Britain: “Bring your own bottle scandal” drives Boris Johnson to the edge

By Connor Rosoman, Socialist Alternative (our sister organisation in England, Wales and Scotland)

In recent weeks, Boris Johnson’s government has faced a mounting crisis, with public support crumbling amid a series of devastating scandals over government ministers breaching their own COVID-19 regulations. 

These scandals have come at the same time as COVID-19 case numbers have skyrocketed, and the cost of living crisis threatens a bleak 2022 for working class households. 

Last month, Socialist Alternative commented on the revelation of the Tory Christmas party in 2020. At the same time as Johnson himself personally hosted a Christmas quiz at 10 Downing Street, the rest of the country was forced to stay at home as the pandemic surged – itself the result of Tory incompetence, cronyism and profiteering. 

But if they thought the resignation of then-Press Secretary, Allegra Stratton, would prove a useful scapegoat, they have been utterly mistaken. It has become clear that breaches of restrictions such as this were frequent occurrences, rather than one-off events. 

Most recently, a leaked email has emerged showing over 100 people invited by Martin Reynolds, head of Johnson’s office at no.10, to a “bring your own booze” garden party at Downing Street in May 2020. More than 40 people are reported to have attended, including Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock, to celebrate “beating back the virus”. Boris Johnson has since admitted that he attended this party. 

That this party took place directly after a press conference where the government restated that social mixing was still to be limited to one person outdoors, only reinforces the sentiment of many working class people that there has been “one rule for us, another for them”. Only two days later, Dominic Cummings sparked mass outrage after his own flouting of Covid restrictions.

Will Boris Johnson last?

The Prime Minister’s approval ratings have plummeted, with polls ranging from 56-66% support for his resignation. 

There are already reports that Tory MPs have begun submitting letters of no confidence to the Tory backbench 1922 Committee – 55 are needed for a formal vote of no confidence to take place. 

But while many people, socialists included, would be glad to see the back of Johnson, we should not rely on the thoroughly rotten Tory party to deliver any change. The seeds for the government’s catastrophic handling of the pandemic have been sown by successive Conservative and Blairite governments grinding down health and social care services and presiding over declining standards of living for working class people for more than a decade. 

This goes far beyond any individual leader. For Tory MPs, looking to replace Johnson would be seen as a way to extend the lifespan of their disastrous government. But to win a real way out of this crisis, we should not stop with just him.

Kick out Johnson and the Tories

That he has stayed in power this long is testament to the failure of Labour under Keir Starmer to offer any serious opposition to this government, and their refusal to mount a genuine challenge to the status quo. As the ground has disappeared underneath Johnson, Starmer and Labour have managed to gain a lead in the polls. But there are already signs that this may be slipping, going from a 9% lead one month ago to only 4% today. The total inaction of Starmer, summed up in the vapid slogan “Security, Prosperity, Respect” offering more of the same as millions seek out radical solutions, provides an easy recipe for the Tories to recover. Unlike Starmer, we need to build a movement that will never let the Tories off the hook so easily. Reports that Jeremy Corbyn is finally considering launching a new political party are encouraging and point the way forward for the building of a real political alternative to the Tories (see our article here).

The last 2 years of ongoing crisis has generated a huge amount of anger, not just against Johnson, but also this government and the system as a whole. In response, we have seen an inspiring upsurge in trade union militancy in a wave of industrial disputes, reflected as well in the election of a more fighting leadership of Unite the union with the victory of Sharon Graham as general secretary. This has come alongside huge social struggles under the pandemic against racism, gender based violence, and massive environmental protests at COP26 in November. 

The best guarantee to remove Johnson from office will be by building pressure from below by channeling this anger into demonstrations, protests and co-ordinated struggle against this government and this system as a whole. 

This should include demands for an independent investigation made up of healthcare workers, trade unions and the families of victims into breaches of Covid restrictions by government ministers as well as their handling of the pandemic as a whole. Alongside this, we need to fight for full public ownership and democratic control of health services, including testing and vaccine production to begin to address the catastrophic covid response that the Tories have overseen, with the highest death toll in all of Europe. 

At the same time, we need to fight for a real living wage of £15/hr, bringing the privatised utilities back into public ownership along with the banks and financial institutions in order to plan the economy in the interests of working class people as part of a socialist green new deal that can tackle rising costs of living. 

The market and the capitalist system the Tories uphold has been totally exposed by this pandemic as a system that at best, works in the interests of the super-rich, and at worst barely works at all, as evidenced by the supply chain crisis still gripping Britain. Only by building the struggle against this system itself, and to replace it with a democratically-planned, socialist economy can we begin to plot a way out of the endless crises we are faced with today. 

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