Reputation in tatters
At the end of 2019, the Conservative party emerged victorious from the general election. For the first time in years, the Tories held a dominant majority in parliament and were poised, under the leadership of Boris Johnson, to lead the country unchallenged once again. 2020, however, had other plans.
The atrocious handling of the Covid-19 pandemic; the failed negotiations with the EU and a succession of scandals involving Johnson’s closest aide, Dominic Cummings, have all worked to wreak havoc on the reputation of the Tories, leaving the empty promises of a ‘strong and stable’ Britain in tatters. It seemed that the Tories had done all they could to alienate the electorate, but on the 21st of October, their reputation sunk to new depths.
In a stunning display of cruelty, the Conservative majority united to oppose a motion put forward by Labour, calling for the provision of free school meals to disadvantaged pupils over the Christmas holidays. The impact of this act of callousness on the behalf of the Tories (who exclusively opposed the bill) has been huge. Boris Johnson’s Approval ratings, already low before this scandal, now sit at a shocking minus 19 across the UK. Even in England, Nicola Sturgeon is now more popular than Johnson, even though her party, the SNP, don’t even run for English seats!
There has been a momentous outpouring of condemnation of this act across all of British society − even from within the Conservative party itself! Most notably, the footballer Marcus Rashford, who pressured the government to provide free school meals over the summer holidays this year, has once again come out calling for the reinstatement of school meals, with close to one million people signing his petition.
The nasty party
It has not been missed that the Tories have chosen to shut down this programme whilst simultaneously voting for pay rises for MPs. This is a perfect example of the self-serving nature of their party and the class divides that very much still dominate society.
Defence of this vote based on the programme’s expense also fell flat. Even within the logic of austerity, denying children the base means of subsistence after spending vast amounts on a failed track and trace system and faulty Covid-19 tests (just to give a couple of examples) is not a necessary evil but a willing disregard for the population the Tories are supposed to govern.
Covid-19 has already laid waste to the economy, and we are sure to see an even greater economic decline, but punishing the most vulnerable and disenfranchised for the mistakes of the Tories can only make things worse. How can these demagogues claim to support so-called ‘meritocracy’ while robbing working class kids of a healthy upbringing?
This year has seen a steady erosion of the image carefully cultivated under David Cameron of ‘Compassionate Conservatism’, this debacle has merely added fuel to the fire, revealing the true face of the Tories. Indeed, the public perception of the Tories as ‘The Nasty Party’ is back with a vengeance.
Austerity on the agenda
However, our task is not simply to oppose the Conservatives, but to fight for an alternative to the system that made such poverty possible in the first place. This is not just a problem of a few nasty, uncaring MPs in government, but a problem that stems from the inability of capitalism to provide everyone with a good start in life. Unless we can destroy the system that inherently places profits over people, the most vulnerable will always be at risk of starvation, poverty and deprivation.
Capitalism has already entered into a crisis of a colossal scale, and the ruling class are powerless to stop it. While the Tories have desperately loosened their purse strings to keep the economy afloat, this cannot last forever. Another austerity package is on its way, and the Tories’ opposition to this motion is just the beginning.
Mobilise against the Tories!
We must oppose the system that allows such events to happen by any means necessary. Whilst the Labour party has promised to resubmit this motion before parliament goes into recess over Christmas, there’s nothing stopping the Tory majority from voting it down again if they so please.
It’s clear that parliamentary debates aren’t enough to defend us from austerity; what is needed is a mass mobilisation against the Tories, led by the workers themselves. Unions like the NEU, whose numbers continue to swell after a decade of cuts to education, are well placed to lead the charge.
We must ensure that no child starves, no family goes without a home and that everyone is given the opportunities they deserve. The only way this can be achieved by doing away with capitalism altogether, and running society in the interests of need and not profit.
Lars Ohrvik-Stott, Goldsmiths Marxists