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Editorial: Even Boris Johnson may not be able to bluff his way through this crisis for working people

PROBLEMS facing the Conservative Party as it meets in Manchester this weekend run deep.

Boris Johnson is a formidable politician and electioneer. His revamping of the Tory Party from 2019, to smash its pro-EU wing and enter the election as the unambiguous party of Brexit, involved considerable ruthlessness, including booting political giants including two former chancellors of the exchequer out of the party. 

The decision to fight that election with a relentless focus on leaving the EU — “Get Brexit Done” was more or less the only thing the Conservatives said through the entire campaign — was devastatingly successful.

But he has also been lucky in his opponents. 

The wheels were already coming off the revived socialist movement that was Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour when he became prime minister; a lack of discipline and coherence from the Labour front bench and the suicidal shift to rebrand the opposition as the party of the losing side in the referendum combined with a full-throated ruling-class smear campaign to sink its chances. 

A left-led Labour might have recovered during the pandemic, as Corbyn’s searing opposition to poverty and inequality and support for public ownership would have exposed the Tories’ criminal mismanagement of the crisis and its appalling human cost. 

But the Prime Minister was gifted a Thermidorian reaction in Labour that has seen it concentrate its efforts on hounding out the socialists from its own ranks while shying away from any critique of the government that might suggest a need for systemic change.

Neither one of the highest death tolls on Earth nor staggering levels of blatant corruption by ministers appeared to affect the Tory lead over the opposition.

Nothing we saw from Labour over the last week suggests it will change that: Keir Starmer’s refusal to champion pro-nationalisation policies passed by the conference even amid an energy, fuel and distribution crisis may be enough to let the Tories off the hook again.

But an old saw has it that it is not oppositions who win elections, but governments who lose them. And the scale of the cost-of-living crisis facing working-class families across Britain this winter could prove Johnson’s undoing.

This perfect storm is a result both of the Tories’ own policies and the longer-term inability of Britain’s ruling class to reboot a political and economic system that cannot meet ordinary people’s needs or expectations.

The decision to withdraw the £20-a-week uplift in universal credit just as families are hit with soaring energy bills may be as foolish as it is cruel. It will cause immense suffering and — in contrast to Covid-19 — it will be hard for the Tories to dodge responsibility for inflicting it.

Petrol pumps running dry and empty shelves in the shops are exposing chronic weaknesses in an economic model based on long supply chains, underinvestment in skills and training and the super-exploitation of underpaid foreign labour. Trade unions are increasingly angry and combative about these failings.

And the Conservatives are meeting in a Labour city — a city whose popular mayor Andy Burnham is a far more trenchant critic of the government than his party leader.

They will meet a wave of protest as they descend on Manchester. The People’s Assembly demonstration called for Sunday deserves support from across the movement and will ensure that the pain being doled out to working-class communities is impossible to ignore.

More important still is ensuring that Manchester is just the beginning — that we strengthen campaigning organisations like the People’s Assembly and work with the national trade union tour being proposed to promote the TUC’s New Deal for Workers to build a mass democratic movement for radical change.

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