Britain: New king won’t solve deep crisis

September 16, 2022
Graphic: Anti*Capitalist Resistance

There has been nothing like it in Britain for the past 70 years. 

Channel 4 News Scottish correspondent Ciaran Jenkins hit the nail on the head when he said: “Now the vast apparatus of the state will swing into action in a long-rehearsed plan.” 

So it has proved to be, with wall-to-wall TV, newspaper and radio coverage detailing every conceivable detail of the Queen’s funeral and life. The huge crowds viewing the coffin are the result of a major state and media mobilisation.

Forthcoming royal events include the Coronation of King Charles, set to be another televised spectacle with hundreds of thousands thronging the London streets, and the Investiture of William as Prince of Wales in the Welsh capital, Cardiff, an enormous event as far as the establishment and media are concerned.

Economic and social crisis

Using the royals to boost patriotism and nationalism is a key part of the national myth of British conservatism. But the new king, however powerful, will not be able to solve new Tory Prime Minister Liz Truss's dilemmas regarding Britain’s deep economic and social crisis. 

Some key aspects of this crisis are spiralling energy prices, rising rents and mortgages, rocketing food prices, and the increasing costs of just about everything. 

Two prime ministers ago, Theresa May promised to help those were “just about managing”. Nothing happened and working class people got poorer. 

Her successor, Boris Johnson, promised a “levelling up” process to help poor post-industrial cities in the north. Again nothing happened. 

Now hundreds of thousands of people are using food banks, going into rent arrears, and having to choose between heating their homes — vital in Britain — and buying food. 

Channel 4 News recently featured a woman who was distraught at having to pawn her engagement ring to pay energy bills. She contrasted her situation to the many billions of pounds spent on the royal funeral. 

Now huge numbers of people are turning to pawnbrokers or using credit cards for daily expenditure, which, given high interest rates, means piling up huge debts.

Income differentials between rich and poor have skyrocketed. The consequence is a wave of strikes in the public services, led by National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) rail workers and Communication Workers Union (CWU) postal workers.

The government has announced two key measures so far: Freezing the rent rises in 2022–3 to 7% and capping annual household energy bills at about £2500 (A$4200). 

But these will only provide temporary respite for working-class people: when these price caps are removed, further floodgates of inflation will open. Without additional government aid, millions will be impoverished.

New Tory government

The reactionary mobilisation around the royal family is an attempt to sweep everything before it. Unions fighting for a living wage, such as the RMT and CWU, have felt compelled to postpone planned one-day strikes. The ruling class must be raising a glass to give extra special thanks to the departed monarch for delivering them respite from the storm over energy prices and strikes. 

For Truss, the Queen’s death could not have come at a better time. It has allowed her to play a leading role in the nation’s mourning, constantly on air, appearing solemn and prime ministerial, with MPs of all parties looking on appreciatively. 

It will not last, but it is a useful launch pad for the wave of repression against the labour movement and democratic rights that is coming — all wrapped in ultra-patriotic nationalism.

The Tory government is designed to continue reactionary class warfare on every front, throw back the unions, trash militant environmentalism, call the media to order and envelop the nation in reactionary nationalism and militarism. 

The centrepiece of the new legislative agenda will be a bill enabling the government to ban strikes in the public sector. This would include rail staff, postal workers, teachers, civil servants in national and local government as well as workers in the National Health Service (NHS). It will be the most contested piece of legislation since the anti-LGBTQ "Section 28" law enacted in 1988.

The police will be given tougher anti-public disorder laws, enabling them to shut down any demonstration. A foretaste of this was the arrest of a small group of anti-royal protestors outside parliament on September 12.

Truss’s cabinet

The composition of Truss’s cabinet hints at what is planned.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman is set to be even tougher on “illegal” immigrants, continuing the plan to send thousands to Rwanda. Braverman also wants to pursue her pet project of fighting “woke” ideology and “cultural Marxism”. 

The new government will bring the debate over woke ideas — the rights of disabled people, minority genders, women and ethnic minorities  — much more centre-stage. The ideological war will be especially pursued against trans rights. We can also expect measures to drive out teachers and lecturers deemed to be too left-wing.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a climate change sceptic, has been put in charge of the environment. He is set to oversee a resumption of fracking, which is bitterly opposed by people across the political spectrum. Truss has already announced the scrapping of the “green levy” on income tax, which was designed to fund the energy transition.

At this time of war, with Britain jostling with Poland for the position of most hawkish government in the pro-Ukraine alliance, the position of foreign secretary has gone to James Cleverly, a lieutenant colonel in the army reserve. Foreign aid will have a deepened military bent. 

Deputy Prime Minister Thérèse Coffey has been handed the task of “fixing” the crisis in the NHS. Without huge recruitment of nurses and doctors and billions of pounds of investment, "fixing" the NHS will really mean privatisation and a two-tier health service. Thousands of middle class people already “go private”, because in many fields one can wait a year or more to see a hospital consultant.

Coffey is an anti-abortionist. There is likely to be hostility to, and harassment of, family planning clinics. And with the Conservative government pretending the Covid-19 pandemic is over, sensible measures such as social distancing and mask wearing are unlikely.  

Another significant appointment is Steve Baker to the number two spot in the Northern Ireland office. Baker is the leading ideologist of the European Research Group, the core of which is the ultra-right nationalist faction, nicknamed the “Spartans” for their refusal to vote for any Brexit deal under May. 

Baker is another military type, a former engineer in the Royal Air Force, and hardcore climate sceptic. He is there to ensure the Spartans’ support for the new government and close down factional opposition. 

Radical right ideology

Baker is an evangelical Christian who opposes same sex marriage. Globally, evangelical Christian churches are playing a major political role opposing abortion and LBGTQ+ rights. 

Key themes of the evangelicals are being promoted by Giorgia Meloni, leader of the neo-fascist Brothers of Italy, who is likely to do very well in Italy's September 23 elections. To thunderous applause, Meloni told a Republican rally in the United States: “I am a Christian, I am a mother and I oppose same sex marriages, we must fight the LGBT lobbies”. 

If Meloni becomes Italian prime minister, she is likely to find a friend in Truss, whose policies sound very similar. Neither Meloni nor Truss are traditional fascists, but they have appropriated many of the key policies advanced by traditional fascists. 

Truss and incoming finance minister Kwame Kwarteng were among the five authors of the 2012 book Britannia Unchained, whose central proposition is that the British do not work hard enough and do not understand the liberating power of hard work, or “aspiration”. 

According to the authors, the new “Masters of the Universe” are not the billionaire bankers that the left goes on about, but the industrial innovators and software engineers that East Asia has in abundance. 

In addition to very right-wing policies at home, Truss will be a strong supporter of the military alliance with Australia and the United States (AUKUS), and will use the Ukraine crisis to boost arms expenditure.

Many commentators accused the five authors of the book of angling to put into practice the ideas of US radical right theorist Ayn Rand. Rand bitterly opposed taxes, thought that all education and healthcare should be privatised, and wanted unions closed down. 

That the Truss cabinet has people who seriously entertain these ideas is a warning of the harsh battles to come, even if they are temporarily suspended for the Queen’s funeral.

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