Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson at Downing Street, September 2021. Photo: Flickr/Andrew Parsons Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson at Downing Street, September 2021. Photo: Flickr/Andrew Parsons

Lindsey German on battle plans and the continuing crisis in the Met

We have had nearly two years of government lip service to key workers, ‘our NHS’, and repeated claims that we are all in it together. Yet the first weeks of 2022 have demonstrated in the sharpest relief exactly how hollow those words were. The attack launched on working-class living standards is the most severe for at least 30 years and probably since the 1970s. And it is a deliberate policy choice to avoid penalising the rich in the slightest while decreeing that most working-class people will experience at least a 10% cut in their incomes in real terms.

Last week, the lifting of the energy price cap revealed the shocking truth that we will be paying 54% more on our fuel bills from April – and that this is likely to increase dramatically again in October. The same day, the Bank of England announced a rise in interest rates and promised that this was likely to be the first of several over the next year.

National Insurance contributions will rise in April for most workers, and high rates of inflation (even the lower rate calculation CPI looks like being over 7% in April) means that millions of people will see their cost of living rise dramatically.

This is against a background where real inflation is already 2 or 3 times the average rate of pay increases, where the housing crisis means many people are paying one third or half their take-home pay to greedy landlords, where inequality is at record levels, and where millions of those in work are in poverty because of totally inadequate wages. When we consider the already terrible situation of so many, including those who found their Universal Credit ‘uplift’ taken away last year, it is hard to see how we are going to avoid appalling calamities: people without adequate power or food; children going hungry and cold; old, sick and disabled people dying from hypothermia next winter.

This is the state that Boris Johnson claims is improving and levelling up. In fact Britain looks ever more like a failed state, unable to provide decent health care and housing for its citizens, refusing to make even minimal inroads in private companies’ profits, and using our taxes to subsidise their friends. Every week we hear new stories about profiteering and corruption as government money is handed over without a care to the Tories’ friends in business in what were often openly fraudulent claims. Yet the missing billions are written off without investigation at the same time as the pensioners’ triple lock is abandoned and those on benefits consigned to even greater hardship.

While the Labour opposition’s call for a windfall tax on energy companies doesn’t address the structural problems of the privatised industry, it would at least be a start, and has already been levied in other countries such as Spain. But no – such a tax would hurt dividends. Instead the government is proposing completely inadequate help for energy bills. The miserable £150 off council tax this year won’t even reach some of the poorest. And there is an enforced payday loan where each household gets £200 off their bills in autumn but has to pay this back over the coming years.

It’s a disgrace in itself and will amount to only a small percentage of most energy users’ bills. On top of this higher mortgage, food and petrol prices will cut further into budgets. The government and employers should not underestimate the shock and anger felt at these increases. Yet they seem impervious. Shell delighted in its increased profits on the very day that the increases were announced. And the governor of the Bank of England insisted that workers should not put in for pay rises to compensate for these attacks because that would only hurt them in the long run!

We are seeing a return of inflation at a time – unlike in the 70s – when real wages have fallen or at best stagnated for a decade and a half. This is going to hit very hard. The only way to deal with it is to fight the employers and government equally hard. Johnson is on the rocks over Partygate. His closest advisers – and it’s rumoured some ministers – are deserting him. His tipped successor, Rishi Sunak, is the richest MP in parliament who has the nerve to tell us that we all have to adjust to the price rises.

The money is there for us not to pay a single penny extra, by taxing the energy companies, raising wages and benefits, and reallocating resources to human needs, not profit. The utility companies should be brought back into public ownership and prices must be capped. Instead they are allowed free rein in the name of the market, while Johnson uses increasingly right-wing rhetoric to distract from his failing career. A sickening sense of his priorities has been the way he is the most enthusiastic world leader for war in Ukraine, and sends weapons, troops and another £88 million to the government there without a second thought while denying decent living standards to some of the poorest in this country.

A wave of anger has swept Britain in recent days as many realise this is an attack on nearly all of us. The protests planned for next weekend will be only the start of a much bigger movement and can unite all sorts of different groups in society against the government and those it represents. We must refuse to pay the increases and must insist that those who can’t pay are not cut off.

The unions are much weaker now than in the 1970s, but they still have millions of members and must act now, with street mobilisations and plans for strike action as the way to defeat this. There is an increased level of strike action – often involving casualised and outsourced workers – but there needs to be much more of this. However, we can’t wait for the TUC to get active on this – good if and when it does, but the answer to this crisis is not simply ‘join a union’ as some are saying. It is about action to stop these attacks.

Regardless, socialists and activists need to get organised, get on the streets and help begin the fightback. We face a ruling class which has squeezed more and more from working-class people in recent decades and have enriched themselves massively. We face a really rotten, corrupt and unpleasant government which acts purely in the interests of the rich. The fightback starts now.

Dial 999 for misogyny

It’s hard to keep up with the cases of gross sexism, misogyny and worse that seem a regular feature of the Metropolitan Police. The latest revelations about Charing Cross police station come on top of several years of horror stories, including the horrific murder of Sarah Everard by a serving (and armed) police officer, followed by the vicious attacks on women holding a vigil in her memory, the callous treatment of the bodies of murder victims Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallwood by police, repeated cases of Met officers charged with rape and sexual assault, the abusive strip search of Konstancja Duff in Stoke Newington police station.

The WhatsApp group chat among Charing Cross officers reveals hideous attitudes towards women. Jokes about rape, violence against women and having sex with detainees were both gross and commonplace. Even once discovered, only two of the members of the group were dismissed and astonishingly one was promoted.

I can’t think of many workplaces where this would be even remotely acceptable. Yet it is dismissed as ‘bad apples’ – exceptions to the rule. It’s clear however the opposite is true. This is not banter. It is filthy sexism which is part of the culture of the Metropolitan police and which is at least tolerated by higher ranks.

The Met is well known for its treatment of black people in London. But its prejudices against the people it is meant to serve know no bounds. Met officers are well paid but around half tend to live outside the capital, showing their further disdain for its population. Let’s not forget Charing Cross police station is heavily involved in policing demos and protests – and very close to Downing St where its officers saw no parties during lockdown.

At the top of this sits Cressida Dick, a fine example of the severe limitations of identity politics. London’s mayor Saddiq Khan should insist she is sacked, rather than kept in place by home secretary Priti Patel. Dick has helped Boris Johnson over partygate by her sudden announcement of a police investigation that helped gut the Gray report. There is something rotten about the whole set up – her departure won’t deal with that because it is institutional. But it would send a signal that the women of London aren’t going to put up with it anymore.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.