When I was at uni, moving in broad left circles, the problem wasn’t the Tories. The real nuisance was the Trotskyists.
Thanks to the ultra-left, no political meeting ended on time. These comrades could split hairs and pick nits till the cows came home. By which time the unpersuaded had, like my will to live, drained away.
IMG, IS, SWP, WRP – far-left groups could out-acronym Line of Duty. Zealous and deeply idealogical, Trotskyist parties made more noise than their numbers warranted.
None of us stays in the political berth we occupied in our youth. Conventionally, we drift starboard. But there’s a particularly well-sailed crossing of ex-Trotskyists from extreme left to far right.
Figures like Paul Johnson who opposed NATO and the Suez war, supported the May ’68 Paris protests and became editor of the New Statesman. Then he pivoted rightwards, turning into a vicious anti-communist and cheerleader for Thatcherism, backing dictators like Chile’s Pinochet.
The Observer journalist, Nick Cohen, was a scourge of Blairite Labour, but went on to champion the invasion of Iraq and attack Islamic culture, Scottish independence and Wikileaks.
Claire Fox was leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party (which, as the Revolutionary Communist Tendency had broken away from the Revolutionary Communist Group. RCG to RCT to RCP – Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey!). She published Living Marxism, but later morphed into a Brexit party MEP and Baroness Fox of Buckley.
These political oscillations – from the distant fringes of the left to the extremities of the pro-corporate, libertarian right – were noted by George Monbiot in the Guardian: While their politics have swung 180 degrees, their tactics – entering organisations and taking them over – appear unchanged.
Now, there’s a former Trotskyist ex-RCPer at the very heart of the UK government. In 2019, Boris Johnson appointed Munira Mirza director of the Number 10 Policy Unit.
She and her husband Dougie Smith – chief Conservative strategist – are, after Carrie-Antoinette and BoJo, the other Downing Street power couple.
If Mirza’s ultra-left background led to her current job, how did Dougie’s previous role lead to his? He used to run swingers’ orgies. Maybe the journey from sex parties to Tory party is not that great.
In a previous blog – https://stageleft.blog/2021/02/24/and-its-a-yes-from-boris-maybe – I suggested Boris’s clueless blustering was no match for a smart indy movement.
Yet, though they still lack a clear response to Scotland, that doesn’t mean the Tories don’t have a bigger plan. Recently, we’ve seen more evidence of it – and it’s not a Priti sight.
A slew of new bills – police, crime, sentencing and courts; nationality and borders and secrecy – are being introduced to severely curtail people’s rights to protest (even if a demo is just annoying), to come into Britain as a refugee or to disclose facts that might embarrass the government.
OK, most of these proposals are not directly applicable to Scotland. But they’re coming for us too: the UK Internal Market Bill (which breaks international law, but only in a specific, limited way) confirms Johnson’s view of devolution as a disaster and overrules the Scottish Parliament.
Meanwhile, Boris and pals tease out dog-whistle remarks in their war on woke. Beat crime with hi-vis chain gangs; bring back stop and search (a kind, loving thing to do,bumbles the blonde buffer) and blame students for cancel culture.
Housing minister Robert Jenrick wants statues saved from woke worthies and baying mobs.
Home secretary Patel, putting aside her copy of Neo-Fascism for Dummies, backs fans booing players who take the knee.
It’s hard to see all this as a coincidence. Boris blunders on, but behind him there’s a sinister, concerted effort to legislate away vital freedoms, while undermining compassion and understanding.
Labour said things can only get better. Under the Tories, they can only get worse.
For many, the situation is already dire. 14 million people are in poverty, one in every five. The number claiming Universal Credit has doubled from 3 million to 6 million.
Having slashed benefits and tax credits and declared sick people fit for work, the Tories are cutting Universal Credit by £20 a week. It’s the largest single cut to social security since the Second World War says the Rowntree Foundation.
Another time, another place and this lot wouldn’t be in power; they’d be in jail.
When the furlough scheme dries up this month, unemployment will rise. Almost everyone’s in debt, especially the government. UK debt is 100% of GDP and rising, with Santa Sunak planning billions of public spending cuts.
Empty shelves, hospitals under pressure and more homelessness. Everywhere you look – mental health, social care, half-full schools and more food banks – the cracks in the UK’s social fabric are widening.
As these crises deepen, are the Tories banking on repressive measures taking root to hump us all? Keep their paymasters and media cheerleaders happy. Screw the poor and blame the dissenting. The Nasty Party, red in tooth and claw.
There is, of course, no guarantee that dodgy demagoguery will work. Yougov found that most people don’t know what woke means. Surely these toxic, prejudicial schemes won’t win hearts and minds?
The Tories realise they won’t get everybody behind them. But they don’t need to. Their 80-seat majority comes from 43% of the electorate. And Brexit shows how disruptive ideas can prevail.
TINA. There is no alternative. Labour are, sadly, all over the shop. It’s heart-breaking that our family and friends in England have nobody to vote for.
Westminster seems broken beyond repair, but Holyrood, inherently more democratic, offers a hint of an alternative with the SNP-Green pact. The chair of GB (Gammon Bastards) News is apoplectic.
Is it too much to imagine that a future deal might include some of Scottish Labour?
But there seems greater scope – and hope – for a fight back beyond such parliamentary manouevres. There are vast areas of society where the Tories are vulnerable. Save profits for their pals, they’ve no real interest in the public sphere – civic activities that exist for the common good.
Across the world, what do autocratic regimes fear most? Public demonstrations and protest. People power.
Remember the fright they got, exactly seven years ago, when they thought YES were winning?
Is Scottish independence the cause to spur the battle against the Tories? If the grassroots campaign picks up momentum again, it could be formidable.
In which case, we’d better get on with it!
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An edited version of this blog post appeared in The National on 7 September 2021: