There is never much enthusiasm for local elections. This is particularly the case now. With a growing anger towards the establishment, the low turnout at the recent local elections reflects an increasing disdain amongst voters for all the political parties.
As the dust settles, it is clear that support for the Tory government is falling like a stone.
Boris Johnson – regarded as a liar by most people – insisted that the poor showing for the Tories represented a “mixed” result. The Prime Minister insisted that his party had made “remarkable gains” in some places.
This was a futile attempt to put a shine on failure; to defect away from the unpopularity of his corrupt, criminal government. Above all, the Tory leader wants to derail any potential leadership challenge.
“One thing about this government,” stated Johnson, is that “it does big, difficult things”.
But most ordinary people will struggle to think of any real achievements from Johnson and his government. More likely, voters will have had partygate and the cost-of-living crisis on their minds when they entered the polling booth.
Labour stalls and falls
In London, where Boris was once the mayor, the Tories did especially badly. The party’s loss of councils to Labour in Westminster, Wandsworth, and Barnet was rather more than “mixed”. It was a massive blow. The Conservatives had held Westminster since 1964 and Wandsworth since 1978. Labour won Barnet for the first time.
But the election results were just as much a verdict on Starmer’s Labour Party.
Considering the mess that Johnson and the Tories are in, Labour didn’t do particularly well. Outside of London, Labour’s share of the vote actually went down.
Keir Starmer nevertheless declared the results to be a “turning point”.
“We’re changed Labour and we’re seeing the results of that,” Starmer asserted. But few really believed him.
In Wales, Labour improved by distancing themselves from the national party. In Scotland, the collapse of the Tories pushed Labour into second place, but still way behind the SNP. Elsewhere, rather than barnstorming victories, Labour’s advance was rather anaemic.
After 12 years of Tory governments, and given the Conservatives’ disastrous record, the Labour Party should be miles ahead. The Tories are mired in sleaze and scandal. Johnson has been clearly revealed as a crook and a cheat. He has broken the law, whilst two Tory MPs have been forced to resign – one convicted of sexual assault on a minor.
At the same time, workers are facing a cost-of-living crisis, with energy prices going through the roof.
And yet there was no ‘breakthrough’. In fact, Labour’s vote share in some places was below that achieved by Corbyn in 2018, despite (or because of) Tony Blair’s endorsement of Starmer. Clearly this wasn’t enough to spark a surge to the polling booths.
Instead, many looked to the Lib Dems and the Greens as an alternative. In Hull, for example, the Lib Dems even gained the city council from Labour. Of course, these are ‘protest’ votes, but they reveal a lot about Labour’s failings.
Under his stewardship, Starmer has dramatically shifted Labour to the right, purging the left from the party and attempting to bury Corbynism. But this has reduced the Labour Party’s campaigning force to a rump. Grassroots activists have largely deserted the party.
The only people doing any work in these elections – leafleting, canvassing, and knocking on doors – were the candidates and their hangers on. There is no enthusiasm for Starmer or his Blairite party.
On this performance, while the Tories are likely to lose their majority, Labour will not win a majority in the next general election.
But it is clear that ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer would love to jump into bed with the Lib Dems to form a coalition government. That is why the Labour leader is trying his best to ingratiate himself with the ruling class: fawning after big business and praising NATO, the western imperialist alliance. He can be relied upon to do their dirty work in defending capitalism.
Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions, however, comes across as a grey blob, lacking any charisma or feeling. His lawyer’s brief is as inspiring as a brick wall.
Without socialist policies, he is incapable of connecting with working-class people. In power, given the deep crisis and his commitment to capitalism, he will act little differently to the Tories.
Now this ‘reliable pair of hands’ has been hoisted by his own petard, with the Labour leader tripped up over allegations about ‘beergate’. Our knight of the realm is being investigated by the Durham police over an event he was involved in that may have broken COVID restrictions.
Starmer denies everything. But Boris is over the moon. He hopes that Starmer’s slip up will deflect attention away from his own misdemeanours.
If Starmer is fined, this will put him in a very difficult position. Under pressure, whilst cynically calling for ‘integrity’ in politics, the Labour leader has now promised that he will do the honourable thing and step down if found guilty by the police.
After all, he has called on his opposite number to resign over partygate – so shouldn’t he do the same?
According to a YouGov poll, almost half of those polled (48%) think that Starmer should resign if – like Johnson – he ends up being fined by the police.
The Blairites may attempt to use this opportunity to move against Starmer, and put an even more ‘reliable’ figure in his place. After all, they are well versed in backstabbing.
Bluff and bluster
It is clear that Boris Johnson will attempt to hold on like grim death, despite his growing unpopularity. The Tories would like to get rid of him, but they have little to choose from when it comes to a replacement. That is their real dilemma. They may be stuck with him.
Undeterred by the local election results, Boris told journalists that he wasn’t going anywhere. Instead, the maverick Tory leader brushed aside concerns and criticisms, and simply declared: “Onward!”
Others began to fall into line. Oliver Dowden, the co-chair of the Tory Party, stated: “I believe that Boris Johnson does have the leadership skills, in particular the energy and dynamism, that we need during this difficult period of time.”
Johnson’s skills are bluff and bluster. He certainly has animal cunning. But with this cavalier approach, he has turned a bad situation into a disaster.
His threat to do away with the Northern Ireland Protocol will once again throw Britain into a head-on collision with the European Union, possibly leading to a trade war. But Johnson doesn’t seem to care, as long as this appeases the Unionists and patches over problems in the North of Ireland.
Kick them out!
As with Tory MPs, the ruling class too would like to see Boris Johnson go. But they face the same problem regarding the lack of any alternative. City of London golden boy Rishi Sunak has also become tainted with accusations of corruption. And other candidates are either untested, unreliable, or both.
In reality, the whole party is rotten – from the head down. And with MPs on both sides of the aisle embroiled in scandals, the entire political establishment is being brought into disrepute, eroding ordinary people’s trust in bourgeois democracy even further.
Whether the Tories manage to ditch Johnson or not, they are on the path to ruin.
With the UK – and world – economy heading for a slump, inflation set to rise to over ten percent, and an ever-growing mountain of sleaze surrounding Westminster, the Tory government faces a deep (and ever-deepening) crisis.
All of this will serve to intensify the anger and bitterness within society – and, in turn, the hatred towards Johnson.
He and the Tories are running out of road; “tobogganing towards catastrophe with their eyes closed,” in the words of Leon Trotsky. Workers and youth must organise and mobilise to kick them all out.
The capitalist system is at an impasse, whilst reformism is a blind alley. The only way forward is to build the forces of Marxism, as embodied in Socialist Appeal and the International Marxist Tendency.