The demise of Donald Trump in the US has put the spotlight on Johnson’s equally squalid and mendacious government in Britain. The contradictions of the situation in Britain, like that in the US, have been exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, there is the developing disaster of Johnson’s hard Brexit deal, which is already giving rise to protests, including by some that supported Johnson and Brexit. The economic consequences of Brexit are combining with those of the pandemic to create a perfect storm. Johnson’s original plan, to engineer a no-deal at the end of the transition period, was abandoned shortly before Christmas because it was too big a risk to the stability of his regime.
The Johnson regime is as dubious in its legitimacy as Trump’s was. Trump achieved the Presidency in the US by means of his party’s prolonged programme of voter suppression, barring layers of particularly black US Americans from voting through punitive red tape supposedly designed to stop fraud, but in fact to stop voting by the poor – victims of racism being disproportionately poor. This combined with the undemocratic electoral college system brought to power a far-right President in 2016 despite him losing the popular vote by 3 million. Trump struggled to repeat the trick in 2020 and his refusal to accept defeat led to the attempt by his hard-core followers to keep power by an insurrection against the voting population itself. But they overreached themselves and exposed their fascistic nature for all the world to see.
The Tories are up to similar games here. Trump’s insurrection against Congress had its prototype here in 2019 with Johnson’s illegal prorogation of parliament, which itself had something of the character of a coup. The referendum on Brexit in 2016 was completely unregulated and massively corrupted by huge funding of propaganda lies by far-right billionaires like Arron Banks. Brazen lies about funding the NHS from EU contributions (“£350 million a week”), and anti-migrant hate material from the likes of Farage, such as the ‘Breaking point’ poster depicting Syrian refugees, consciously modelled on a Nazi propaganda movie attacking Jewish refugees, epitomised the Brexit referendum. Johnson’s real plan is still to sell off the NHS as part of a trade deal.
Referenda can be useful to allow constitutional questions to be resolved in a democratic manner, but this was nothing of the sort. Britain in the EU already had ‘sovereignty’. Brexit was simply a xenophobic campaign aimed, successfully, at dividing the working class and setting workers at each other’s throats. It was called by an overtly racist government whose leaders were up to their necks in racism and abuse of minorities, epitomised by the Windrush scandal, and the killing of over 100,000 through austerity benefit cuts on the sick and disabled.
Yet Cameron was dismayed when the reaction they had promoted went further than they wanted and resulted in the Brexit vote. Their referendum was ‘advisory’; if it were legally binding then it would be subject to strict regulation as with a parliamentary election. But after the corrupt, unregulated hate-fest, which included the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by a Brexit fascist terrorist, resulted in a narrow victory for the xenophobes, the far right insisted it was binding and their fascistic lowlife-thugs went rampaging. Anyone in public life who failed to bow down before their Brexit god was subjected to death threats and potentially the violence to match. Violent, fascist thugs like James Goddard harassed politicians who demurred from Brexit, hand-in-hand with the Tory media and Johnson purging the Conservatives of former mainstream types who refused to go along with his course towards no-deal. There is no difference between the violent Brexit elements like Goddard and the fascist terrorists who attacked the Capitol in Washington.
The General Election in 2019 also had considerable grounds for suspicion about it. After Corbyn came close to victory in 2017, destroying Theresa May’s majority, neoliberals both within and without the Labour Party were visibly shocked and mortified, and a cavalcade of dirty tricks set in motion to sabotage Corbyn’s Labour. The shock on the faces of right-wing Labour ideologues like Stephen Kinnock and Jess Phillips was obvious on election night 2017. In 2019, after Labour lost, the same Phillips was visibly delighted. Just as sinister were remarks from key ruling class figures about the possibility of a Corbyn government. At PM’s Question Time in December 2017, Theresa May simply said “we will never allow you to govern”. And Mike Pompeo, Trump’s Secretary of State, meeting in June 2018 with ‘Jewish leaders’ was recorded as saying of the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn becoming UK Prime Minister:
“’It could be that Mr Corbyn manages to run the gauntlet and get elected,’ he said on the recording. ‘It’s possible. You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.’”https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jun/09/mike-pompeo-leaked-recording-corbyn-labour-jewish-leaders
Pompeo has since proven that he is eminently capable of personal involvement in election fraud including within advanced capitalist countries, where the convention is that such things are off-limits (fraud and coups are practiced by imperialist governments of all stripes in semi-colonial countries as a matter of normal practice). Pompeo’s involvement in Trump’s attempt to hold onto power after overwhelmingly losing the 2020 Presidential Election is a matter of public record, when on 10 November he said to reporters at the State Department:
“there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”
Pompeo only distanced himself from Trump’s attempts to stay in power after the failed insurrection on Capitol Hill on 6 Jan. His stated intention to “push back” against a possible Corbyn government, taken together with the political closeness of both Johnson and May to the Trump administration is obvious (on her first meeting with Trump she was even filmed holding hands with him while entering a press conference). The likely mechanism of fraud – modifying a result which many expected would result in a hung parliament as in 2017 – and canvassing responses on the ground in key areas including in the so-called ‘Red Wall’ indicated would be close – was tweaking the postal vote.
A detailed breakdown of postal voting in 2019 still appears unavailable – the House of Commons report on the election contains nothing about it (see https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-8749/CBP-8749.pdf) – but immediately after the election Lord Ashcroft’s polling organisation reported a doubling of postal voting to 38%. Highly suspicious behaviour was reported at the time: two prominent Tory or sympathetic personalities, the BBC’s Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg, and the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, appeared to have broken electoral law by talking about, and for that matter knowing about, the contents of the postal vote before it was even legal to count it.
The involvement of leading figures in the Trump administration, so close to Johnson and May’s administration, in the attempt to overthrow the popular vote and electoral college result in January 2021, casts further doubt on the democratic legitimacy of Johnson’s regime ‘elected’ in Britain in 2019.
Social Darwinism and Mass Killing
The result of far-right populists gaining power has been the astronomical death toll in the Covid-19 Pandemic. This the product of Social Darwinism, the ‘survival of the fittest’, applied to society. The policy of the British government has been ‘herd immunity’, allowing the disease to infect as much as the population as possible to generate a widespread immune response. But such immunity developing naturally can only happen through an enormous number of deaths, and the breeding out of the vulnerable parts of the population through their dying and being replaced by the descendants of the survivors. The whole point of developing vaccines is to avoid such carnage by artificially developing immunity in those vulnerable to diseases, so they cease to be at risk of death or disability from diseases like Covid.
That is the conception that drives the Johnson government, while having to repeatedly bow down to popular pressure and take lockdown and quarantine measures, to repeatedly sabotage lockdowns, ending them early, forcing children into unsafe schools as in September, and refusing a ‘firebreak’ lockdown also in September when government scientists themselves were demanding one to nip the second wave in the bud. The four-week lockdown in November kept schools open and so could not possibly be effective. It produced a limited dip in the infection rate but as soon as it was lifted the disease started spreading like wildfire again. Johnson was thus forced to ‘cancel Christmas’ by a massive rise in the Covid infection rate, that was entirely his own government’s doing, given its wanton sabotage of the quarantine measures forced on it from below over the whole period of the pandemic.
The emergence of a new, more infectious strain of Covid-19, which forced the government into its panicked third lockdown in early January is entirely the fault of the Johnson regime. It is down to it that Britain has the worst death rate per million inhabitants in the entire world.
An enormous factor in this has also been the long-term underfunding of the National Health Service, the creeping privatisation of healthcare provision and massive understaffing, the underpayment of junior medical, nursing and cleaning staff, which has meant that even though the government created extra ‘Nightingale’ hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic to handle extra demand, they have proven white elephants, since there are not the trained staff to run the extra intensive care facilities needed.
And the other recurring problem has been the lack of proper payment and welfare for those at risk, both of becoming sick, and of infecting others. The furlough scheme has some merits but is far too limited in its breadth and many fall through the gaps in it. And the very low, starvation level benefits (and the sanctions) for the low paid and semi-employed/jobless made it very difficult for those at risk to self-isolate to protect themselves and others, not to mention the continual pressure from many lower-paying employers for staff to risk coming to work. The measly £20 weekly rise in Universal Credit on an emergency basis since last April is due to end this coming April, and the government is resisting extending that, as it has resisted providing free school meals to the children of low-income families in the lockdowns.
The current lockdown is far laxer than last March; traffic on the roads and public transport is several times higher, as many employers are ignoring it and coercing their staff to work. The restrictions are not being enforced or are being avoided by falsely branding work as essential. This is also happening in schools, as the definition of ‘key workers’ whose children still attend has been made much more nebulous, and schools are much less empty than in March. And nurseries are still open, despite half of nursery staff saying that they do not feel safe. This is government policy, putting capitalist profit above the safety of working-class people.
The policy of ‘herd immunity’ was put forward by Johnson on breakfast TV, as well as by other government spokespeople including top government scientists such as Patrick Vallance, and the government’s ‘Nudge Unit’, right at the beginning of the pandemic. It was then modified somewhat, and the policy since has been called ‘punctuated herd immunity’, interrupted by half-hearted lockdowns or ‘mockdowns’, a point that bears repeating as this regime needs to be held to account. The ideological core of it was put forward by Johnson in his bizarre speech in Greenwich on Feb 2, 2020:
“…in that context, we were starting to hear some bizarre, autarchic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases like Coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation, that go beyond what is medically rational, to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment, humanity needs some government somewhere, that is willing at least to make the case, powerfully, for freedom of exchange.
“Some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles, and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion of the right of populations, of the Earth, to buy and sell freely among each other. Here in Greenwich in the first week of February 2020, I can tell you with all humility, that the UK is ready for that role.”https://www.facebook.com/185180654855189/videos/512321552989037
The combination of Brexiteering national-imperial conceit and callous disregard for science and rationality in pursuit of profit is grotesque. But this is not just a problem of this government’s malice, It is also the product of the inability of capitalism itself to cope with the crises, including disasters like Covid created by capitalist abuse of nature, that the profit system gives rise to. Faced with a disaster on this scale, a rationally planned economy would simply change the plan to accommodate the problem, with the welfare of the whole population the central aim of the plan. But capital cannot do this, so on top of the public health disaster is piled on massive economic dislocation and the threat of a major economic depression even when the pandemic ends.
This has its latest manifestation in the cavalier disregard for science in the administration of vaccines. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first to be licensed, is a pioneering and necessarily fragile pharmaceutical product whose manufacturers are highly specific about the timing necessary to administer its two doses. They are supposed to be administered three weeks apart, with the first dose offering partial immunity, and the second acting to supercharge the immunity gained from the first dose. The plan by Johnson and Hancock to extend that to twelve weeks was condemned by the manufacturers, as there is no data to say that such a change in the administration of the vaccine would work. There is, however, reason to fear that the diluted vaccine being in people’s systems for a longer period may give a vaccine-resistant strain chance to evolve.
The government got this not-so-bright idea after the second, Astra-Zeneca vaccine, which has a more flexible dosing schedule that is backed up by data, of up to twelve weeks, was licenced. Extending this to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is, like the ‘mockdowns’, simply a shortcut to try to reduce the infection rate quickly and then hurry people back to work, to resume the process of money-making for capital. This is the baleful state of government on ‘Plague Island’ at the beginning of 2021.
Starmer: Johnson’s Lackey
What of the opposition from the working-class movement, or what purports to represent it? Under Keir Starmer, there has been virtually NO opposition to Johnson. Starmer has not opposed anything significant that the government has done. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, there was sharp criticism of the government’s callousness from Jeremy Corbyn and a degree of support from the Labour front bench for trade union resistance. Which may have played a role in the fact that the first lockdown, at least in its initial stages, was actually effective, though Corbyn stepping down took the pressure off Johnson.
After Starmer gained the leadership in April, such criticism stopped. The line completely changed to one of support for virtually everything the government did, with only minor demurral on questions of fine detail. In an interview in September, Starmer laid out his ‘oppositional’ strategy thus: “Whatever measure the government takes, we will support it” and to avoid misunderstanding he reiterated: “They make a decision, we will follow that and we will reinforce their communications because in the end this is not about party politics.” (https://labourlist.org/2020/09/sunday-shows-labour-will-back-whatever-measures-the-government-takes-on-covid-says-starmer/)
Starmer’s political priority is not fighting the government’s attacks on working class people in this pandemic and disastrous economic situation. It is attacking the left and moving Labour further to the right and into the bourgeois camp, as symbolised by his embrace of Zionism. This links him with the right-wing populists, with Johnson and Trump, and determines his character as their lackey. The fact that all the Labour leadership candidates swore loyalty to Zionism in the 2020 contest is significant in this sense. The body they made their pledges to, the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD), made clear their support for Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, and their condemnation of the Corbyn-led Labour Party in the December 2019 General Election.
The candidates swore to combat so-called anti-Semitism, according to the fake IHRA definition, which the Corbyn leadership had capitulated to already in the previous couple of years. This means not racism against Jewish people, but hostility towards Zionism and its oppression of the Palestinian people, and purging opponents of Zionist racism, including Jewish ones, as part of a generalised attack on left-wing activists and anti-racism, part of making Labour back into what it was under Blair – the alternative Tory Party. As part of the purge we have seen the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn, its reversal and Starmer’s separate removal of the whip, which is now the subject of legal action (see article on page 6). Now Starmer has employed an Israeli spy, one Assaf Kaplan, previously known for waging cyber-warfare against Palestinians, to monitor his own members’ social media for signs of support for Palestinian rights and other forbidden ideas.
Under Starmer, Labour has not only embraced Zionism, but also Brexit: after Johnson achieved his last-minute deal at Christmas, Starmer whipped his MPs to vote for it, and then pledged to accept Brexit and not to try to reverse it, in pursuit of anti-immigrant votes. Thus exposing the cynicism of Starmer’s own campaign against Brexit before the 2019 General Election. It was not driven by principle, but just a factional manoeuvre to undermine Corbyn.
A seminal moment in Labours capitulation to Johnson over the pandemic was his sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey as shadow Education Secretary in June, amid charges of ‘anti-Semitism’ so risible that they are not worthy even of analysing. Everyone knew that the real reason was that RLB supported the main Teachers Union, the NEU, resisting Johnson’s reckless drive to re-open schools, first in June on a voluntary basis, then on a compulsory basis in September, with parents being fined if they withheld their children from school. This was a key cause of the second wave and likely the mutation of the virus to a more infectious strain when the first lockdown was being prematurely relaxed. Thus the blood of those who have died in the second wave, most of which were completely avoidable, is not only on Johnson’s hands but Starmer’s too.
Starmer’s conduct in the various ups and downs of the pandemic and lockdowns has been pathetic. Even when he has contradicted Johnson, such as when he called for the extension of the shambolic system of ‘tiers’ and effectively for a tier 5 lockdown over Christmas, he only dared because it was common knowledge that Johnson was considering exactly that. He was just Johnson’s echo for the whole period since he became leader.
We need a genuine workers party
It is evident that we need a party to fight for working class interests independently from the thoroughly bourgeois Labour Party, whose working-class component, as in the Blair years, is in the process of being driven to the margins. Out of the purges of the left new formations are being born, most hopefully that around Chris Williamson, who is spending a lot of time and energy putting together what looks like a party in the making, trying to draw together as many strands of the left as possible into something inclusive and democratic.
We support this perspective, of seeking to build a new party of the working class, one which is capable of developing both the mass base and the political programme to really fight capital and has the dynamism and flexibility to allow that kind of political development to happen. Unfortunately, one obstacle to this that has recently emerged is Jeremy Corbyn’s new ‘Project for Peace and Justice’ which aims to keep together his followers and campaign around a variety of anti-war, environmental and working-class issues without having the perspective of building a new party. It appears to have been set up as an alternative to a party, a fatal flaw in the whole project, which apart from the political problem of the reformism of Corbyn, is an additional problem that renders the project pointless for militants to join, something that can only act to give the Starmer-led Labour Party a left cover and act to corral votes for that party from militants who would otherwise oppose Starmer’s candidates and all that they stand for in elections in front of the whole working class.
The economic catastrophe resulting from the pandemic, the huge number of deaths particularly in countries run by far-right neoliberals like Trump and Johnson, and all the related issues of climate and ecological degradation, which as the pandemic has shown, is a potent threat to the lives of the working class and oppressed people everywhere, has accumulated a huge amount of social discontent and rage. This will inevitably burst out into the open when the pandemic does finally recede. There will be convulsive movements tending towards the left that grow out of this, as in some way is visible in the US with the huge popular surge to unseat Trump. There will be movements of the working class and poor, perhaps similar to the French gilets jaunes which started in a confused way, with attempts by the extreme right to control the movement, but which spontaneously pushed those interlopers out and moved towards the left in the struggle against Macron. After the pandemic, the accumulated contradictions are certain to find expression in similar, if not more explosive ways. Warmed-over left reformism is totally inadequate to deal with the objective problems that capitalist decay has brought to these masses today.
Ultimately, the working class will not come to power through bourgeois elections: the state and the ruling class will not allow that to happen. We need a programme that starts from the felt needs of today’s working class and points the way for our class to take power from the capitalists by our own mass revolutionary mass activity and action. The demise of the Corbynist movement, but the continued political activity of likely hundreds of thousands of its militants, provides an historic opportunity to build a genuine working-class party in Britain, that can develop such a programme and practice and lead our class to victory.