Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson in 2021, South London. Photo: Flickr/Andrew Parsons Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson in 2021, South London. Photo: Flickr/Andrew Parsons

Lindsey German on mainstream crisis, Ukraine and developments on our side

What a week in British politics. A former prime minister resigns from parliament because he is about to be suspended for lying about lawbreaking during lockdown. The former first minister of Scotland is arrested over financial corruption in the SNP. Two Labour MPs are suspended, one over allegations of sexual harassment, the other over as yet unspecified allegations about his conduct. They all speak to the levels of – to put it mildly – dysfunctional behaviour at the heart of the political system, but also to the corruption and graft which is now so commonplace.

Boris Johnson took the dramatic step of resigning his seat in parliament. He did so because the Commons privileges committee (majority Tory) has found him guilty of lying to parliament and was set to recommend his suspension for more than 10 days, which would lead to a by election in his west London constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip and the almost certain loss to Labour. So he quit before that happened. But not before he wrote a lengthy self-justification, claiming political victimisation and threatening to return at some date in the future.

His announcement followed that of Nadine Dorries, arch loyalist to Boris Johnson, who resigned her seat only hours before, triggering a rapid by election, because she wasn’t given a seat in the House of Lords in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list when it was approved by Downing Street.

Both the verdict of the Commons committee and the details of the list are symptomatic of the complete rottenness of the British political system. Presiding over the decaying corpse of the Tory government, Rishi Sunak faces possibly three by election losses in the next few weeks, as Dorries and Johnson resignations were followed by that of Yorkshire MP Nigel Adams. This is exactly the scenario Sunak wished to avoid by denying them the peerages for fear of triggering by elections. Now they will happen anyway, and despite big Tory majorities in two of them, they are not regarded necessarily as safe.

The supposed ‘honours’ are themselves a disgrace – a rotten parting gift from Johnson and aimed at both rewarding his acolytes and causing as much trouble for his successor, Rishi Sunak, as possible. The list ennobles some of Johnson’s closest cronies, including those involved in the Partygate scandal. It gives a knighthood to the ghastly Jacob Rees-Mogg and a damehood to Priti Patel.

Levels of corruption and greed are at an all-time high in British society – well maybe not higher than Old Corruption in the 18th century but higher than at any time since. The House of Lords is stuffed full of people who have no merit other than wealth, failed careers, and a craving for power. It is the second biggest upper chamber in the world, at over 800, and is entirely unelected. Its abolition cannot come too soon.

The events usher in a further period of Tory crisis as the different factions continue to take lumps out of each other. Sunak’s only authority is that he is not Johnson or the unlamented Liz Truss. Who knows what Johnson will do, but we know he will do his utmost to cause trouble for Sunak and the Tory leadership. But the internal rows of the Tories should not be the main concern for us. They are completely united in forcing down wages, passing laws restricting trade unions and political protest, scapegoating refugees, and featherbedding their friends in business.

Labour’s call for a general election now is of course correct because the situation in Britain – politically, socially, economically – is now dire and everything that this venal and divided government does makes it worse. It is a basic democratic right that people should be able to choose their government and from everything we know they certainly wouldn’t re-elect this one. But while we know that there is something rotten in the state of Tory Britain we would be foolish to bet on Keir Starmer’s Labour bringing about change. He is like a timid mouse, and the Tories only have to say boo to send him running to abandon policy. Look at the retreat over the proposed £28bn borrowing for its green plan which follows weeks of sniping from the Tories. At the same time Labour argues to spend as much as it takes over Ukraine.

The very strong message from the Rank-and-File conference in London on Saturday was that the working-class movement is going to have to rely on its own strength in order to win its demands. The experiences from a range of strikers and campaigners got this across and there were many criticisms of Starmer’s failure to support picket lines and of equivocation on support for trade unions. It is increasingly clear that there must be escalation of action to win all our demands and that the employers and government are still trying to go on the offensive. We cannot rely on the trade union leaders to win this – we need to build rank and file organisation in every workplace.

There was also a lot of stress on politics because we’re not just in an industrial fight but a political one. The nurses and doctors aren’t just fighting for wages, but for NHS patients, the teachers and lecturers for the education system, the rail workers for decent public services. And trade unions aren’t cut off from wider politics over racism, war, housing, disability and every other issue. The atmosphere in the conference was enthusiastic but also very sober and serious about the challenges we face. You can read the statement from it here – it’s just the beginning of organising the fightback from below.

Ukraine: it was a proxy war but now Nato and Russian troops are set to kill each other

The war in Ukraine goes from bad to worse. There is now talk of troops from some Nato member countries in Eastern Europe being deployed directly in Ukraine, in other words, Polish or Lithuanian troops will be directly confronting Russian ones. This is being mooted in the run up to the military alliance’s summit in Vilnius next month. If it is agreed it will mark another dangerous escalation in this war.

The most horrific news last week was the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine which will have caused great loss of life and environmental damage. It will have consequences for years to come. While responsibility for it is disputed one thing should be clear – this is the kind of appalling consequence of war, which causes major damage to infrastructure and civilian populations. Meanwhile a recent Washington Post report suggests that Ukraine was behind the blowing up of the Nord Stream pipeline between Russia and Germany. There is also news of near misses between Russian jets and British Typhoon fighters near the borders.

The urgent need now is for peace, but that is a dirty word among western politicians and media. Look at the response to the recent UCU resolution which has been caricatured as pro-Russian and denying Ukraine agency. This feeds an already existing witch hunt that hounds anyone not conformimg to the pro-war narrative. The peace conference that took place in Vienna last weekend was subject to interference by the Ukrainian ambassador to Austria, and two venues were cancelled. Given the lack of democracy in Britain and other western countries, how dare the authorities deny our right to oppose our government? The Ukrainian government has the right to defend itself – it does not have the right to veto democratic debate and opposition elsewhere.  

And given everything we know about the British government, it would be foolish to believe its record here means it is acting in the interests of people of Ukraine

This week: I will be speaking at a Unison fringe meeting about the war – this Tuesday in Liverpool. And after the conference looking forward to reading Nigel Flanagan’s book on trade unions

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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’.