Much has been written about the 2019 UK general election regarding the need for the left to regroup. The mainstream media has focused on the internal problems for the Labour Party and the existential threat that this result is said to present them. It doesn’t of course. There’s no reason to believe that Labour will not win a general election at some point in the future. The paradigm that they will only win again if they move to the right was established shortly after 10pm on election night and it remained the focus of the entire election night coverage.
The other aspect to Labour’s defeat is repeated calls for the party to become relevant by getting more involved with community organising. This is an area where Labour activists are very likely to encounter anarchists and others on the left. This type of organising is to be welcomed no matter who is doing it and we have to face facts that in our communities we need that level of solidarity across groups. Old animosities and point scoring should be put aside and will need to be if we are to obstruct the new government.
One of the problems we are faced with and which we should address is the nature of this government and the threat it poses. We might be forgiven for thinking that the election is just a same old, same old situation but we’d be wrong. Boris Johnson with a majority does not represent government as usual. It isn’t sufficient to think that the Tories are in power again and we know what to expect. This time it is different. Conservatism has many facets, and some are going to come to the fore more than others with this new government.
Added to this changing of the guard within the Tory Party itself is the fact that we’ve seen how dictatorial Johnson and his unelected sidekick Dominic Cummings were without a majority. We don’t yet know what they will be like without any form of opposition able to curtail them. They may decide they don’t need to be so dogmatic and unwavering but it seems unlikely. They are much more likely to seek to shore up executive power to ensure that no parliament or supreme court can ever treat them in the same way again.
Paternalism is a key feature of conservatism. Conservatives believe that human beings need guidance if they are to avoid failing morally and socially. The role of the state is partly to provide that guidance. When the government sets up a commission to look at the constitution a cynic might say that they will seek to make changes which make their party more powerful. That might well be the case but ideologically they will be looking to shore up the hierarchy within the system that provides the guiding hand they believe we all need. In effect they will change those parts of the constitution they feel undermine the guiding hand of authority and hierarchy. When it comes to making radical change they do not mind if it is done in order to conserve those things they feel are necessary.
The changes within the Conservative Party itself have brought a renewed power for those in the New Right wing of the party. The neoconservative fear of social fragmentation due to immigration and crime will be a top priority. We’ve seen it already with announcements on tougher sentences. We can expect them to go further as they consider how best they might disrupt people who support prisoners and immigrants. There is also a backtracking in support pledged towards unaccompanied migrant children from Europe. Showing solidarity towards such groups is a threat to the new government and it seems unlikely that they will simply accept that threat.
The planned ethnic cleansing of traveller communities including the confiscation of homes is consistent with the neoconservative worry that such communities are a threat to the social order. As traveller communities do not conform to neoliberal desires of individualism and the free market they come into the gaze of the New Right in two distinct ways. Conservative thinking with this policy also addresses plans regarding the disruption of protest groups where camps are set up. In the long run this will make protests at fixed locations harder to organise and easier to dismantle and disperse. When fracking is allowed again expect the new legislation to be in place.
The Brexit legislation passing through parliament now no longer has the workers rights protections enshrined within its wording. They took them out for a reason so we can expect them to come up with their own vision on those fronts. We know that for a long time the Tories have wanted to repeal the Human Rights Act and possibly even withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights in favour of some new UK Bill of Rights. Ominously the commission looking into the constitution has been referred to as the Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission which means that potentially everything in the legal and political system is up for discussion.
We know that they also wish to remove the Fixed Term Parliament Act and that was included in the recent Queen’s Speech. What we don’t know is exactly what they plan. If they were simply to repeal it then the UK would go back to the situation that existed before 2010, whereby each parliamentary term was five years or fewer, if the prime minister wished to call a general election. They will feel as though another term in office is winnable because of the heavy defeat for Labour in 2019 but they could also seek to alter the length of the parliamentary term. This would be audacious but then everything they plan is audacious.
Boris Johnson with a majority represents a transformative government which will alter the way the UK operates. It will be a paternal government, claiming to know better than us what is best for us. It will do many things in the name of public security at the same time as carrying on the neoliberal dream of atomising our lives, making it harder to unite and act in solidarity.
Our role is to organise better than ever. We must unite with everyone who is willing to take them on and resist the changes. The last decade saw massive levels of resistance to austerity; this one must see us unite our communities to stop the dark forces of conservatism from taking hold in all aspects of our lives.
Photo: Guy Smallman