In Britain, Paul Atkin

EPA photo

By Paul Atkin,

Published on Urban Ramblings, Aug 6, 2022:

The pending resignation of British Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party, Boris Johnston, has triggered a contest on who to elect as the new party leader and PM. This will be determined by a vote among the party’s membership, the result of which will be announced on September 5. Here, in a piece from earlier this month, Paul Atkin discusses Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, the two remaining contenders vying for the position, examines their policies and the impact the party’s choice is likely to have on the government and the country, and why the winner is likely to be Truss.


The Conservative Party is full of racists and Rishi Sunak is not white.

Watching the Sky hustings yesterday, Sunak came across as much cleverer than Truss. Very quick on his feet. Slightly puppyish public schoolboy enthusiasm. Close your eyes and, y’know, it could be Tony Blair. Look at him and he even has some of Blair’s mannerisms – the parallel chopping hands, the way of remembering the names of questioners in the audience to engage “personally” with them, the fake self deprecation. But being clever could be a problem. “Too clever by half” to lead a Party full of people “tired of experts”. The Conservative Party is full of people who employ people like Sunak to do their accounts. They don’t want to be bossed by smartarse backroom nerds, however slick.

More substantially, “its the economy stupid”.

Truss, 2D cardboard figure though she is, rapidly reduced to speaking clock responses when caught out, represents a continuity of the “triumph of the will”style delusions that fuelled Brexit.

The sense that she is both a Margaret Thatcher tribute act and “continuity Boris” – having been loyal to the shameless charlatan ’til the end – nevertheless indicates that a cosplay version of the real thing is the best they can do now. Thatcher was PM at a time before the reunification of Germany, when the UK cut a more powerful global figure than it can possibly do now. Johnson could genuinely embody “cakeism” because of who he is – Eton, Oxford, Bullingdon, the Spectator. That shameless sense of entitlement that he could always eat his cake because someone else would keep supplying him with more – and his projection that the country could reassert its imperial habits of doing the same – were quite genuine in his case. Bone of his bone. Blood of his blood. For Truss, middle class girl from Leeds, taught, like all of us are in the state education system that the way to get on is to impress others, can’t convince in the same way. At Eton, they are taught that, whatever their limitations, they are the people that others have to impress. Truss can, at the most, impersonate that. And she tries very hard. And it shows.

Nevertheless, on the economics, she is trying to make out that the only reason we are heading for a recession is because people are saying we are (“talking us into a recession”)- thereby neatly inverting reality. Her formula for the immediate crisis is to

  • hold down wages and “stop unions holding working people to ransom”,
  • a Kamikazi Brexit, slashing and burning all residual EU regulations on labour and environment standards within 18 months and possible trade war with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol,
  • trying to keep the economy from tanking with immediate tax cuts, which by and large benefit those who are least badly hit.

This may be based on a calculation that whatever they do, they are likely to lose the next election, so they might as well try to “move fast and smash things”, as they say in management, safe in the knowledge that an incoming Labour led government under Starmer would be too wed to ruling class interests to overturn very much of it.

Her rapidly withdrawn proposal to cut public sector pay to match local cost of living figures – claiming that it was “misunderstood” because it was understood only too clearly that, if you put out a press release claiming “savings” of £8.8 billion based on figures calculated on “savings” from the salaries of nurses, teachers, and police officers, it is not a “misunderstanding” to conclude that it is precisely those people whose wages would be cut – indicates how badly thought out so much of this is.

The fundamental flaw in her idea is that seeking to boom an economy by boosting consumption without investment was exactly what started the global inflationary surge when Joe Biden did exactly that with his stimulus package last year. Underlying all this is the low level of private sector investment, which none of Truss’s programme will boost. Inflation will bite hard into living standards.

Sunak, by contrast, is a “sound money” man. He seems to think it doesn’t matter if human civilisation perishes in rising floods and fires, so long as the books are balanced when it does. The Governor of the Bank of England thinks likewise, hence the rise in interest rates this week. This signals an impending series of clashes between Downing and Threadneedle Streets as the crisis intensifies.

This goes to the heart of the Conservative conflict and the impossible dilemma they face; given that they exist to politically block any solution that might actually work, if that was based on state investment or greater equality. Raise interest rates, keep money tight, and zombie companies, those that are only able to keep ticking over if the interest rates on their debt stays near to zero, go bust. Everyone employed by them loses their jobs, and have to claim benefits. Everyone with a mortgage gets squeezed and cuts back (and landlords with mortgages put rents up). Measures taken to curb inflation leads to recession. Measures taken to avoid recession fuels inflation. Snookered.

On other matters, they are agreed.

Both see the solution to the inflationary spike in gas prices fueled by the Ukraine war – which hits the UK very hard because we have such a high dependence on gas for cooking and home heating in the draughtiest houses in Europe – as a Ukrainian victory. Its increasingly evident that this is a fantasy. The options are a negotiated compromise peace; or a long term frozen conflict (which NATO will go for so as not to lose face). The only way to get an immediate cut in gas, and therefore energy prices, is to push for peace, not keep fuelling the war. Jeremy Corbyn was right to call for the UK to stop supplying arms this week.

Both see the solution to the increased costs of energy from fossil fuels is to double down on fossil fuels. Sunak’s responses to “Net Zero Questions”

New coal mines? “Yes” to avoid coal imports, even though he knows that the projected coal mine in Cumbria would export 80% of its production.

Fracking? “Yes” – where locally supported.

Onshore wind? “No”. Not caveats about local support. In the immortal words of Hermione Granger. “What. An. Idiot”.

And Truss wants to cut the “green levies” on energy bills, even though this is marginal and their effect over the years, in paying for what little insulation has been done, is to reduce bills. She has also made noises about letting the 2050 Net Zero target slip; thinking, like Johnson, that we can get away with a “Climate Pass”. As if the laws of physics will bend because she wants them to.

Both are fully paid up Cold War Warriors against China and both will ramp up military spending, not noticing that Nancy Pelosi’s brinkmanship this week was not at all popular in Taiwan; where, by and large, people are quite content to fudge along with the current ambiguity in relation to the People’s Republic rather than be used as a causus belli by the US (which is a long way away from where the fighting would take place – as it is from Ukraine).

Both favour using racism – deportations to Rwanda just a start, a new definition of Refugee based on the Australian model that dumps desperate people on far off Pacific Island camps, imprisoning and criminalising people for being desperate (and actually wanting to come here and make a contribution) restricting of access to “legal routes” that don’t actually exist. None of these restrictions apply to people who can buy their way in of course.

Truss adds a petty twist all of her own that goes down really well with her audience, in seeking to keep the UK together by goading Scots nationalists. This goes down a ton at 19th holes in Hampshire. Not so much in Glasgow.

With 16 million people already cutting back on food and essentials, even before energy bills go through the roof in October just as the weather gets colder, with the war in Ukraine increasingly going badly for NATO and voices for peace getting louder, with unions taking up the fight to defend their members and even non union workers in places like the Amazon warehouse in Tilbury expressing collective self respect by holding a sit in against wage cuts, with arguments now being heard that we need to redistribute wealth away from profits back to the people whose work made those profits, and the likelihood that our next Prime Minister will be someone who wants to go for confrontational broke on all fronts; we are in for a Winter in which there will be desperate struggles and serious political shifts.

Facing the realities of climate breakdown, the slippage of US global hegemony (with everything that flows from that), the global economic impasse of neo-liberalism – given a local twist of Brexit deepening the stagnation and slow disintegration of the UK, there is almost an imperative for the Conservatives to double down. As the old gods fail, the true believers worship all the harder and the old songs take on a willed manic quality that will be increasingly shrill. We will get political leaders to match. Far from looking after the apple stall, they will kick it over to see which way the apples roll. “Steady as she goes” does not fit times in which time is not on their side.

That’s why it will be Truss.


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