Boris Johnson and the Tories were dealt a devastating blow last night, as voters in Yorkshire and Devon booted out Conservative MPs in two constituency by-elections.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats, respectively, won in the seats of Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton. The former contest saw a 12.7% swing from the Tories to Labour, whilst the latter saw a massive 30% swing to the Lib Dems – the largest Tory majority that has ever been overturned in a by-election.
These dire results for the Tories have already left their mark on the party, with Conservative chair Oliver Dowden handing in his resignation letter in the early hours this morning.
“We cannot carry on with business as usual,” Dowden writes in his departing statement. “Somebody must take responsibility.”
The ‘somebody’ that Dowden has in mind is, of course, Boris Johnson – an opinion shared by former party leader Michael Howard; yet another senior Tory adding their voice to the growing chorus calling on Johnson to resign.
But with his usual arrogance, the Tory leader brushed off any suggestion that he might step down in the wake of last night’s election results.
Instead, as he has consistently done until now, the cavalier Prime Minister is clinging on and refusing to go. Boris has made his intentions clear: the only way he will leave Number 10 is kicking and screaming.
In the meantime, the crises and splits within the Tory Party, across the entire establishment, and for British capitalism as a whole will only continue to intensify and deepen. And the class struggle will continue to sharpen, preparing the way for revolutionary explosions.
Degeneracy and decline
Less than three weeks ago, Johnson narrowly escaped a vote of no confidence, with 41% of his own MPs refusing to back him. But it is clear that this was a Pyrrhic victory for the PM, who was left badly wounded by the scale of the rebellion seen in this secret ballot.
Since then, Boris and his ministers have been waging war on everyone and anyone – picking fights with the unions, the courts, and the EU as they attempt to distract attention from their internal crises, and as they jostle with each other to replace the beleaguered Tory leader.
Now, with the party trounced in yesterday’s votes, large swathes of Tory MPs are once again anxious about losing their seats come the next general election. And their knives are once again being sharpened.
According to Conservative Party rules, Boris Johnson should be safe from another leadership challenge for the next 12 months. But Tory insiders have asserted that standing orders can easily be changed to allow another confidence vote if the mood amongst MPs swings against the Prime Minister.
The real problem is that they have no genuine alternatives to their scandal-ridden party leader. Johnson may be disgraced and discredited, but prospective challengers are even more reckless, short-sighted, and unreliable.
Indeed, the reasons behind these by-elections being held reveal how the Tories are rotten to the core – a reflection of the decay and decline of the system they defend.
In Wakefield, the seat became vacant following the conviction of the previous local MP, Imran Ahmad, for paedophilia and sexual assault. The former MP of Tiverton & Honiton, meanwhile, was none other than parliamentary pornwatcher Neil ‘tractor’ Parish.
The degeneracy and myopia of the Tory Party, however, is best encapsulated by Liz Truss’ opportunism over the Northern Ireland Protocol. The foreign secretary has indicated that she is even willing to push Britain into a trade war with Europe, all for the sake of appealing to the rabid ranks of the Conservatives, with only her own careerist self-interest in mind.
Such is the suicidal madness that has gripped the political representatives of British capitalism.
Whose side are you on?
Keir Starmer has taken to the airwaves to boast about Labour’s victory in Wakefield. And it is clear – with the Tories mired in crises and corruption, tearing themselves to pieces – that the ruling class would like to build up this knight of the realm as a potential future prime minister.
But the truth is that there is no groundswell of support for Starmer, or his programme of flag-waving and big business policies. It is far more a case of the Tories losing than of Labour winning; of workers voting in protest against Boris Johnson, not with any real enthusiasm for his so-called opponent.
This was shown by the low turnout in the Wakefield by-election, with only 39% of the local electorate casting their vote, a reduction of 25 percentage points compared even to 2019.
Nevertheless, with huge Tory majorities now crumbling across the country, and the crisis only set to worsen, it is clear that a Labour government could come to power simply by virtue of the Conservatives’ collapse.
It has demonstrated beyond any doubt, however, whose interests Starmer would serve were he thrust into Downing Street, with the Labour leader scandalously ordering his frontbench not to support this week’s inspiring rail strikes by RMT members.
A future Starmer government would be little different to the Tories, in this respect: siding with the bosses; banging the war drums; and carrying out cuts and austerity on behalf of the capitalist class – stances that would continue to put the Labour leadership in confrontation with the rising trade union movement.
Workers on the move
No matter who sits in Number 10, the period ahead is one of intense instability and turmoil.
The cost-of-living crisis will continue to bite, with inflation now projected to reach 11% by October this year. At the same time, the economy is slowing, as uncertainty prevails, leading demand and investment to dry up.
Most importantly, however, the working class is beginning to organise, flex its muscles, and fight back.
The RMT strikes have clearly emboldened workers across the board. The TUC is reporting a surge in interest, for example, with online enquiries into trade union membership ballooning by around 700% over the past week. Similarly, Google searches for the phrase ‘join union’ have grown by 184%. PCS and other unions, meanwhile, are reporting an increase in applications for membership.
The trade union leaders must begin to coordinate these struggles – building towards a one-day public sector strike, and a tsunami of militant united action.
Instead of waiting for the Tories to stab each other in the back, we need a mass fighting campaign – mobilising workers and youth around bold socialist policies – to sweep them all out.