Racism, attacks on the poor, warmongering, bashing strikers and veneration of the fossil fuel economy. That’s the Tories’ programme that Rishi Sunak and his acolytes pushed at the Conservative party conference.
But they are also divided and weak, swamped this week by the fiasco over the HS2 rail line. They can be defeated by real resistance.
Home secretary Suella Braverman has blazed a racist trail (see here). She was ready to add to this in a speech on Tuesday taking place after Socialist Worker went to press.
Her aides suggested she would repeat her myths about migration as an “existential threat”. And she was set to say that there are too many migrant workers coming to Britain so “native” women should have more children.
But her assaults are part of a broader strategy. The government is far behind Labour in the opinion polls and faces an election by January 2025 at the latest.
Ministers know there is deep anger over inequality, squeezed living standards and a Britain where nothing works.
The Tories deflect that fury onto scapegoats, pose as the “motorists’ friend” and act as the upholders of Union Jack nationalism.
Sunak, collecting £164,000 a year as prime minister with a family that has grabbed wealth of £725 million, repeatedly tells strikers they must accept pay cuts.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said on Monday that he wants to punish even more people with benefit sanctions if they are deemed to be slow in accepting low paid jobs. It’s a sickening return to the “strivers not shirkers” campaign.
And he wants to cut 66,000 civil service jobs. That’s all part of a plan to cut taxes for the rich, with many Tories pressing for an end to inheritance tax.
Abolishing inheritance tax would lose £7 billion in tax. Half of that comes from people passing on £2 million or more at death.
Meanwhile we are supposed to hate people on Universal Credit—which pays a pittance of £292.11 a month for single people under 25.
We’re supposed to cheer a rise in the minimum wage of just £11 an hour—a 5.5 percent rise, well below inflation.
The Tories also hoped to use enhanced support for the Ukraine war as a dividing line with Labour—although, it’s hard to think there’s any imperialist escalation that Keir Starmer wouldn’t want to take further.
But even this fell apart. The new defence secretary Grant Shapps was primed to risk a direct confrontation between Nato and Russia. He told The Telegraph newspaper that he had talked to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky about how Britain’s Navy could play a role in fighting Russian attacks in the Black Sea.
But he was slapped down by Sunak who said such plans were not for the “here and now”.
Sunak also wants to say that speed limits and over-harsh environmental measures are among major transport issues in Britain. The real problem is a system based on profits, and a lethal failure to take action against climate vandalism.
Socialist Worker has always opposed the HS2 line. But cutting it off at Birmingham will enrage many corporations and a big section of Sunak’s backbenchers.
The Tories are reeling. The conference hall was two-thirds empty for much of the week.
One former minister said, “I will be playing golf.” Another said, “The only people who are going this year are Liz Truss’s supporters and they are there to cause trouble.”
But it’s not enough to wallow in their chaos. They will use the conference to launch more brutal attacks.
They will seek to build an alliance of hate and strengthen far right ideas. And Labour is no shield or alternative.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall, for example, didn’t condemn Hunt’s benefit sanctions. She stressed Labour “believes in responsibility. Those who can work, should work and take jobs when they are offered”.
Labour doesn’t back striking doctors or support the rail and education pay campaigns. Instead it auditions to be the bosses’ choice at the next election.
The Tories front a capitalist system that means racism, war, poverty and environmental collapse.
The way out is not to elect Starmer but to build resistance in the streets and workplace —and insurgent socialist politics.