Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng in Westminster, September 2022. Photo: No 10 Downing Street/Rory Arnold Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng in Westminster, September 2022. Photo: No 10 Downing Street/Rory Arnold

Lindsey German on squaring up to the double-down Tories  

What a week. Days after a state funeral which cost millions, and during which we were invited to believe that we are ‘one nation’, the new Tory government pledged another £2.3 billion for weapons to Ukraine and then issued a vile budget, which marks a new stage in the vicious class war they are waging. It is estimated that everyone whose income is over £150,000 will benefit from it, while those under that figure (99% of the population) will lose. Its economic measures will benefit the rich and the super-rich, while the poorest and those in the middle will see their incomes fall.  

The justification for cutting the 45p tax rate for highest earners, for cutting corporation tax and for establishing enterprise zones which will be an exploitative and environmental nightmare is that this will allow the government to ‘go for growth’. Yet a variety of these measures have been tried under previous Tory governments (who let’s remember have had 12 years to sort out low growth and productivity) and there is no sign that this will have this effect. The vast amounts of government borrowing at increasingly high interest rate levels is in danger of overheating the economy and leading to severe economic crisis. Already the pound has fallen to near parity with the dollar and government bond and gilts markets are in trouble.  

This supposed solution has been imposed on us by a sect within the Tory party which owes much of its thinking to other sects such as the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Institute for Economic Affairs. It is a hideously toxic cocktail of every crackpot idea that has come out of right-wing thinktanks in recent years. It is the latest of serial Tory experiments, including austerity, which have failed, leaving working-class people worse off in real terms than 15 years ago and our public services in a parlous state. One Twitter user joked that Kwasi Kwarteng might as well have gambled the economy on the 4.30 at Kempton Park.

While those who already have far more than they need to spend on luxury goods, second homes and conspicuous consumption get even richer, those who struggle to pay energy and food bills, or face astronomical rents, are going to find life gets even harder. Cuts in stamp duty will be a bonus for landlords and push up house prices even further. Changes to Universal Credit rules will force older people and single parents into more work in low-paid jobs such as hospitality. The growing levels of strike action will be further curtailed through legislation which forces trade unions to put employers’ pay offers to a vote of members, even if that offer is derisory. Even the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is threatening protests as it fears the concreting over of protected wildlife habitats in the enterprise zones.

The reach of this budget has shocked and awed even many Tory MPs, taken aback at the naked support for the rich and recognising that this is, among other things, a complete abandonment of the ‘levelling up’ agenda promoted by Boris Johnson in the so called ‘red wall’ seats. They know that this will play disastrously in electoral terms and also know that an election is only at most two years away.

This puts the government on collision course with the unions given the huge attacks on working-class living standards. The growing number of strikes reflect the discontent within the working class. But the nominal party of the working class, Labour, has been absolutely pathetic. Keir Starmer originally forbade Labour MPs to visit picket lines – something widely ignored. His plan to start Labour’s conference with the national anthem is symbolic of how terrified he is of upsetting marginal Tory voters. This means he simply does not understand how cataclysmic the present situation is for working class people. He has spent his leadership driving out the left, a process which continues with the suspension of Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, and now has no serious alternative policies to the Tories. Labour now thinks the next election will bring victory – maybe, but we can’t rely on the Tories messing up. Labour needs to stand for working people and it doesn’t.

The coming weeks are a real test for the working-class movement, and there has to be a generalised response. That means all the unions acting together. Let’s talk about what that looks like: a general strike over a general series of grievances which involves all the unions. It is nothing less than what is required given the scale of attack. There are already some moves towards coordinated strike action by different unions, but this needs to go much further. It has been a very good summer for strike action but we’re at the beginning of the struggle not the end. All credit to those workers who have led the way in striking but we also need to recognise that as autumn progresses we are still little further forward. So far the employers have not moved and have demanded job cuts and ‘efficiency’ deals in return for pay rises. Royal Mail last week launched an attack on the CWU union.  

In these circumstances one-day strikes are unlikely to cut it, and we don’t have the time for long drawn-out defensive disputes. The Tories are forcing us to raise our game and this will take all the solidarity, strategic thinking, industrial action, actions by campaigns, that we can muster. The misery being inflicted on working-class people will, we hope, lead to mass radicalisation. But elections in Sweden and Italy also point to the rise of far right and fascist ‘solutions’ to the crisis, and there is nothing automatic about it benefiting the left. Divisions in the left don’t help. The Enough is Enough campaign has held impressive rallies but it should be open to working with other campaigns on a range of issues. So far there is not much sign of this and it does a disservice to working-class people who are beginning to campaign for sectarianism to keep raising its head. At the very minimum EiE should support the demonstrations on 2 October at the Tory party conference and the national demo called by the People’s Assembly in London on 5 November.

We are facing challenges unprecedented for most of us. Escalating imperialist war, including the threat of nuclear war, economic crisis, debt and worsening living standards, climate change. Working-class organisation has to grow in size and confidence. And the arguments for socialism need a much wider hearing.

This week: I will be speaking at meetings at The World Transformed in Liverpool, and next Sunday will be in Birmingham to protest at the Tory party conference with the People’s Assembly. I am also speaking online at a Just Stop Oil meeting on Friday night. And for those of you who can make it, I highly recommend the National Theatre production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible – about witch-hunting and state power.

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.

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’.