Worstward Ho?

Whatever else, the last 45 days in British politics have been hugely diverting. The Daily Star, a newspaper I had thought was long dead, has spent the last week publishing pictures of Liz Truss alongside those of a cabbage, encouraging readers to bet on which would go off first. And was I dreaming when I read the Survation poll which put Truss’s support at minus 70, making her almost as unpopular with the British public as Vladimir Putin? Last Monday, Penny Mordaunt, standing in for Truss at the dispatch box, felt the need to reassure MPs that the leader was not ‘hiding under a desk’. Backbenchers seated behind her tried hard not to giggle. Meanwhile a German newscaster took great delight in quoting a Tory MP who remarked, ‘I’m fucking furious and I don’t fucking care anymore.’ The French are mocking Truss by suggesting she will only be remembered for seeing off the Queen.

Having got rid of Johnson because they thought he would lose them the next election, the Tories accepted his choice of successor to avoid rewarding Sunak for wielding the knife. Had he no idea that she was incompetent, incapable of making basic decisions and frankly not very bright? Regardless, it didn’t take the country long to realize. Remember Heseltine bringing down Thatcher and Major reaping the reward?

The free-market ghouls Truss appointed as Chancellor and Home Secretary sat and watched as the pound collapsed and the market they worship booted them out, backed by a nervous claque of businessman, an assortment of Tory MPs and a panicky FT. The situation predicted by the media were Corbyn elected Prime Minister came to pass under a very different kind of administration. Evidently, the market would have preferred a chunk of the 2019 programme to the gibberish of the mini-budget and a Tory Party entirely out of touch with reality.

Rung yesterday by a Jamaican national broadcaster to comment on the shenanigans in Westminster, I was prepared:

On. Say on. Be said on. Somehow on. Till nohow on. Said nohow on. Say for be said. Missaid. From now say for be missaid. Say a body. Where none. No mind. Where none. That at least. A place. Where none. For the body. To be in. Move in. Back into. No. No out. No back. Only in. Stay in. On in. Still. All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

There was a silence: ‘Mr. Ali is that you? I’ll try again in case I got the wrong number.’

The words were obviously not mine. They were drawn from one of Beckett’s final texts, Worstward Ho. What for him was an expression of existential suffering has for us become the best description of a socio-political pathology which won’t go away with Truss or her successor. The outgoing PM is herself a symptom of this social crisis, shaped by Britain’s exhausted financialized economy, bankrupt post-imperial foreign policy, exclusionary parliamentary system and creaking multinational state. What the British ruling class needs is a real conservative government – with or without the capital C – to protect and stabilize this political order. In this sense Starmer would be more sellable than Sunak, since he can be framed as something new rather than something borrowed and something blue. Yet mimicking Thatcher has so far proven useless, and imitating Blair will be no better.

What can we look forward to over the next six months or so? Why the coronation, of course, for which Starmer has pledged to clear the decks and delay May Day. Surely the time has come for republican democracy. Let’s launch it with a huge street party in Whitehall and food banks galore outside the Banqueting Hall. And let’s look to the French, who are holding large assemblies in all the major cities to protest living conditions and threatening a general strike. How long until Britons follow their lead?

Read on: Arthur Scargill, ‘Proportional Representation: A Socialist Concept’, NLR I/158.