Paul Foot

The government that devoured itself

(July/August 1995)

From Notes of the Month, Socialist Review, No.188, July/August 1995, pp.4-5.
Copyright © 1995 Socialist Review. Published on MIA with the permission of the Estate of Paul Foot. Paul Foot Internet Archive ( 2005.
Downloaded with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The early summer of 95 will surely be remembered by all socialists as a time for glorious spectator sport. There seems no need any longer to say or do anything against the Tory administration. Like strange creatures from Greek legend, Tory ministers seem determined to devour themselves.

Leading the field is the Prince of Crassness himself, the prime minister John Major, who in a fit of public petulance for which them is no parallel in the history of the British parliament, suddenly decided to give up his job as Tory leader and seek a new mandate from his narrow and punchdrunk electorate, the 327 Tory MPs.

First to pick up the gauntlet was the far right neanderthal, John Redwood, whose total programme is to cut deeper still into the meagre benefits of the poor – and to bring back the hangman’s rope. The Review goes to press as the outcome of this bizarre contest remains uncertain, but lurking in the wings is the old fox Michael Heseltine, a politician so unprincipled that he is quite prepared to make common cause with Michael Portillo, another far right fanatic even more sinister than Redwood.

If Major beats Redwood substantially, he and his lame duck administration will limp on at least as far as the Scott report, scheduled for October. If the first ballot is indecisive, the two Michaels seem the most likely to reap the prize.

The Tory troubles, we are told, are caused by their long period in office. This is nonsense. The Tories happily and unitedly cling to office as long as they can. Their current discontent is caused by the inability of their economic system to solve its own dreadful crises – their ‘economic recovery’ for instance, on which so much of their rhetoric is now based, is disintegrating in front of their eyes. The tax cuts they promised turn out to be tax increases. Their ‘remedies’ – union bashing and privatisation – have been employed to the full, with no noticeable benefit to anyone except the mega rich.

No longer able to balance their books by bashing unions and the poor, they have turned to bashing the hallowed middle classes. Even mortgage relief, that enormous Thatcherite subsidy for homeowners, has been breached. In anguish as they contemplate losing their seats, Tory MPs lash out at any target which presents itself. Europe and foreigners everywhere, the BBC, each other.

For Socialist Review readers who have been exposing this crisis, and predicting its political consequences for years, it is tempting in these times to sit back like sadists at a wrestling match between unbacked and hated contestants, and to enjoy every injury inflicted by one Tory leader on another. Such delightful abstention, however, misses the real question – how and why are these Tories still in office?

Every moment of their survival means further inroads into the living standards of the workers and the poor, further grotesque riches in high places and further disillusionment on the left. And while it is fun indeed to watch the Tories tearing themselves apart, there is no guarantee that the infighting on its own will bring the Tories down. They are entitled, if left alone, to go on until the spring of 1997: nearly two more terrible years.

The plain truth is that the Tories are still there because of the spinelessness of the Labour leadership and the TUC. While the people turn against Thatcherism and all its works, the Blair leadership of Labour turns towards it, equating in its negative rhetoric ‘old Labour’ and ‘the new right’, as if nationalisation, a free health service, comprehensive education and a trade union movement unshackled by Tory laws were as great a menace as capitalism. This despicable equation lies behind the truce which has been offered to the Tories not just by Labour but by the TUC, which has watched the dismemberment of its own movement with detached passivity.

Even a fraction of the protests of the weaker and less organised trade union movements in Italy and in France in recent months would have driven this government from office and spared us the ridiculous gavotte now being danced by the absurd and discredited Tories.


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