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Editorial: Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle and the capitalist crisis

BORIS JOHNSON’S St Valentine’s Day massacre came a day early.

The root of the differences between the prime minister and his chancellor – which today resulted in the Sajid Javid resignation – lies in the particular character of Britain’s continuing capitalist crisis and the different ways in which the dissonant tendencies in our multilayered ruling class think it can be overcome.

These differences are, for the moment, expressed in personality terms, in a supposed irreconcilable conflict between the chancellor’s priorities and the team he has assembled in No 11 and those next door answerable to Johnson’s attack dog Dominic Cummings. 

Recollect that in the very early days of this new regime, Cummings had security officers escort a tearful Javid adviser from the premises on the grounds, it appeared, that she mixed in dissident circles.

In the snake-pit of Whitehall media management, Javid has been cast as “Chino,” not a reference to the casual clothing of a dress-down Friday, but because he was “chancellor in name only.”

Presented by Johnson with a demand that he dismiss his entire team, Javid concluded that he indeed held office in name only and jacked the job in.

At this precise moment the most likely explanation for this unexpectedly dramatic dimension to what was anticipated to be a minor reshuffle is the desire of Johnson to consolidate around his person and office a more powerful government machine.

The immediate past experience of, first, coalition government with the Lib Dems and then the disarray of the Theresa May administration has convinced the new Tory leadership of the need for Cabinet discipline, parliamentary good order and effective oversight of policy and performance.

There is a tendency on the liberal left – perhaps the most pervasive of Labour’s ideological trends – to conceive of Johnson as the personification of the most reactionary right, the instrument of all those forces that desire an escalation of austerity in the interest of fiscally conservative regime concerned with precisely those obsessions which constitute the traditional Tory priorities. 

Low corporate taxation, privatised utilities, the untrammelled power of management, the sanctity of private property, the inviolability of the military and intelligence budget, the overall diminution of the public sphere and the guiltless mobilisation of reactionary and racist sentiment in the pursuit of these goals finds few dissidents in Tory circles.

While any Tory will adhere more or less without dissent to the these verities, there are real difference about how to overcome the structural deficiencies of British capitalism.

Contradictory trends in ruling-class thinking do not express themselves in unalloyed form but there is a tendency which see both necessity and profit in a more balanced regional economy, greater investment in high-value technology, science and research, a more radical reorientation to global markets and increased efforts to develop a more modern, diversified and productive economy.

At the same time there are powerful tendencies that express the more parasitic elements of Britain’s notoriously skewed economy with a financial sector reflected always searching for the easiest profits at the expense of regional and infrastructure investment.

There is an obvious political utility to policies which serve to secure the electoral bridgeheads Johnson has captured in the English regions and for the moment this appears to be the dominant trend in government.

Labour in opposition needs to break out of its self-referential bubble and respond with the kind of class politics that can mobilise working-class opinion around clear-cut socialist policies and present a more compelling vision of what a modern socialist economy means for people searching for thoroughgoing solutions to the problems crisis capitalism has brought.

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