The passing political show – vacancy for a caretaker

So Boris Johnson was finally forced to resign. Luck ran out for this ‘likeable rogue’ who was twice elected Mayor of Labour-dominated London, who delivered Brexit for the dodgy financiers who funded the Vote Leave campaign, and who won over dozens of Labour strongholds in the North and the Midlands to the Tories. In the end his lying, his attempts to protect his cronies in trouble, his partying while the rest of us were locked down, turned him into a ‘despicable rogue’ – and an electoral liability for the Tories, which of course is why most of his MPs turned on him.

What was it that attracted many members of the working class to this privileged (Eton and Bullingdon Club) member of the ruling class ?

As most members of the capitalist class were opposed to the UK leaving the EU, to win the referendum on UK membership he had to adopt a populist pose, presenting the campaign for Brexit as a struggle of ordinary people to take back control, not just from the Eurocrats of Brussels but also in opposition to the London-based British Establishment. With some jingoistic beating of drums and waving of flags, it worked. He successfully plotted to overthrow and replace Theresa May as Prime Minister, and fought and won the 2019 general election under the slogan ‘Get Brexit Done’. He appointed a Vote Leave cabinet rather than a traditional Tory one, and only got Brexit ‘done’ by signing a protocol on Northern Ireland that he had no intention of honouring and which may yet lead to a trade war with the EU.

His flagship policy was the populist one of ‘levelling up’ the standard of living of Brexit voters in the North and Midlands to that supposedly enjoyed by everyone in London and the South East but that was just the usual, worthless politician’s promise. When a shortage of HGV drivers developed, partly due to Brexit, and their wages rose, he said that a high-wage economy had been one of the aims of Brexit. When later, however, the rise in the cost of living led other workers to demand – and strike – to get higher wages, he opposed this. Just as any government of capitalism, including a Labour one, has to, because all governments have to accept that the capitalist system runs on profits and that profits therefore have to be given priority over wages.

This is why the personality – whether good or bad – of those presiding over the operation of capitalism doesn’t matter. No leader, even if they were a saint (which Johnson certainly isn’t) can make capitalism work for those obliged to work for wages. It is a profit-making system that can only run, and be run, in the interest of the profit-takers. It is this that limits what governments can do. When it comes to the way the economy works, governments are in office but not in power, they are caretakers for capitalism.

This is why workers shouldn’t place their trust in leaders, shouldn’t hand over their responsibility to act for themselves to others who promise to do something for them, as unfortunately most repeatedly do at election times. Leaders can’t do anything for us. It’s the system that must be changed, not those who make up the government. Johnson will be replaced by someone else but it won’t make any difference to our everyday life. Conventional politics is ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. It’s time we got together democratically, without leaders, to put an end to the class system with production for profit that is the cause of the problems we face and which the politicians falsely claim to be able to solve.

How irrelevant can you get?

In June Nicola Sturgeon announced that the devolved administration in Scotland was asking the UK Supreme Court if it would be legal for them to organise a referendum on Scottish independence in October 2023, nine years after the last one.

Since the SNP is not even pretending to propose a change in the economic basis of society, where the means of life are monopolised by a minority and used to make goods and provide services for sale with a view to profit, we can conclude that their case is that capitalism administered by a government in Edinburgh would be better than capitalism administered from London.

It is hard to imagine a proposition, made by a party with some degree of electoral support, that is so easy to refute. Since capitalism is the cause of the problems that wage-workers and their dependants face, the SNP’s proposed change to the political superstructure of society is not going to make any difference from a working class point of view. The problems faced by those obliged to sell their mental and physical energies for a living will continue under a separate Scottish state whose government will be no more able to solve them than the Westminster government has been.

It can’t even be argued that a separate Scottish state would enhance the limited political democracy that exists (and is desirable) under capitalism. Both Britain and Scotland are established constitutional democracies. It is not like a colony seeking independence. In colonies ruled from abroad the struggle for political independence was waged by a native capitalist class with a view to obtaining its own state. In Scotland there is no such class demanding this. The demand for an independent state is put forward just by some politicians and intellectuals. It is irrelevant even from a capitalist point of view.

The struggle to achieve a separate Scottish state only encourages nationalist illusions and prejudices, further dividing the working class. Even the campaign for a referendum, let alone a referendum campaign itself, has this divisive effect.

It is by no means certain that there will be a referendum. The law says that it can’t take place without the approval of the UK state. It is difficult to see how the Supreme Court could over-rule this. Maybe that is what the SNP is banking on. There has to be a British general election before 2024 and a refusal to give permission to hold a referendum could be a useful issue for the SNP to rally its voters.

If, somehow, the referendum does take place it remains to be seen if a majority will again vote to stay with the devil they know or take a leap in the dark. Socialists won’t be opting for either.

Next article: Managerial Politics ⮞

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