Boris Johnson's resignation speech Boris Johnson's resignation speech. Photo: Tim Hammond / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked below article

Shabbir Lakha on Boris Johnson’s resignation, the ruling class crisis and the tasks for the left

Boris Johnson’s out. The whole country could have told him this is how it was going to end and saved him the desperate bid to cling to power. The confirmation of his resignation came after his newly appointed Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi turned on him after being in the post for under 48 hours.

Given Johnson’s crimes, repeated lies and support for the likes of Pincher despite knowing the allegations against him, he should not be allowed to remain in office until a new Tory leader is in place, probably sometime in the autumn. He should be packing his bags and vacating Downing Street today.

There is understandably some cynicism given the Tories will continue to be in power in the immediate term and with Starmer’s Labour Party offering no alternative. But this is a moment of profound crisis for the ruling class and the demise of Johnson will undoubtedly be a cause of celebration and confidence for working people.

That it took the complete collapse of his government and the implosion of the Tory party to get him out gives an idea of the lengths the ruling class were prepared to go to in their attempt to salvage the mess Johnson put them in. Of course Johnson, egotistical and incompetent as he is, is not the primary source of their problems. In 2019, he was seen as the solution to bridging a deeply divided party, papering over the polarisation in society and stopping a socialist coming to power. Indeed, Zahawi made a point of slandering the ghost of Corbyn in his letter to the PM, listing “keeping a dangerous antisemite out of No10” as one of Johnson’s “incredible achievements”.

Those divisions remain. If anything, they are significantly worse now. Getting Boris out required the Tories getting the knives out, and if the last few days have been messy, the leadership contest about to ensue is likely to be truly Etonian.

A number of Tories including Suella Braverman have already put their hats in the ring. Zahawi, having strategised with allies of Lynton Crosby, according to the Times, clearly thought jumping on the sinking ship and then mutinying against its half-dead captain gave him his best shot to be next leader. As the Chancellor until the leadership election is over and with the ability to put in policies he thinks will be popular, he might not be wrong.

But beneath the Tory bloodletting lies a fundamental inability to provide solutions to the present crisis. As David Jamieson argues: “A debate, between fiscal hawks and Johnson’s ill-defined but more pragmatic approach to state intervention in larger stretches of the economy, has bubbled away beneath the surface for years. The backdrop, of course, is public anxiety over living costs and the threat it promotes of industrial and civil unrest.”

As well as this, the credibility of any Tory that takes over will start from an all-time low. They have all been mired in scandal after scandal and repeated failures. Given their failure to move against Johnson for so long, there is no Tory who isn’t damaged. The Boris years, and especially this last week, have further damaged the legitimacy of the Tories and the political class more generally. The incoming Tory PM will be under huge pressure to call a general election, and the recent by-election outcomes do not bode well for the Tories – but neither do they show much hope for Starmer and his Blairite tribute act.

The deepening cost of living crisis – and beneath it the prevailing inability of neoliberal capitalism to repair itself – is sharpening the class divide for millions of people. The fightback and any prospect of finally consigning the Tories to the dustbin of history and creating a real alternative will depend more than anything on struggle in the workplaces and on the streets.

The ruling class’s decision to turn on Johnson happened with the background of the recent RMT strikes and the growing wave of strike ballots across industries. They are afraid of working-class organisation and the potential for industrial action to spread, and they will no doubt have seen Johnson as ill-equipped to handle it.

Whoever takes over from Johnson will no doubt be as committed to fight and try to defeat the RMT and other unions preparing to strike. But they are weak and divided and that gives us all the more reason to do everything we can to strengthen and generalise the strikes and to build a movement capable of drawing together the different strands of opposition and focusing the anger that millions of people feel.

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Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.

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