Drowning Street Gamble. What next for Britain? 

25/10/2022. London, United Kingdom. Newly appointed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives at No10 Downing Street. 10 Downing Street. Picture by Rory Arnold / No 10 Downing Street

A prime minister suddenly announcing an early general election, in drenching rain, with a jacket soaked to every thread and trickles of water crawling over it – this could only happen in the UK. Was it an attempt to arouse pity in an extremely unpopular Tory electorate, or was it simply a gaffe of the kind we have no shortage of in the history of British politics? While the rainy weather will stay with the islanders, the current government and perhaps the Conservative Party will not.

But what can voters hope for while going to the polls on Thursday 4 July 2024? Will it be a revolution, or perhaps an occasion to show an iconoclastic gesture of rejection to the current political elite? Conflicting hopes, prospects, and general confusion may be the main feature of the forthcoming election, the technical outcome of which, ironically, has been simple and clear for a long time. 

Of course, the main protagonists in the tragedy of British politics will be the Tories and the Labour Party. A country stifled by strikes, privatisation, galloping inflation and the collapse of every public service, from the NHS to the Royal Mail and privatised rail, is seeking a massive change that could push the Conservative Party off the stage. 

Why has Rishi Sunak decided to call the vote so soon? Was it a gamble? Certainly, it looks like one. 

Some insight comes from the analysis of the Spectator, in which James Hanson states that: “Barring some kind of miracle, the Tories are going to lose – and badly. Even if the polls narrow over the campaign, Sunak cannot possibly be thinking of winning. The best-case scenario for him is denying Labour an overall majority. Even in a hung parliament, Keir Starmer would almost certainly become prime minister, owing to the complete absence of parliamentary allies for the Conservatives. In other words, a July election is an election which is destined to lead to Rishi Sunak leaving office”.

Hanson suggests that the best option for Sunak would have been to play for time. But it appears that this is precisely what the rain-drowning Prime Minister wanted to avoid, at a time when there is no improvement in the situation on the horizon. It would have looked like a strenuous clinging to power. So here is the whole gamble, which, however, does not seem to have made much of a difference.

Spectator’s publication is dubbed by a tweet published by Kate McCann,  presenter of Sunday Morning on Times Radio, which recounts a meeting with a senior member of Team Sunak leaving Downing Street. “I asked why now? They said this July date has been a slow burn for the PM, and better economic news coupled with a fear that public have stopped listening were deciding factors. The biggest though? “Things have started to go wrong… that’s going to keep happening. You don’t want to be sat there in Downing Street all summer while they do”. 

It is however possible that there is no grand strategy here, no grand gambit, gamble or bet, and it is simply that Rishi Sunak has had enough. Governing a country where your approval rating is around 30 or 20 some percent, where you are attacked daily by the media, often rightly so, and where you are regularly booed in the streets, comes at a price. And the life that Sunak might have, potentially, after leaving Downing Street, with his fortune and experience, might just be a lot less tiring, or even comfortable. As evidenced by the many careers of Euro-European politicians, including those on the left, the story of a second Blair or Schröder is replicable here too, and no one will even pay attention to it, looking at Sunak’s ideological pedigree. 

Sinking ship 

The Conservative party is considered a sinking ship. Not only by voters but also by its own MPs, but also cabinet ministers. A recent addition to the list of deserters was Housing Minister Michael Gove, who announced on 24 May that he would not be seeking a seat in future elections.

With his party behind severely in the polls, Gove is only the most recent Conservative MP to quit ahead of this week’s July 4 election, which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called. Alongside seasoned euroskeptic John Redwood, former Cabinet minister Greg Clark added his name to the increasing list on Friday. And the number is still growing. So far, the number of Conservatives quitting has risen to 79.

Moreover, in addition to purely poll reasons, there may also be objective disappointment with the Sunak government, which in the eyes of its own party’s politicians has simply not delivered. What were Sunak’s five main pledges presented in 2023? 

Firstly, halving inflation. By the end of 2023, the government wanted to cut inflation in half, or the rate at which prices rise over time. The goal was to bring inflation down to 5.3% or less in the final three months of 2023, since it was 10.7% in the three months from October to December 2022. The government uses the Consumer Prices Index, called CPI, to measure inflation. Looking at data right now, the current administration has fulfilled its commitment; the CPI for the final three months of 2023 was 4.2%, well below half the rate from the previous year.

The next one was growing the economy. Here, Sunak cannot declare that he scored a goal. The government’s vow to halve inflation made the promise to build the economy more challenging. To curb the rapid price rise, the Bank of England raised interest rates fourteen times. But it also resulted in lower expenditure and slower economic expansion. Between July and September of last year, the economy declined by 0.1%, and between October and December, it shrank by an additional 0.3%. This indicated that by the end of 2023, the economy had entered a recession. However, the most recent data indicates that the UK economy expanded by 0.6% from January to March 2024, signalling the end of the recession. Nevertheless, it’s more than difficult to coin it a success. 

Long story short, the following three pledges weren’t a success neither. Cutting debt? It didn’t move anywhere, what’s more, it has even grown to more than 97% of the British GDP since the beginning of 2023. Cutting NHS waiting lists? Jokes aside, cues are longer than ever. It was even admitted by Sunak himself. Stopping the so-called boats? The new Rwanda bill, originally meant to stop the boats, is bouncing between the Lords and the Commons, with proposals made by the first rejected by the latter. So far in 2024, 6,265 people have been detected, which is up a quarter from the same period last year. However, the most attractive moment to cross the Channel, summer, is still yet to come. 

What’s more, the very decision to undertake one election is being badly received in Conservative party circles, with rumours since the 22nd of May that party members who do not want to lose their parliamentary seats to Labour are attempting to stage a party coup. However, would this make sense? With each passing day, such a plan would have less and less logic and seem more and more out of desperation. 

Even if there is a hiding stratagem here, there is no indication of that so far, although perhaps there is something we will find out in the future as the election campaign unfolds. What’s more, things look more than tragically for the Conservatives. 

Looking at current polls, Labour has 45% support, while the Conservatives can enjoy their 23% of potential votes. This gives the Labour Party more than 400 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons. The Conservatives, meanwhile, would have 155 seats in it, the Libdems 49, the SNP 19, the Welsh Plaid Cymru four and the Greens one. Labour’s representation would therefore increase by 200 seats. So there is no indication that the situation for Sunak and his party will improve, quite the contrary. 

One thing is certain, the Tories will lose – and lose painfully. What is now at stake, however, is the survival of their party and the maintenance of the entire political environment. 

Left or right? 

Labour is not entering this election at all into the pink meadows of grass on which it will build a new Britain, far removed from the collapse of public services, growing inequality and neoliberalism. And why? Mainly because of its leader, Keir Starmer, who, although he promised to build a party free of sectarianism, has de facto founded it on division, purges, and the exclusion of his political enemies. This means that even though plenty of voters are hostile and even angry toward the Conservative Party under Rishi Sunak, and they support the idea of ousting the Tories from office, this does not mean that they are enthusiastic about the Labour Party’s alternative.

According to YouGov, more people think Starmer is a bad Labour leader. Specifically, 46% of people think he is leading his team badly, while 34% think he is doing a good job. Although these figures are from the first quarter of this year, there is no indication that they could change in Starmer’s favour, due to his recent actions which are, to put it diplomatically, controversial. 

These figures are confirmed by the results of the local elections, and these in England and Wales ended disastrously for the Conservative Party, which lost 474 seats, but also not very well for the Labour Party, which gained just 186 seats.

How did Starmer react to these results? By expelling Jeremy Corbyn from the ranks of the Labour Party, creating ambiguity about the future fate of socialist MPs and activists, and throwing out and then reinstating Diane Abbott’s seat within the party, with no indication whether she will or will not stand at the forthcoming election. 

The 74-year-old former party leader, who was removed from the Labour candidate shortlist, will run in his home constituency of Islington North, while Abbotts fate is still unsealed, apart from them, many others might fear they won’t get a chance to fight for the mandates. All this with the local party structures bypassed, and under orders from the centre of governance in the person of Starmer and his acolytes. 

All this allows people like Ken Loach to refer to Starmer as a wanna-be Stalin. Although these words were spoken in 2021, they seem all the more appropriate today. The Labour Party has taken a more centrist stance under Starmer’s direction and would not support any significant reforms that the millions of everyday people who are struggling to make ends meet require. In a few areas, Starmer offered hope for change; workers’ rights was undoubtedly one of them. Even this is uncertain today; therefore, it is reasonable to anticipate that previous promises will be diluted. Two former Conservative Party members have defected to the Labour Party recently, suggesting that the present government would likely continue its existing policy directions. 

Although Labour professes to support a just tax system, few people think it will truly take tough measures against tax evasion. Even fewer voters think that the upcoming term will see significant tax reform. Even though the wealthiest 1% of Britons hold more money than 70% of the UK population, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves has already ruled out the establishment of a wealth tax.

At the same time, Starmer wants to maintain his hawkish foreign policy style and spend more money on the British military, which will maintain the current Sunak approach. Then there is the question of support for Israel, and this is bound to be sustained further, fuelling the gruesome genocide of children and women in Gaza, the West Bank and, most likely in the future, Lebanon.  

However, there is a force on the horizon that could make things even more difficult for Starmer in this election. Driving a new revisionist course in British politics. 

A left-wing counter-listing?

One of the revisionists of the current political set-up in the UK is George Galloway. If Marx’s words about the twisted roads of the workers’ revolutions applied to the fate of people with left-wing views, Galloway would be their exemplification. This is a man who wins over and rejects potential voters with equal force. Present in British politics since 1987, when he signed up to the Labour Party at the age of 33, he has been forever associated with the alternative left ever since. 

In 2003, he was accused by an intra-party committee of inciting Iraqi troops to fight British troops, encouraging members of the British army to disobey orders, and urging them not to vote for Labour. The charge resulted in his expulsion from the party and began Galloway’s great trek, which became, along with his rhetorical skills, his trademark. 

Expelled from the party, he joined Respect Party. In the general election of 2005, he was chosen to represent Bethnal Green and Bow as an MP. He lost a parliamentary seat in the neighbouring district of Poplar and Limehouse in the 2010 general election, but he won it back in the Bradford West by-election in 2012, only to lose it again in the general election of 2015. He ran unsuccessfully as an independent in the general elections in 2017 and 2019. Following that, Galloway established the Workers Party of Britain, and he unsuccessfully ran for the seat in the Batley and Spen by-election in 2021. Lastly, with 39.7% of the vote, Galloway was victorious in the 2024 Rochdale by-election.

Throughout his career as a journalist and politician, Galloway has been a scandalous figure. As Aaron Bastiani said when introducing the audience to an interview with him published on Novara Media, “there are few people who can say they have met Tony Blair, Sadam Hussein, Elizabeth II and Denis Rodman”. What’s more, this list could also include journalists from Russia Today, the Russian state news channel with which Galloway worked as a tv presenter from 2013 to 2022, while also working with Iranian media outlet Press Tv. 

His consistently anti-Western, revisionist and anti-racist views, as well as his support for, among other things, the Palestinian cause, thanks to which he says he won in Rochdale, mean that Galloway’s proposal, at a time of so much fluidity of views on the left, may be an enticing answer for many. Especially for those longing for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. 

Galloway himself says that his party is to be to Labour what Farage was to the Tories, a tongue-in-cheek push into more left-wing positions. And that is possible, the question is just how long it will take Starmer to crack down on yet another enemy on the left. 

At the end of the day, the myriad of controversies surrounding him, too long to be cited here, may mean that once again, as has been the case throughout his career, the Socialist Worker’s Party project, may be a one-off song. 

Even if in the Rochdale election, Galloway collected more votes than the Labour and Tory candidate combined, this does not mean that such a success can be repeated now. While de facto anything is possible, the new force of the left is not yet present in the polls conducted by the major agencies. Moreover, it is certain that Galloway’s discussions with Labour politicians, those present and those thrown out in recent weeks, are ongoing. Even though Corbyn will be running as an independent, despite Galloway’s calls for a grand alliance of left-revisionist forces, many may be tempted to form a party together with Galloway, or other renegades. It is clear from what Galloway says that he is not looking for an enemy on the left, and where socialists, or victims of Starmer’s policies, will stand as candidates, there his party will not field counter-candidates. 

Everything is certain so that nothing is clear

In the context of the UK elections, we are in many places in a quandary. There is a lack of data, polls, opinion polls, what’s more, many MPs from both Labour and the Tories don’t yet know whether they will stand or not. And if so, from which list? Sunak’s bet worked insofar as it was intended to throw us all into confusion, but what will be the effect? Nobody knows, even though a Starmer majority has long been looming on the horizon. But what will it be like in its effect? Problems are bound to arise. Their significance will escalate once Labour encounters its initial significant issues, which is likely to occur approximately a year into the upcoming term. There must be a poisonous residue from the fourteen years of Conservative administration that will eventually surface. 

What’s more, the new prime minister’s old sins may blow up in his face. What will left-wing Labour MPs do, what result will Galloway’s project achieve? All these questions remain open, and we will certainly be watching. British politics, after all, can provide us not only with memes, but also with quite a bit of excitement.  

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