While the vast majority of the British people, especially the working class, live in poor conditions due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequences of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, the British government has been forced to pursue austerity policies, such as raising taxes, to compensate for its deficit. In the wake of the crisis, the price of energy and social services has risen sharply, impoverishing countless people. Since 2008, the Labour Party has not been able to free itself from the shackles of mismanagement in those years of economic crisis. The British Labour Party, as a distinguished pro-labour and pro-weak class political party, is somehow lost in this critical situation, which has caused dissatisfaction among party members and the working classes in general. Can this party, as an opposition party to Boris Johnson’s government, rebuild trust among the people?
As the Conservative Party Conference 2021 opened in Manchester, thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand an end to Boris Johnson’s government. Most participants from different walks of life held placards reading: “Expel the Conservatives.” Protesters carried large placards reading: “We are against the Conservatives.”
The main demands of the protesters pertain to reforming the political and social system, and in particular dismissing the head of the capital’s police department after the scandal of the murder of a young British woman by a police officer. Former police officer, Wayne Couzens, was sentenced last week to whole life in prison for sexually harassing and killing a young woman who was walking home alone early one night a few months ago. This has led to a crisis of distrust of the police force and increased pressure on Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to resign. But the prime minister, the interior minister and the mayor of London, have opposed Dick’s dismissal.
Meanwhile, a group of social workers travelled long distances from various cities to join protesters in Manchester, demanding higher wages. The British aid system, which was already underfunded, has come under increasing pressure due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the aging population.
It has also increased pressure on the National Health Service (NHS), as hospitals are unable to discharge people who do not have a place to stay. The British government has announced that it will increase taxes to finance the transformation of the health system in this country.
Johnson promised in the 2019 general election that he would not raise taxes for the next five years. He acknowledged, however, that the Conservative Party had failed to deliver on its election promises, but had no choice but to face the economic pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic. He claimed that his government had taken a fair approach, saying that the pandemic was not foreseen in any government programmes.
However, members of the British Parliament criticised the government’s plan and called it insulting. Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, said that the implementation of the plan would make people poorer. Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey also called the increase in taxes to cover medical expenses unfair.
The British economy last year (2020) suffered the most damages in nearly three centuries due to the constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Office for National Statistics, economic growth fell by 9.9% in 2020. British Treasury Secretary Rishi Sunak says the economy is in dire straits and imposing Covid restrictions has dealt a heavy blow. This caused Boris Johnson’s popularity to drop by 5% to 33%. In contrast, the popularity of the main opposition party increased by 1% to 35% for the first time since the beginning of 2021.
Soaring Energy Prices
Electricity and gas prices in the UK have risen sharply just one day after the end of the government’s financial support for hundreds of thousands of quarantined workers and amid serious concerns about rising unemployment and poverty.
OFGEM has announced that it will increase the ceiling on fixed price contracts for gas and electricity sales by 12% from today. This increase means that the annual energy bill of households in the UK will increase by an average of 139 pounds. Those with a rechargeable meter will also see an average increase of £ 153. The increase is estimated to affect around 15 million households across the UK who do not have fixed energy price contracts. By doing so, OFGEM has tried to prevent more companies in the energy sector from going bankrupt. Nine private gas and electricity companies in the UK have gone bankrupt in recent weeks due to rising gas wholesale prices.
ICIS shows that the wholesale price of gas in the country has risen by about 400% over the past year. This becomes important when we know that smaller companies are unable to compensate for this increase due to fixed price contracts with their customers and are gradually collapsing.
At the beginning of this year, more than 70 private companies were active in this field, but it is likely that this number will drop to 10 by the end of this year. In other words, gas and electricity distribution companies for a quarter of British households are projected to go into administrtion in the coming months.
Experts believe that a 12% increase in the ceiling of fixed price contracts will not have an immediate and significant impact on the financial situation of private gas and electricity companies. NGOs and charities, meanwhile, have warned that rising energy prices in the run-up to winter, when people need more heating and lighting, are unfair. The decision was made just one day after the end of the government’s corporate facility deadline for employed people.
On the other hand, the inflation rate in the UK has been higher than the central bank’s estimate for five months, and it has put additional pressure on the people’s expenses. The Bank of England forecasted inflation at 2% this year, but the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose to 3.2% last August, according to the National Statistics Centre.
“The catastrophic rise in energy prices is pushing at least 500,000 more households into poverty, and they will not be able to heat and light their homes on the eve of the cold season,” said Adam Scorer, a senior fellow at the National Energy Foundation.
Long queues of people in petrol stations to refuel their vehicles are by no means a pleasant phenomenon for the British government. The outbreak of the fuel crisis in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic has practically worsened the situation in this country. After some of the big oil companies closed their petrol stations, many people rushed to the stations for fear of running out of petrol. BP announced that it had been forced to temporarily shut down some of its petrol stations due to issues related to the delivery of unleaded diesel fuel. Although few other oil companies faced similar problems, the warning sparked a rush to buy, exacerbating shortages and running out of fuel at stations. Meanwhile, the average price for a litre of unleaded rose to 135.13p, the highest since late September 2013.
The significant rise in petrol prices as well as the emptying of food shelves in many UK supermarkets, have all added to the anxiety of the British people. In the present situation, there is a feeling among the public that their country is moving from one crisis to another. “There are clear signs of stabilisation,” said Grant Shapps, Britain’s transport minister, in a statement aimed at appeasing his country’s anxious people. However, public confidence in this situation is not very high.
The UK is facing a significant crisis in transport and logistics due to a shortage of HGV drivers. Many production and distribution chains of food and fuel and other basic goods in this country are going through a full-blown crisis. The British government should have used the experience of the pandemic and anticipated the current situation in view of the considerable pressures on the healthcare personnel and staff shortages due to the outbreak of Covid-19, taking the necessary measures to avoid the current fuel crisis in this country.
There is no doubt that the current fuel crisis in the UK could have been largely averted if the government had explained to the public that their panic buying in petrol stations could have dire consequences. It would have been possible to prevent chaos if the government had provided the right information to the British people and built enough trust for them. However, the government, which should be in charge of affairs in this country, has practically lost control of many matters at the present time and is unable to perform its duties and responsibilities properly. “We are now seeing the situation improve,” Johnson said in his first statement on Tuesday, since the start of the fuel crisis. “We hear from the fuel industry that supplies normally reach fuel distribution stations, and I urge everyone to return to their business normally.”
Lorry Driver Shortages
According to the UK transport industry, the country is facing a shortage of more than 100,000 eligible truck drivers due to a number of factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the exodus of foreign workers after Brexit, which has plagued many industries such as food and fuel. It has disrupted and caused wave effects in grocery stores, restaurants and now petrol stations. The Brexit immigration law means that EU citizens can no longer live and work in the UK without a visa as before.
Although the shortage of lorry drivers is not unique to Britain as many other European countries are also struggling with it, Britain has suffered the most due to the choices it has made. Tax changes and new and stricter immigration laws have made it harder and more time-consuming for EU citizens to enter and leave Britain. Many foreign workers, not just truckers, are looking for easier destinations.
“Why do we have to go to England and suffer so much and see the British austerity, while if we go to Ireland or the Netherlands we get more money and more respect,” a lorry driver told a reporter. We will be free European citizen in other European countries, but in the UK we are practically a second-class citizen.
Injustice in Payment
A new study shows that even after a reduction in salary for British managers during the Covid-19 pandemic, the average annual income of corporate executives in this country is 86 times the average income of full-time employees and workers.
The CEOs of the top 100 companies on the London Stock Exchange FTSE 100 earned an average $ 3.7 million (2.69 million pounds) in 2020, according to the High Pay Centre, a British think tank that conducts business performance and wages. According to the report, the salaries of British managers are 86 times the average annual income of a full-time employee in the UK, which is $ 42,900 (5 31,500 pounds). The salaries of CEOs in the country fell by an average of 17% in 2020; this figure was $ 4.43 million in 2019. The think tank links the fall to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the findings, the highest-paid CEO earned a total of $ 21.05 million in 2020 at AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company. This is approximately 500 times the average salary of British employees and workers and 197 times the average salary of British employees in AstraZeneca. According to Luke Hildyard, director of the High Pay Centre, “CEO astronomical wages show a wide gap between rich and poor in Britain compared to other European countries … Inequalities caused by the pandemic and the amount of government money used to protect big business can strengthen the rationale for measures to prevent high wages and balance sharp income disparities,” he said.
The Labour Party Today
The Labour Party has gone through many ups and downs in power while in opposition. In the absence of the socialist left currents that emerged at various times, and did not emerge mainly due to the prevailing political culture in Britain, the Labour Party, as a popular party with a working-class base, became the main carrier of socialist policies, albeit of the British type. Despite its significant achievements in terms of building a welfare system and pursuing progressive policies, the party is both decisive and lacking a coherent strategic vision. Confronting the growing power of capital nationally and globally, in addition to other structural realities, suffered successive fractures.
The political culture of a society that is itself the product of years of upheaval of “traditions”, values and beliefs of “dead generations” that “weigh like a nightmare on the minds of the living” are part of these structures. It is due to this political culture that, in spite of Britain’s most advanced economic and political structures, the people and the working and middle classes of Britain have always had a conservative and non-radical approach to social change; the working class and the majority of the people shunned Marxist socialism, and those who were attracted to socialist ideas pursued Owen’s native socialism. As noted, the Labour Party limited itself to parliamentary activities, and refrained from extra-parliamentary activities, including education, awareness-raising, and organising. Within the party, too, the bureaucratic and undemocratic structure made it impossible for the party to constantly recruit new forces, and those who joined the party could not have a voice. The British Communist Party also suffered from the same paralysis of other fraternal parties during the Cold War, an even more Stalinist dose than similar parties, and was virtually eliminated after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Other very important structural factors, the rapid changes in the capitalist system, the globalisation of capital, the rise of capital, technological and organisational changes, the reduction of industrial workers and the weakening of the working class, the growth of the new middle class, all created many problems and limitations for socialist reformers in Britain. The Labour Party showed that it was unable to find ways to advance progressive policies under these restrictions and surrendered to neoliberalism, given the majority of the right wing within the party.
Class changes in advanced capitalism, the increasing decline in the number of industrial workers, the growth of service workers and the new middle class, the intensification of segregation and stratification within the working class, the diminishing power of trade unions and their increasing impossibility in the capitalist system make the labour front against capitalist front even weaker. The right-wing’s conservatism led to the loss of its popular base, and the inability or inattention of the Labour Party and the socialist currents in educating and organising the working class and the lower middle classes turned many of them towards the Liberal Democratic Party and even the Conservative Party.
Following the British Parliamentary elections in 2019 and the heavy defeat of the Labour Party, speculations and analyses about the continuous decline of the party’s ballot box have grown stronger among the various sections of British society. In the recent local council elections, the Labour Party lost some of its seats in the traditionally British West and North.
These failures have prompted the Labour leader, Keir Stammer, as Jeremy Corbyn’s successor, to reconsider the party’s current agenda – a programme based more on individual rights and freedoms and the demands of the educated and urban middle classes, in which the role of the traditional British working class has diminished. Starmer has sought to erase the effects of Corbyn’s extreme leftism from the party and move the Labour Party towards slightly more open and liberal policies.
Starmer’s publication of the party’s new political manifesto was a sudden turn in the traditional ideals of the Labour Party. The Labour Party and Starmer now seem to find themselves at a crossroads. First, because of the spread of Covid-19 and the populist promises of Johnson and the Conservatives to improve their livelihoods, much of the working class vote in the west and north of Britain was transferred to the Conservatives in the last two general and local elections. Starmer, on the other hand, finds himself in a fistfight of expectations from two separate spectrums: The expectations of the educated and predominantly liberal urban spectrum in the urban areas of London, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool; the Labour Party has therefore entered into a two-sided cultural challenge between the modern and traditional sections of Britain.
Steven Fielding, a professor of political history at the University of Nottingham, believes that Brexit provides a new opportunity for Johnson to make populist promises, improve living, welfare and anti-immigration policies in the traditional Labour Party ballot in the West and infiltrate northern Britain. The working class and the traditional class now seem to be reluctant to turn to Starmer‘s policies for an open economy and to become accustomed to liberalism, and Starmer has failed to convince traditional party supporters of change.
Jonathan Powell, the former head of Tony Blair’s election campaign, believes that Johnson-led conservatives, by combining right-wing, isolationist and anti-immigration policies with left-wing economic policies and the support of the Covid-19, have provided attractive prescriptions for the urban and rural working classes in various areas and this makes it harder for the Labour Party to return to the old ballot box.
After the economic crisis of 2008 and the poor management of Gordon Brown as the last Labour Prime Minister, which inflicted new damages on Britain’s lower classes, the Labour Party has not been able to free itself from the shackles of mismanagement in those years of economic crisis. Social change in Britain has also fuelled racist anti-black and anti-immigrant sentiments in most parts of the country, especially in small towns, in line with the conservative voice of cultural unilateralism. The British white community is being inspired by the racist slogans and actions of white people in the United States and elsewhere in Europe, and according to recent polls by the British Black and Immigrant Society, systematic and widespread racism is rampant across the UK.
The Labour Party seems to have experienced discourse instability in the upper echelons of the party in recent years. These same discourses from the center-left (Gordon Brown) to the far-left (Corbyn), and finally moderate liberals (Starmer), have led to contradictions in their goals and methods, and ultimately the decline of the British voters’ confidence in the party’s slogans and objectives.
The UK is currently facing a flood of crises as well as others that are likely to occur in the future. Under these circumstances, a lack of the proper management of the situation is a deadly poison for this country. The British government had previously promised the people that if elected, businesses would prosper and British workers would be better off. However, these promises have not been fulfilled so far, and the situation has worsened in practice. The pandemic has placed the UK in a weak position. In the current situation, a number of ministers are preparing economic procedures and policies which can limit certain privileges and welfare enjoyed by the people of this country. Under these circumstances, the incompetence of government ministers, as well as the severe shortages of labour in this country, have further complicated the crisis in Britain and made it difficult for the country to stand on its own two feet again. Social change in Britain has also fuelled racist anti-black and anti-immigrant sentiments in most parts of the country, especially in small towns, in line with the conservative voice of cultural unilateralism.
Since 2008, the Labour Party has not been able to free itself from the shackles of mismanagement in those years of economic crisis. Johnson-led conservatives, by combining right-wing, isolationist and anti-immigration policies with left-wing economic policies and the support of the Covid-19, have provided attractive prescriptions for the urban and rural working classes in various areas. Despite its significant achievements in terms of building a welfare system and pursuing progressive policies, the party is both decisive and lacking a coherent strategic vision. Confronting the growing power of capital nationally and globally, in addition to other structural realities, suffered successive fractures.