown that support for the Tories is falling badly.
Keir Starmer, however, has simply called for an inquiry. The feeble Labour leader is supposed to be holding the government to account. Now is precisely the time to go on the attack. But ‘Sir’ Starmer is keen to avoid “point scoring” - that is, he is desperate to show the ruling class what a ‘respectable statesman’ he can be. He is a sheep in sheep's clothing, as Churchill once said of Clement Attlee.
It is clear to everyone that the establishment believes that there is one rule for the rich and the well-connected, and one rule for the rest. This hypocrisy will fuel the long-held view about the arrogance of Westminster and the ruling elite - an idea that Johnson himself has worked hard to cultivate.
This can only lead to greater public anger towards the establishment. These scandals and crimes will not be forgotten. In the period we are entering, such resentment and fury will pose a grave danger for the ruling class and their system.
Things could unravel very quickly. By the time this editorial goes live, Cummings could be toast. The reputation of Johnson, often regarded as Teflon-coated, could be damaged beyond repair.
Either way, the PM will be damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t. Boris’ support for Cummings is not a sign of strength, but a sign of weakness. We repeat, this could mark the beginning of the end for Boris Johnson. And this is only five months into the new parliament.
But even this matter over Cummings is insignificant in comparison to what lies ahead.
The British economy is in freefall. It is the biggest crisis of capitalism for 300 years. The government has rushed to rescue the system, no matter the cost. But this cannot last indefinitely.
TheCityUK, the finance sector’s trade group, has estimated that the value of government-backed loans to businesses could climb above £100bn. It had already reached £40bn due to the first two months of bailout measures.
But bankers say that many struggling companies will be unable to repay much of this debt. Thousands of companies are likely to collapse as they emerge from lockdown. Millions of workers are likely to lose their jobs as a result.
This will make the 2008 slump - already the biggest since the 1930s - look like a tea party by comparison.
Added to this is the clear prospect of a no-deal Brexit by the end of the year, which will massively compound the problems of British capitalism. Britain will face huge tariffs on its goods, all while markets are collapsing elsewhere. UK bosses could not have dreamt up more of a nightmare scenario.
Faced with such a disaster, the Tory government will be forced to undertake a massive wave of nationalisations or part-nationalisations. The capitalist state will intervene as never before. But this big business bailout will cost billions and billions of pounds. It's either that, or face complete collapse. They have no choice.
The ‘prudent’ Tory government has gone out of the window. The national debt is going to rocket to levels not seen since wartime.
The government’s finances are now horrendous - and falling. State spending was in a deficit in cash terms of £63.5bn in April alone - a £73.3bn deterioration from a surplus of £9.8bn in April 2019. This was the largest single-month deterioration since records began.
Due to massive government borrowing, public sector net debt surged by £118.4bn to stand at £1.9tn. This is very close to the size of the whole economy. As a share of national income, it jumped 17.4 percentage points in the past year, now standing at almost 100% of GDP - the highest burden of debt in the UK since 1963-64.
With revenue collapsing, the government deficit — the difference between income and expenditure — is estimated to rise to £337bn this year, according to a leaked Treasury document. This would be more than double the annual deficit of £150bn seen after the 2008 slump.
However, even the leaked document then suggests that the final deficit could be even higher: as much as £516bn — rising to £1.19tn over five years — if there is an “L-shaped economic decline”. The best-case of a “V-shaped” scenario would still lead to a £209bn deficit, according to the report.
The document, revealed in the Daily Telegraph, warns that Britain could face a “sovereign debt crisis” unless the economy recovers quickly. But such a rebound is ruled out.
This is no ‘normal’ crisis, but an organic - or systemic - crisis of capitalism. The system has reached its limits. There will be no upswing; only a massive downswing that can last indefinitely.
This has engendered panic. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is now clashing with the Prime Minister, demanding that the lockdown is ended before the economy is damaged beyond repair. The British capitalists are in a desperate race with their counterparts in Europe to open the economy and get people back to work, whatever the consequences.
If you thought the austerity of the last decade was bad, then the coming years will be horror without end. This sets the scene for a period of intense class struggles, in which the Marxists will intervene, posing a socialist alternative to this capitalist nightmare.