“For want of a nail,” begins the old proverb, ending with the famous lines:
“[...] For want of an army a battle was lost,
For want of a battle a war was lost,
For want of a war a kingdom fell,
And all for want of a nail.”
Two weeks after narrowly escaping a vote of no confidence, it is clear that Boris Johnson and his ministers are looking to pursue all manner of battles in order to distract from the crisis within their own party.
For the sake of saving their own political skins, this myopic government is willing to wage war on anyone and everyone: prolonging the war in Ukraine; threatening a trade war with the EU over the Northern Ireland (NI) protocol; declaring war on migrants, refugees, and human rights campaigners; and whipping up a culture war against trans people, the Black Lives Matter movement, student activists, and many more.
To top it off, the Tories are waging a class war: continuing with cuts to public services; attacking the jobs, pay, and conditions of public sector workers; and teaming up with the bosses and the gutter press to demonise and denounce union members who dare to organise and fight back.
But like the proverbial search for a nail, by picking fights on all these fronts, Johnson and the Tories – driven solely by self-preservation – risk seeing their whole kingdom fall.
Exacerbated by the Tories’ reckless actions, the ‘United’ Kingdom itself is being pulled apart, with the national question on the agenda in Scotland and the North of Ireland.
The interests of British capitalism are also being badly damaged, with the UK economy seeing the slowest growth of the G20 nations, other than sanctioned Russia; and with the prospect of ‘stagflation’ looming – that is, rampant inflation alongside falling output.
Rubbing salt in the wound, the Conservatives face the potential of two humiliating by-election losses this week, in Wakefield and Devon.
Defeat in either of these, meanwhile, will lead to the resurgence of skirmishes in another war being fought: the civil war inside the Tory Party itself.
All for want of a nail.
These Tory wars are not a sign of strength, but of weakness. Like a wounded, cornered animal, Boris and his cavalier cabinet are lashing out in multiple directions.
And it is the working class and the most vulnerable – at home and abroad – who must suffer the consequences; deemed to be acceptable collateral damage by the Prime Minister and his arrogant government as they go on the rampage, like a bull in a china shop.
Last week, for example, a deportation flight destined for Rwanda was only stopped at the 11th hour, thanks to the efforts of a broad coalition of campaigners, including trade unionists and human rights activists.
Nevertheless, home secretary Priti Patel has indicated that the government intends to plough on with its deplorable plan of outsourcing the migrant crisis.
Indeed, Tory ministers have even suggested that they might take steps to extract Britain from the European Convention on Human Rights, and replace the related Human Rights Act, in order to escalate their hostile environment against migrants and refugees.
Notably, it is not Johnson but those eying his job who are leading the charge in these battles.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss and defence secretary Ben Wallace, for example, have been the most bellicose advocates of Britain’s involvement in the Ukraine war.
What motivates these ladies and gentlemen, of course, is not humanitarian concerns, or the so-called defence of ‘democracy’ and ‘sovereignty’, but the prospect of succeeding Boris as Tory leader and prime minister.
The cynicism of these people knows no bounds. In relation to Brexit, for example, the opportunistic Truss, formerly a declared Remainer, is now even outflanking Boris Johnson when it comes to confrontations with the EU over the NI protocol.
Not only does the short-sighted behaviour of Truss and the Tories put the UK on a collision course with Brussels, but it also threatens to increase the political and social instability within the North of Ireland itself – all in an effort to appeal to the rabid ranks of the Conservative Party.
But no amount of ‘red meat’ will ever sate the appetites of these frothing reactionaries. Indeed, as the old saying goes: appetite comes with eating. And every attempt to appease the ‘swivel-eyed loons’ only emboldens them to demand more.
Big business bosses are increasingly pulling their hair out at the Tories’ irresponsible actions, which are hurting the profits of British capitalism.
According to the Financial Times, a mouthpiece of the capitalist class, “British manufacturers have urged ministers to bring a stop to ‘the weekly roster of short-term gimmicks’ and ‘gesture politics’ that are adding to pressures confronting the sector in the UK.”
“Stephen Phipson, chief executive of Make UK, which represents the manufacturing industry in the UK,” the FT continues, “warned that investment was suffering from the effects of ‘political chaos’ and uncertainty of the past six years since the Brexit vote.”
“...Phipson joins the increasingly loud call for the government to engage better with business over how to manage the economy, as well as criticism of its ‘wedge issue’ politics over matters such as the Northern Irish protocol that threatens further trade disruption.”
Elsewhere, the same newspaper quotes the former chair of BT and KPMG, Mike Rake, who is equally exasperated by the rash conduct of the Tory government.
“It seems to be distracted by divisions within its own party and short-term politics,” this despairing member of the boss class states, “seemingly aimed to divide rather than unite the UK whilst damaging our reputation and influence internationally.”
Tobogganing towards disaster
The ruling class is looking aghast upon all this chaos and calamity, which is intensifying the special crisis of British capitalism – adding to the inflation, instability, and uncertainty that is already rocking the UK (and world) economy.
British capitalism is sailing into a perfect storm. But the ruling class no longer has a firm hand on the tiller. Instead, as Leon Trotsky once remarked, they are “tobogganing towards disaster with their eyes closed”.
They have lost control of the Tory Party, once the envy of ruling classes across the world. Instead of thinking in terms of centuries and continents, today’s self-seeking political representatives of British capitalism now only think in terms of their next press release and their own careers.
With no viable alternatives to Johnson within the Conservatives, the ruling class are increasingly looking to Starmer’s Labour.
‘Sir’ Keir Starmer has presented himself as the establishment’s saviour; the champion of British imperialism and big business. But precisely for this reason, there is little enthusiasm for Labour amongst workers and youth.
Blocked on the political front, the working class is increasingly turning to the industrial front, with strikes brewing across society: from the railways to Royal Mail; from cleaners to civil servants; and from university lecturers to school teachers.
With the Tories and bosses digging their heels in, refusing to budge, this week will see a massive walkout of over 40,000 rail workers across the network. And this, in turn, will give confidence to other workers considering strike action.
What the ruling class fears above all, therefore, is an explosion of the class struggle in the period ahead.
“Looming wave of UK industrial action unnerves government,” asserts one recent headline in the Financial Times, for example.
The same article quotes one cabinet minister, who says that the government is walking on a “delicate tightrope” in terms of its attempts to attack public sector pay, whilst also avoiding strikes.
“If we get this wrong,” the anonymous Tory MP states, “we risk going into a de facto general strike that will create further turmoil that risks grinding the whole economy to a halt.”
Whatever they do will be wrong, however. With the system at an impasse, there is no way out under capitalism.
Whether it be under the auspices of Johnson, Truss, Starmer, or any of these capitalist flunkeys, therefore, it will be a government of crisis – thrown from pillar to post by these titanic events.
Capitalism and its representatives are opening up a Pandora’s Box of radicalisation and militancy. And once the lid is lifted, they will have great difficulty putting the working class back in its cage.