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Rishi Sunak

Photo: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street. Cropped from original, licensed under CC 2.0, linked at the bottom of article

With a government this divided, we can win many more concessions and ones which benefit workers not businesses, argues Chris Nineham

Sunak's new economic offer for areas in Covid tiers 2 and 3 is woefully inadequate. For one thing, despite cutting employer's contributions for job support from 33% to 5% he is still refusing to restore the 80% rate for furloughed workers. Although some more workers will be eligible, they still only get a pitiful two thirds of their normal wages. This is a u-turn that will benefit businesses first and foremost, but it shows the government is reeling. 

After the election we were told that Johnson's genius was to revive a dying Tory Party by appealing to disgruntled Labour voters in what were called 'red wall' areas in parts of the North and the Midlands. 'Make Brexit happen' was the rallying cry that was going to seal this new alliance, backed up by vague promises of 'levelling up.'

People who saw Brexit as mainly a cultural or identity issue worried that this would create a new right wing bloc in British politics. It looks like the government will make Brexit happen in one form or another. But Rishi Sunak's latest humiliating u-turn shows the wheels are coming off Johnson's project. 

The problem for the government is that its plan, if that is not too strong a word, was based on an impossible alliance. The Tories did manage to capture the votes of some working people in 2019 angry at the arrogance of the Westminster elite, and particularly at Labour's pro-Remain position. 

This anger was, however, rooted in long running economic and social grievances, the decimation of industry in the 1980s and the absence of any plan or investment since then in whole swathes of the country. 

To get elected Johnson made promises here while appealing to right wingers in his party and picking a cabinet largely made up of enthusiastic free marketeers many privately committed to continuing austerity.

Promises about levelling up depressed areas were always going to be tested, and this particular government was never going to follow through. The Coronavirus has accelerated what was an almost inevitable unravelling. 

The revolt against the government over economic support for the North has been led by Manchester mayor Andy Burnham no doubt under strong pressure from the grass roots. Such is the level of anger on the ground that Tory MPs, council leaders and mayors have had to get behind the demands that Burnham has made. 

Up until Wednesday the government tried to appear as if it was hanging tough. Now they have backtracked though their new proposals fall far short of what workers need. 

The government is also deeply divided over how to deal with Covid itself. While the death rate rises, Sunak, his supporters and right wing MPs are resisting scientific advice and some in the cabinet by opposing a national circuit-breaking lockdown at all costs. In the absence of a working test and trace system every day a national lockdown is delayed is costing lives. 

The result of the shambolic Covid response is that Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are now all running their own policy on the virus, the most important issue of the day. Sunak's old-school, tight ship economics have lost the Tories much of the North West.

The lesson is clear. This u-turn, like so many of the others, was caused by open, concerted defiance. With a government this divided, we can win many more concessions, and ones that benefit workers directly rather than businesses. 

To do this we need an end to Starmer's loyal opposition and an open labour movement assault on this government before too many more lives and livelihoods are lost.

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Tagged under: Tories Covid19
Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.

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