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Boris Johnson is going – but his cronyism and corruption are here to stay

Assisted by a visionless opposition, both Sunak and Truss are free to continue with business as usual

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Paul Rogers
23 July 2022, 12.01am

Under Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss, we face yet more years of undiluted Thatcherism


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With the rush to find the next prime minister in full swing, the Conservative Party is desperate to move on from the Boris Johnson era.

This is hardly surprising, as even the foreign press has offered a damning analysis of Johnson’s tenure in recent weeks. The New York Times, for example, reminded readers that the prime minister had “routinely been described as mendacious, irresponsible, reckless and lacking any coherent philosophy other than wanting to seize and hold on to power”.

Yet while Johnson may be leaving office, his legacy looks likely to live on – particularly since all the politicians that have sought to replace him were part of his government, which allowed systematic cronyism to reach new heights.

What adds saliency to this is that the two remaining competing occupants for 10 Downing Street – Johnson’s chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and Liz Truss, his foreign secretary – are singing from the same hymn sheet.

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Sunak has professed his continuing belief in Margaret Thatcher, while Truss, the bookies’ favourite, has taken a similar position, while even believing that Johnson should never have been ousted.

This leaves us facing the prospect of yet more years of undiluted Thatcherism, with plenty of cronyism and corruption thrown in.

All the traditional elements of neoliberal market fundamentalism will continue. Post-Brexit Britain will have even less financial regulation than under Thatcher, unions will be subject to further controls, and the tax system will continue to favour the wealthy. Control of tax avoidance and evasion will be low priority and will remain under-resourced.

Attempts will be made to shrink the state but not its power, which will be even more centralised, while publicly owned social housing will continue to be peripheral, the privatisation of the social care system will be well-nigh complete, and the creeping privatisation of the NHS will be accelerated as the giant US health insurance corporations make full use of the new opportunities.

Perhaps most importantly, radical decarbonisation will take a back seat and the opportunity for Britain to play a leading global role in preventing climate breakdown will be lost.

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Johnson was useful as a temporary election winner for the influential nexus of financial and corporate interests that wield huge political influence in modern-day Britain, but he has served his purpose. We will shortly have a new leader, but that nexus will continue to pull the strings, backed up by their lobbyist and think tank friends in Tufton Street.

There will almost certainly be opposition from trade unions, climate campaigners and angry voices from the marginalised, but the Tories have put in place new ways of maintaining control, not least by criminalising many forms of protest. The government will also be aided by an incoherent political opposition, with Labour showing little signs of vision and accepting the fundamentals of the current economic status quo, advocating no more than the most modest of modifications.

The one time Labour advocated for serious structural reform, in its manifesto for the 2017 general election, the party became so popular in the closing few days of the campaign that, against all the odds, it deprived the Tories of a parliamentary majority. That was a deep shock to the political system, with strenuous and effective responses at almost every level in the following two years to ensure it could not happen again.

This is not to say that there aren’t numerous initiatives already out there pushing for change, but two things are missing that would add fuel to the fire.

The UK's political mantra is that we cannot afford to meet public needs. Yet the system allows billions to be held by the few

One is the lack of public recognition of the sheer excesses of runaway wealth that have evolved in the 40 years since the Thatcher-led transformation started. This year’s Sunday Times Rich List was appropriately headlined ‘Who’s Cleaning Up?’, and while the extent of the necessary clean-up may be recognised in leftist circles, it is certainly not entrenched in the wider body politic.

That the richest ten in the list control more than £180bn, that Britain’s billionaires have more than £700bn, and that thousands of people are indeed ‘cleaning up’, scarcely enter the public debate. The national political mantra is that we must live within our means and we cannot afford to meet public needs – even while the system allows hundreds of billions of pounds to be held by the few at the expense of the many. As long as this remains unchallenged, the prospects for vigorous protest will be limited.

The second missing element is the lack of coherent political analysis of an alternative way forward. Again, individuals, groups and a few think tanks are putting forward good ideas, but change must also come from within the current political system.

Somewhere in the depths of the Labour Party – likely on its periphery rather than anywhere near the current centre of power – there may be people engaged in working out what really needs to be done to overhaul British politics. If they are sufficiently determined and persistent, their time may come much sooner than expected. A good start would be to update the 2017 manifesto, while attempting to understand more fully why it was so vigorously and successfully opposed both within and outside of Labour.

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