The Tory conference will gather this weekend in Manchester amid political chaos, record deficits in opinion polls, strikes by doctors and train drivers and street protests.
Everything the Conservatives touch goes wrong. Ministers’ response will be more racism, more assaults on trade unions and more attempts to divide people.
NHS in crisis? Blame doctors’ strikes. More poverty and hardship? Blame refugees coming across the Channel and “excessive” environmental policies. Angry about the rich? Instead blame trans rights activists.
It’s crucial that this weak and brutal government faces a rising tide of revolt, both around the conference and more generally. Sunak last week jettisoned even the meagre environmental measures that the Tories had scheduled.
He confirmed a push back of the deadline for selling new petrol and diesel cars and the phasing out of gas boilers. That’s another sign of the complete lack of action to halt environmental collapse.
But Sunak didn’t even please the automobile and energy bosses who have set up massive investments to profit from the previously announced plans.
Downing Street aides said the U-turn had been driven by Sunak himself with the guidance of Tory election strategist Isaac Levido. They’ve been focused on drawing dividing lines with Labour ahead of the next election.
Sunak faces another huge backlash from senior Tories and business leaders as he was this week set to scrap the northern English section of the HS2 rail line.
In a spectacularly inept move, he was expected to announce the cancellation of the section from Birmingham to Manchester just as the conference gathers—in Manchester.
The massively expensive project has always been an environmental disaster. Now it is another symbol of Tory failure.
The Tories are also delaying a bill to outlaw “no fault” evictions after opposition from Tory MPs and whips.
Five of 16 whips own rental property. “There are a number of landlords in the whips’ office who are amplifying the level of concern among Tory MPs and holding things up,” said a Whitehall official.
And the bill to ban conversion therapy—practices that pressure LGBT+ people to abandon their sexuality and gender identity—is also in the firing line.
One source close to the government told The Telegraph newspaper that the ban appeared to be “dead in the water”. But as the Tories flounder, Labour becomes even more pro-corporate and moves further and further to the right. That risks allowing Sunak to recover.
Train drivers in the Aslef union plan to strike at 16 companies on Saturday and next Wednesday.
They have also announced an overtime ban across the rail network on Friday and next Monday to Friday.
The action is part of the battle that started in the middle of 2022 over pay and the bosses’ attempt to slash jobs, conditions and safety.
Aslef said, “We last saw the secretary of state for transport in December.
“We last saw Huw Merriman, the rail minister, in January. And we last saw the train companies in April.
“Since then, nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a letter, not an email, not a text message, not a phone call, not a WhatsApp. Not a word!”
That shows how the government doesn’t want a deal—except surrender from the strikers. But it also underlines that the present strike strategy is wholly ineffective.
The RMT union should also have called strikes across Britain alongside Aslef. But even more importantly, both of the rail unions need to escalate as soon as possible to force the rail firms and Tories to give in. Otherwise the dispute drags on without any sign of victory.
The RMT rail union said last week that the new anti-union minimum service laws will “worsen industrial relations, prolong disputes and lead to even more days or strikes and new novel forms of action”.
The union was responding to a new transport committee report on the next stage of developing regulations to attack railway strikes.
But the key point is that the laws are pro-boss legislation that needs to be defied and smashed.
No union should accept it being applied. Every union has to rally around those targeted by it—whether it is inside the law or not.
The Tories fear they could lose a by-election on 19 October, even though they have a huge majority. They won Mid Bedfordshire, the former seat of Nadine Dorries, with a majority of over 24,000 in 2019.
If the Conservatives lose it will be another massive blow to Rishi Sunak. In Scotland the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election next week will be a test of whether the Scottish National Party’s crises have benefited Labour. The SNP won the South Lanarkshire constituency in 2019 with a majority of over 5,000.
But Labour could take it this time, although media reports suggest there’s not much enthusiasm for Keir Starmer. The by-election was triggered after constituents ousted Margaret Ferrier for breaching Covid lockdown rules.
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