Lindsey German on the case of Christopher Pincher and an ever-encroaching Nato
How much lower can MPs sink? The last two by-elections were caused by Tory MPs resigning respectively over sexual assault on an underage boy and looking at porn in the Commons chamber. There is one MP under serious criminal investigation for sexual assault. Rumours about Boris Johnson abound. And now we have the Carlton Club groper, the aptly named Pincher, who is likely to have to resign his seat and who until a few days ago was deputy chief whip, charged with ensuring good behaviour from MPs. There is no other occupation where such behaviour would be regarded as anything other than a sackable offence, yet it is clearly acceptable in many corners of the House of Commons.
It's easy to dismiss these cases as isolated instances, but that is to ignore the culture required for such behaviour to become so common. The immediate political context is the government of Boris Johnson himself who is at the pinnacle of the dung heap. His own behaviour which is publicly on record includes creating a culture of booze and partying during lockdown, taking money from Tory donors to pay for the gold wallpaper in his Downing Street flat, deliberately supporting policies like deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda to feed red meat to right wing opinion. He offered a job to his then lover, now his wife, as his chief of staff when Foreign Secretary, with a £100,000 salary attached, until stopped by civil servants. He is completely unsuited to any public or accountable role, let alone that of prime minister.
Johnson has a record of supporting disgraced MPs as long as he can, and Pincher was a key ally, a parliamentary enforcer central to helping him survive a vote of confidence only last month. According to reports now coming out, Johnson knew of earlier complaints about him before reappointing him as a whip. Since he became prime minister in 2019, Johnson has pursued a ruthless campaign to hold onto power, turning on pro-Remain Tories and driving many of them out, brazenly favouring constituencies in ‘red wall’ areas for funding, and repeatedly refusing to be held to account for any of his myriad failings. The divisions in the Tory party over Johnson are now considerable, given the government’s failure to hang on to by-election seats and the fear that the party will lose the next election. But hell would freeze over before you could rely on this abject bunch to actually get rid of him, so he continues to hang on despite his unpopularity both within and outside Westminster.
The result is one of the most useless and incompetent, as well as corrupt, governments that we have seen in modern times. It is presiding over a country which is in most respects a failed state. Cynicism about politicians has rarely been higher, and the institutions of state simply don’t work. While Johnson preaches internationally about ‘the western democracies’ Britain remains profoundly undemocratic and unaccountable. The monarchy is at a low ebb, with the disgraced Prince Andrew now joined by the heir to the throne, who has been revealed to accept million-pound donations to charities in carrier bags from the Qataris. The House of Lords is a rancid and redundant organisation. The police are being investigated for a range of failings.
Anyone wanting to escape this island are finding it increasingly difficult: airlines are cancelling flights as they don’t have staff, there are huge queues at ferry terminals, it takes months to get a passport.
Perhaps most frighteningly, the resurgence of Covid-19 and the obvious inability of the NHS to cope with it as well as more routine tasks is met with a cold insouciance by government and authorities, with absolutely no attempt to increase restrictions despite the big increases in infection and hospitalisation.
The present crisis is much wider than one man and reflects the effects of 40 years of neoliberalism, including cuts in wages and public services, privatisation, the destruction of many aspects of democracy, and rising poverty. Corbynism presented some challenge to these priorities and was destroyed for daring to do so. Labour’s present direction is the opposite: there is no fundamentally different approach from the Tories. Starmer and his Blairite allies are continuing their attacks on the left, trying to deselect left MPs and refusing to even long list left candidates for future selection. They are also refusing to back the growing number of strikes being planned.
Yet the big increase in ballots for strike action shows a level of discontent simply not reflected by Westminster politics and are the best hope for change in the coming months. The RMT strikes changed the whole narrative about class and trade unions. Now groups including CWU members, teachers and lecturers, airline workers, and many other groups are balloting or planning to mainly over the cost of living. These strikes need to be coordinated as much as possible and turn into a political challenge against the government and employers, who are demanding we hold down wages but are allowing profiteering and rent rises at the same time.
This is a big challenge for the left and the working-class movement. But it is made easier if we link the industrial action to opposing the rottenness of the whole system. And it has rarely been on such open display.
The war agenda of Nato’s summit
The Nato summit in Madrid last week was, predictably enough, heavily skewed towards much greater military intervention both in Eastern Europe and the Pacific. It demanded and is getting increased levels of spending from member states and much higher numbers of troops deployed close to Russia’s borders. The new Strategic Concept commits the organisation to a ‘blueprint for the Alliance in a more dangerous and competitive world’ and addresses the ‘challenges posed by China’ for the first time. Both the US and UK have raised defending Taiwan in the case of Chinese attack (ignoring the fact that Taiwan is internationally recognised as part of China). The western allies in the Pacific – Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea – were all invited to the summit.
It was also noted for the admission of previously neutral Sweden and Finland into Nato. This only happened as the result of a filthy deal with Turkey – whose president Erdoğan objected to their admission – which will amount to more repression of the Kurds, including their deportation for alleged terrorism from Sweden. Turkey will also receive more fighter jets from the US to continue their war against the Kurds.
The tempo of preparation for war has accelerated rapidly since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Instead of trying to find ways towards peace, the summit was geared to increasing the likelihood of war, not just against Russia but China too. Those on the left who bang the drum for more weapons and more intervention by Nato are getting their wish but it will be at a terrible cost to us all. They will no doubt be pleased that the Tories are increasing ‘defence’ spending to 2.5% of GDP. They are given a free pass in this from Starmer and his crew. Those who claim to be socialists should not be so gullible.
This week: I will be paying my last respects to the formidable and irreplaceable peace campaigner Bruce Kent at his funeral. I will also be online with Birmingham Stop the War and at a meeting with Counterfire comrades to discuss organising in the months ahead. I will also embark on reading The Frontline, edited by Ishmahil Blagrove, which is a very impressive – and very long - oral history of black people in Ladbroke Grove from the 50s onwards. Looks fascinating.
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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’.
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