Britain: a nightmare on Downing Street

Dominic Cummings and his clique are gone. An open power struggle is playing out in the Tory Party, as the ruling class looks to ‘take back control’. This is truly a government of crisis, revealing the dire situation facing British capitalism. Note: this article was originally published on 16 November.


“He became the victim of his own conception of the world, the serious buffoon who no longer takes world history for a comedy but his comedy for world history.”

(Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte)

Bloodletting has enveloped 10 Downing Street, culminating in the sacking of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, and Lee Cain, head of communications. This exposes the cesspit at the very top of government. The fallout reveals the regime of terror that has been operating in Downing Street, led by a coterie of Brexiteer madmen.

Cummings was a law unto himself. Flouting the government’s COVID guidelines, he drove from London to Durham, then to Barnard Castle “to check his eyesight was in good order”. Despite calls for his resignation, he was fully supported by the Prime Minister, who had become dependent on him.

“The Vote Leave mob, drunk on their success in the referendum and the election, believed they were untouchable,” wrote Neil Tweedie in the Daily Mail.

They were behind the prorogation of parliament and the removal of the whip from all those who tried to delay Brexit. They rode roughshod over everything, to the alarm of the establishment.

Power struggle

Cummings earthquake Image Socialist AppealThe relationship between Cummings and Johnson apparently “fell off a cliff” / Image: Socialist Appeal

All the tensions have suddenly exploded – a reflection of the power struggle amongst the upper echelons of the British state. The relationship between Cummings and Johnson apparently “fell off a cliff”.

Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds – a Tory stalwart who has been much derided by Cummings loyalists – has also been prominent in pushing this move.

Behind this fracas is the attempt by the ruling class to regain control over the situation. As in the United States, where the ruling class had lost control of the Republican Party, so in Britain, the capitalist class had lost control over the Tory Party. This, in turn, is a reflection of the deep crisis of capitalism.

Dominic Cummings, appointed by Johnson, was a symbol of all that is rotten in the court camarilla. It is a symptom of how degenerate the Tory Party has become, mirroring the decline of British capitalism.

The ranks of the Tory Party are now made up of “swivel-eyed loons”, to quote David Cameron. They are extreme flag-waving reactionaries – English nationalists, who whole-heartedly embrace Euroscepticism. The party was poisoned by its hatred of Europe, a product of Thatcherism.

As long as this rabble were mere spectators and the real decisions were taken elsewhere, then this setup was acceptable to the party’s establishment. But as soon as they gave this gang the right to pick the leader, then the whole dynamic changed.

Brexiteer madness

Boris Brexit Image Socialist AppealJohnson jumped on the Brexit bandwagon, and linked up with the most reactionary oddballs, beginning with Cummings / Image: Socialist Appeal

Boris Johnson, the arch opportunist, played to the prejudices of this mob in order to get elected as Tory leader and then prime minister. He jumped on the Brexit bandwagon, and linked up with the most reactionary oddballs, beginning with Cummings.

But they had their own agenda. Cummings and the ultra-Brexiteers are quite mad. Their vision of a restored ‘sovereign’ Britain as an independent power – striding the world stage, armed only with a buccaneering spirit – is insane.

In truth, Britain has been reduced to a minor power, offshore from the European continent, totally reliant on American imperialism for everything, including its defence. Echoing Trumpian ideas with calls to ‘Make Britain Great Again’ has no basis in reality.

Brexit was part of this agenda. In fact, the Tory Party became the Brexit Party in all but name. But British capitalism has the bulk of its markets and profits in Europe. To cut the UK adrift from the EU and the Single Market is therefore to inflict colossal damage upon the capitalist class. As the Financial Times explained:

“The UK government’s own estimates are that ‘no deal’ on trade would lower UK gross domestic product by about 8 percentage points over 15 years relative to staying in the EU. That might amount to halving cumulative growth in GDP per head. The free trade agreement it seeks could cost 5 percentage points — still too much, but a little less.” (16/11/20)

This self-harm is absolute madness from the capitalists’ point of view. The very idea of embracing a no-deal Brexit – which figures like Cummings and Johnson are prepared to do – is seen as suicidal. The ruling class has been pulling out its hair at the thought of crashing out of Europe.

In other words, the Tory Party, which was the main representative of British capitalism, has become so infected with Euroscepticism that it no longer represents the direct interests of the capitalist class. This is an incredible state of affairs. The most successful bourgeois party in Europe has been reduced to this mess.

Taking back control

Since the general election, the proverbial jesters have taken over the court. This had been welcomed by Boris Johnson. But things had gone too far for the elites; the ‘serious people’ and ‘adults’.

This latest ‘palace coup’ is therefore an attempt by big business to ‘take back control’ of the Tory Party. It has parallels with the ruling class’ backing for Keir Starmer’s purge of the left in the Labour Party. The establishment and their Blairite agents had lost control of Labour in the Corbyn years. Now they want to reassert their grip and ensure that the party is once again a ‘safe pair of hands’ for capitalism.

“In the murder of Rasputin they saw the last means of saving the dynasty,” wrote Trotsky in his History of the Russian Revolution. Clearly, the removal of Cummings is seen in a similar light. The ruling class hopes the Tory government will be ‘reset’ and put on a different path.

The Johnson premiership has all the hallmarks of a parliamentary bonapartism. In other words, decisions were increasingly being taken not by Parliament, or even by the Cabinet, but by a small clique in Number 10, centred around Cummings. This recent move is an attempt to curb this process. Tory MPs, after all, have been vocal in demanding more of a say in the direction of policy.

Government of crisis

Boris bombshell Westminster Image Socialist AppealThe removal of Rasputin did not prevent the Russian Revolution. Likewise, the removal of Cummings will not restore stability for the ruling class / Image: Socialist Appeal

It is interesting to note that the removal of Rasputin did not prevent the Russian Revolution. Likewise, the removal of Cummings will not restore stability for the ruling class. Far from it. We are entering the most unstable period in history, overshadowed by the deepest crisis of capitalism the world has ever seen.

Splits and divisions at the top are inevitable – a reflection of this crisis. However, Cummings and his supporters have only served to exacerbate these divisions. Johnson, who craves popularity above everything, seems to be thrown from one direction to another. This too is a sign of a government of crisis. Those whom the gods wish to destroy first make mad.

“The basic contempt comes from Boris Johnson,” said a former Downing Street adviser. “This is not a guy who does the Commons tearooms, who fraternises with fellow MPs. This is a guy who gets blown around by whatever storm; he has no political compass.”

“Cummings was his ultimate human shield, the lightning conductor for all the hostility from Whitehall and politicians,” this same commentator continues. “But it is Johnson’s leadership that is the problem. He doesn’t like making decisions, he doesn’t like upsetting people, he barely had any experience around a cabinet table before becoming leader. He is an outsider, a personality. There’s very little seen of him building a support base within the party.”

Collision course

Boris brexit crisis Image Socialist AppealThe UK government is on a collision course with Brussels and also US president-elect Joe Biden / Image: Socialist Appeal

Downing Street is still infested with Brexiteers, who are also leading the Brexit negotiations. Even if the capitalist class manages to avoid a no deal, which is far from certain, any trade deal at this stage will still be extremely damaging to British capitalism. This is a crucial week for the talks.

Pressure is now being exerted on Johnson by the Joe Biden administration in the US, who have explicitly warned that Brexit must not endanger the Good Friday Agreement by reintroducing a hard border in the island of Ireland.

The decision by Johnson to reopen the EU agreement protocols threw a spanner into the works, causing alarm in Brussels. The House of Lords later voted to throw out the parts of the offending legislation. But the PM has stated that this will be rejected in the Commons. This once again sets the UK government on a collision course with Brussels and also Biden.

Perfect storm

These are volatile times. The Tory government has been involved in a whole series of u-turns. A deal with Brussels could still be secured in the final hours. But this is not certain. Anything could happen.

The removal of Cummings may be too late for this. The fact that Johnson has to self-isolate for 14 crucial days is also a complicating factor.

This supposedly strong 80-seat majority government has been shown to be a colossus with feet of clay. The perfect storm of crises facing British capitalism will drive it onto the rocks.

That is why sections of the ruling class have already raised the idea of a ‘national unity’ government, drawing on the support from Starmer. This seems entirely probable given the situation. But it will not save them.

There will be no return to normality. We face years of crisis, austerity, and social and political upheaval, where ever-larger layers of the working class will begin to draw revolutionary conclusions. This is an inevitable feature of the death agony of capitalism.