Tory Britain is falling apart. We are experiencing the biggest fall in living standards since the 1950s, with soaring prices for petrol and food and inflation near 10%. Airports in chaos, strikes on the railways and law courts, and teachers balloting for action.
Under the Tories we’ve endured cuts in benefits of £37bn, flatlining wages, and a massive growth of precariat work – zero hours contracts, agency working, insecure self-employment. The bureaucratic Universal Credit had the uplift removed, pushing almost a million people into poverty as a result. Public services have been starved of investment with problems compounded by the pandemic and Brexit.
This is a ‘made in Britain’ cost of living crisis built on 12 years of Tory austerity policies. Karen Constantine has dubbed it a “cost of greed” crisis in writing about the impact of austerity on the NHS. Mounting waiting lists, ambulance queues, bed-blocking and huge workforce shortages (110,000 nurses short), and staff drained by cuts and Covid.
Greed we see in the huge profits made by oil companies—only reluctantly now subject to a windfall tax, with loopholes for reckless fossil fuel extraction and a green light from Boris Johnson for big corporate bonus increases. We also see greed in the profits of private health companies and Big Pharma, poised to take over more NHS services.
“Bonkers” is how Duncan Bowie describes the Government’s latest wheeze to make housing associations sell off homes. In a situation of housing shortage and mounting homelessness, it is also immoral to further remove housing from the rented sector. The minor restriction on no-fault evictions also proposed for tenants in private housing is overshadowed by the pain of rising rents and poor maintenance, reports Poppy Pendelino.
Long buried is the promise of a high-wage economy Johnson made to Tory conference last year – with inflation rampant, public sector workers are subject to a mere 1.5% average pay rise. Dennis Leech exposes the nonsense of interest rate rises based on a false comparison with 1970s inflation. Georgia Sangster emphasises that the crisis impacts heaviest on women, who will be the shock absorbers, losing their jobs and independence in the face of squeezed household budgets.
Following Brexit, Covid and Putin’s war in Ukraine, a further script is written for yet another scapegoat—workers. Johnson and billionaire chancellor Sunak tell workers to tighten their belts further with sub-3% pay rises and prattle about wage price spirals. Workers have endured 12 years of real pay cuts, yet when they take protective strike action, all blame rains down on them from Government and right-wing media alike.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister continues on his lawbreaking course, as Margaret Owen reports. Following the proroguing of Parliament and Partygate, we now have bills to tear up the Northern Ireland protocol, endangering the Good Friday Agreement, as Geoff Bell reports, and most recently the threat to ditch the European Court of Human Rights, set up largely by Britain after World War 2. There are also plans to breach treaties protecting women and minorities.
On the cost of living, Labour rightly calls on the PM to reveal a plan and negotiate with the trade unions, but where is the solidarity? Beyond these calls Starmer has said little to outline an alternative vision or to develop policies to counter the Tories, as Ann Black argues. She outlines the process for change-making and insists it is not enough to rely on Tory own goals.
We devote considerable space in this issue to international wars, many neglected or barely reported. Ukraine cries out for an end to the genocidal war, but as Glyn Ford says, maximalist demands from Liz Truss and Johnson to take back all territory including Crimea only set back the prospects for a negotiated settlement.
Elsewhere are the forgotten wars. Venus Azal reports on Yemen, where UK/US-backed Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates continue their brutal bombardment of the country. In the Horn of Africa, Andy Gregg reports on the conflict in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where Tigrayans face huge military odds and the whole region is threatened with famine on a par with the 1980s that launched Band Aid.
Ben Jamal reminds us of the repressive realities of the Israeli regime, branded apartheid in its denial of Palestinian statehood and human rights. In the wake of further illegal settlements on West Bank and Gaza and the murder of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, he calls for redoubled efforts to stop the Tories making boycott and disinvestment illegal.
In the Balkans, 30 years on from the slaughter of thousands of Bosnians, Sheila Osmanovic warns of the dangers of old nationalisms being reignited. Jason Gold sees the change of government in Montenegro as window dressing for the stealth Serbian plans to strengthen pro-Russia ties.
With a glint of sunlight, Jude Newcombe reports on a return of Australian Labor to government with prospects for positive action on global warming and migrant rights. Colombia’s election of the leftist Petro joins the left-turning Chile to bring hope of democratic socialist advances in Latin America, reports Fabian Hamilton MP.
Boris Johnson remains impervious to calls for his resignation despite the latest huge losses of Tiverton & Honiton and Wakefield, the resignation of chair Oliver Dowden, and the 40% no confidence vote of his own MPs. However, we must guard against complacency. Labour needs vision and radical policies, neither of which are clear. Peter Kenyon points out that Starmer’s Labour did no better in Wakefield than Corbyn in 2017, and argues that failure to take a clear stand in defence of working people facing huge cuts in living standards by supporting railway workers and others taking action betrays a fatal weakness in the leadership. Embracing electoral reform as a central plank in Labour’s democratic transformation agenda, as Mary Southcott argues, would represent a further leap forward. What is Starmer waiting for?