Editorial: Boris’s fall, election prospects, and the movement’s tasks

Of all the problems facing the British capitalist establishment in the summer of 2019, the “for now” departed Boris Johnson was only ever perceived to be the answer – or more accurately, part of an answer – to just one of them. The most pressing and urgent question of how to stop a Jeremy Corbyn-led government coming to power, with all the hopes and expectations so dangerous to the system that such a prospect being realised would have unleashed.

Under the leadership of Theresa May, the Conservatives – the oldest party in the world, and the political vehicle through which the capitalist class had traditionally preferred to exercise their rule – were in complete disarray. In the elections to the European parliament that had taken place on 23 May, the Tories had polled just one-and-a-half million votes, an 8.8% share, the first ever national election in which they had won less than 10% of the votes cast.

The fact that the European elections had taken place at all was itself evidence of how dysfunctional the party had become from the capitalists’ point of view. The government was obliged to stage the elections because it had been unable to meet the March 2019 deadline to agree a withdrawal treaty to leave the EU, following the 2016 referendum, due to the divisions on the Tory benches. The poll was won by Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit Party, with a 30.5% vote share, supporting a ‘no deal’ exit.

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Abortion, decriminalisation, and the right to choose

The jailing for 28 months of Carla Foster, a 44-year old woman with three children, one with special needs, for terminating a pregnancy during Covid lockdown has shone a spotlight on abortion laws in England and Wales.

We have a Tory government quick to foment ‘culture wars’ over migration, and to a lesser extent trans rights, in order to deflect from the multiple crises they face, and which they are totally incapable of solving. However, we have so far not seen the attacks on abortion rights that have taken place in the US and in other countries where right-populist governments have been in power. This is because of a general understanding that there is overwhelming support for the right to abortion, and that any attack could provoke a backlash, adding to the crumbling of their electoral base.

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Global Warning: Can Ultra Low Emission Zones combat air pollution?

Toxic air is all but inescapable today, with only 1% of humanity avoiding exposure to pollution exceeding World Health Organisation standards. Sources and sufferers are concentrated in major cities. London killed around 4,000 with its air in 2020, according to Imperial College London. How can we make the streets safe for breathing? 

Labour mayor Sadiq Khan is expanding the ‘Ultra Low Emission Zone’ (ULEZ) from inner London – roughly half the city, within the North and South Circular roads – to all of Greater London at the end of August. Vehicles which don’t meet exhaust standards, mostly older cars which are more affordable to poorer workers, are charged £12.50 each day they operate within the zone. 

A study on ULEZ by Imperial College London found in 2021 that it “caused only small improvements in air quality in the context of a longer-term downward trend in London’s air pollution levels”. The separate, wider ‘Low Emission Zone’ cut emissions from heavy goods vehicles. Parking restrictions, traffic and the rising cost of living make car ownership harder and harder in inner London. New vehicles replace older models year on year and are built to higher environmental standards anyway. 

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The NHS at 75: can it survive?

July marks the 75th anniversary of the National Health Service. It remains the British working class’s greatest gain – but only just. The NHS is more fragile today than any time since its foundation. JON DALE looks at the birth of the NHS and where it is heading.

Few now remember life before the NHS. Until 4 July 1948, every visit to a GP or hospital had to be paid for, unless covered by insurance or charity. Workers paid National Insurance but their dependents weren’t covered. Many families couldn’t afford private insurance, weren’t poor enough for ‘charity’, so suffered without health care.

A century earlier, Friedrich Engels described the terrible health of working-class families in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England (see Socialism Today No.248, May 2021). With crowding in insanitary slums, polluted air, and contaminated food and water, they died younger than before the industrial revolution. Cholera, typhus, smallpox and other epidemics regularly swept the country. Even wealthy capitalist families were not immune.

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China, Mao and the markets

At a time of intensifying economic and geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China, HANNAH SELL reviews a book that stresses the role of the Communist Party-controlled state in China’s economy.

Mao and Markets: The Communist Roots of Chinese Enterprise

By Christopher Marquis and Kunyun Qiao

Published by Yale University Press, 2023, £20

Mao and Markets is an attempt to educate the US capitalist class about the peculiar character of China and to appeal to it to find a way to “productively live with it”. On one level it is an odd read because it attempts to ‘objectively’ explain Maoism in the past and today, and the role of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), without having any real grasp of the historical processes, above all of the class forces at play. Nonetheless, it contains a lot of interesting information about China today, including on the attitudes of different sections of the Chinese capitalist class.

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Marx and Engels: The role of the unions

One year on, the current strike wave shows no sign of abating. Striking workers have shown enormous resilience in fighting to defend their living standards and working conditions, often challenging the low expectations of their union leaders. At the same time, Keir Starmer’s Labour has nailed its colours to the capitalists’ mast, against the interests of strikers and the working class in general. At this crucial time, as part of the debate about how to strengthen trade union organisation and working-class political representation, we reprint an edited article by PETER TAAFFE which first appeared in Socialism Today, issue No.98, February 2006, in which he reviewed a book on Marx and Engels and the trade unions, with very relevant lessons for the struggle today.

Marx and Engels on the Trade Unions

Edited by Kenneth Lapides

Published by International Publishers (New York)

This book is essential reading for all those who wish to understand the role of the trade unions and the tasks of socialists within them. Although first published in 1987, containing the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels on this issue, it has great contemporary relevance.

Written in the nineteenth century, inevitably parts of the book are dated. However, in the main, the freshness with which Marx and Engels approach the real movement of the working class is evident. What has not dated is the method of analysis of these two great socialist teachers, their almost unerring ability to put their finger on the pulse of the working-class movement at each stage, not just in Britain but internationally.

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Money, markets and capitalist madness

Government spending, budget deficits and public debt hangs over political discussion in the UK – from Gordon Brown’s ‘fiscal prudence’, the Con-Dems’ austerity drive, through Theresa May accusing Jeremy Corbyn of wanting a ‘magic money tree’, to public sector workers being told by both Starmer’s Labour and the Tories today that there’s not enough money available to give them a living pay increase. NICK HART reviews a recent contribution to the debate.

Follow the Money: How Much Does Britain Cost?

By Paul Johnson

Published by Abacus, 2023, £25

To pull back the curtain on how the UK government raises and spends its money, Paul Johnson has written Follow The Money. A former government economist, Johnson has for the last 12 years been director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank (IFS).

Founded by a quartet of City money men to lobby post-facto against the introduction of Corporation and Capital Gains tax on businesses and wealthy individuals in the late 1960s, the IFS today describes its mission as “guiding politicians and civil servants in implementing effective economic policies”.

In reality, it plays a dual role. As well as carrying out academic research, through its appearance in the opinion pages of newspapers and provision of talking heads to news channels, think tanks such as the IFS provide cover for the broad approach of capitalist politicians in managing public finances – even if they might sometimes speak out against current policies or advocate for reforms.

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