Editorial: Chairing UK plc
By the end of this month Britain will have a new Prime Minister – either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt – but does it matter?
In Britain the Prime Minister is the head of the government, the executive arm of the state. The state, we are told, represents the people. In reality, however, as Marx and Engels identified, ‘the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie’. In other words, the state and its executive, the government, do not represent the interest of everyone but only of the few who own and control the means of production. The Prime Minister is the chair of the executive committee charged with this.
The person who fills this role does not have to be a capitalist. In fact this has rarely been the case. In the nineteenth century the capitalists were content to let aristocrats fill this and the other posts on their executive committee. Nowadays, both the chair and the other members are filled by people, many from the working class, who have chosen to make a career out of being a politician.
In the end it doesn’t matter who the members of the ‘committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie’ are. What matters is that they have to manage these common affairs and that this involves, besides arbitrating between sectional interests, putting conditions for profit-making before everything else.
There is a political constraint too. In Britain the government has to command a majority in the House of Commons for its policy. Where this is not the case, as now over UK plc’s membership of the EU, there is a problem.
Until the introduction of the 2011 Fixed Term Parliament Act, the Prime Minister was able to call a general election. Now this rests in the hands of MPs and, at the moment, there are not many Tory MPs who want one for fear of being tossed off the greasy pole. They are disguising this as a fear that an election today could result in a ‘Marxist’ becoming Prime Minister.
The depiction of Corbyn as a Marxist is absurd – he’s mainly just an old-fashioned Labour reformist – but, even if he were one, this would make no difference. As chair of a committee charged with managing the common affairs of the capitalist class, he would be constrained by economic circumstances to give priority to profit-making, despite this not being his intention. But he would at least have a better understanding of his predicament: elected on a promise to improve things for the many he would eventually have to put the profits of the few first.
So, no, it does not matter who is the Prime Minister as it is not governments who control how capitalism operates but the operation of the capitalist economy which limits what governments can do, obliging them to put profits first. Whoever chairs the committee managing the common affairs of the capitalist class merely presides over the meetings at which the formal decisions to do this are taken. Why should we get worked up over who it is?
Get your Free 3 Month subscription to the Socialist Standard Britains oldest socialist journal. Here