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North Shropshire by-election: Liberals win with a 34% swing but offer nothing new


Build a national strike movement against Johnson!

Bring Johnson and the Tory government down!

Peter Windeler – International Socialist League

After the Liberal Democrats victory in December in the North Staffordshire by-election, The Observer described the Liberal Democrats as “political gadflies”. As readers probably know, gadflies are the annoying bloodsucking insects that sometimes attack you. However, the Liberal Democrats were part of the Conservative, David Cameron, government, for imposing austerity on Britain, resulting in the life being sucked out of thousands of workers and their families.

The North Shropshire by-election saw a swing against the Tories of 34%, the biggest swing since 1993 when there was a 35% reversal against the Tory John Major government.

Back then, the post-Thatcher Tories called for a “back to basics” agenda with a witch hunt against single mums. Now the Tories are showing their gruesome, true colours and their instinctive hatred for the NHS, with their MP Joy Morrissey (and many others) baying against new COVID restrictions. Morrissey ranted, “This is not a public health socialist state” in response to the Chief Medical Officer’s call to take limited measures and stop the Omicron strain from spreading so quickly.

Despite the Tories being “ideologically incoherent and democratically diverse”, as the political scientists describe them, along with the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, they are all parties of capitalism.

There was tactical voting and Labour’s vote went down by 12%. Part of that loss may also reflect workers hostility to Labour. If Labour leader Kier Starmer becomes Prime Minister, will not undo the Tory austerity implemented by Labour councils or repeal the anti-trade-unions laws that first appeared under Harold Wilson’s Labour government back in 1969, under Barbara Castle’s infamous White Paper “In Place of Strife”.

What does the by-election result signify? Voters are changing their support for different parties rapidly. The North Shropshire constituency voted 60% in support of Brexit – Boris Johnson’s winning card. The promises of Brexit have all evaporated and any belief that the Tories could improve living conditions have been knocked asunder by Johnson’s handling of COVID and safety issues. While the country was in lockdown and families could not see their beloved ones before they died, 10 Downing Street carried on with Xmas celebrations.

The post-Brexit shambles is one of the reasons for the North Staffordshire result, especially the lack of support for local farmers and the deepening divisions inside the Tory government. The Brexit Minister, David Frost, has resigned and been replaced by the Thatcher-loving Liz Truss. Frost reasons for resigning include the new COVID restrictions, which he opposes with many other Tory MPs, increasing taxes and Johnson’s strategy to be less confrontational with Brussels.

The avalanche of sleaze affected the result, with £1.6bn of NHS COVID contracts being awarded by referrals from just ten Tory politicians. Tory concerns over the welfare of workers who voted for Brexit is a lie.

Sleaze also affected Tony Blair’s Labour government after it was linked to the Labour decision to exempt Formula One from the ban on tobacco advertising and the Labour Party was forced to pay back £1 million given by Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One boss.

The overall impression of this Tory government is of one that is drifting aimlessly, unable to chart a course through increasingly choppy capitalist waters. The desperate attempts to strike trade deals with the U.S. could result in Britain importing meat with up to ten banned antibiotics, potentially undermining treatments for infections, cancer and even coronavirus.

The real issue is the Tory running the economy since Brexit has been a disaster for workers. Their post-Brexit dream of a low tax, low regulation Singapore-on-Thames country has disappeared. Interest rates are rising, energy prices are catapulting, inflation is at 5%, and the Office for Public Responsibility predicts 4% less national income, which means that each person will be £1,500 worse off each year, and the government will be £40 billion short each year to run the country.

The years of austerity continue and the stripping away of local authority funding is behind many of the recent, appalling, child neglect stories and a sharp decline in social care. The cack-handed approach of dealing with the covid crisis has resulted in the NHS becoming broken – a crisis engineered by the Tories.

While employers continually attempt to undermine pay and conditions with their “Fire and Rehire” policies, the improved job situation, after Brexit, has emboldened workers to start a triumphant fight-back. 

There is no version of capitalism that can ever satisfy the basic needs of workers and their communities as capitalism will always seek to preserve its profits by taking from workers and the poorest. Capitalism resolves its problems by increasing poverty.

Workers have to build a new alternative of national economic and political struggle, combining all combative sectors not just to get rid of Johnson but to get rid of the Tory government and build an industrial fight back for pay rises above the rate of inflation, for equal wages and permanent work, and for an increase in Welfare benefits that will end poverty, end inequality and lift 4.3 million children out of poverty in 2022.

Bring the Tory government down

There is only one way to eradicate the problems and the contradictions that the capitalist system creates and is unable to resolve and that is to build for an alternative – that fights for workers’ control with a workers’ government, with banks under workers’ control and organised internationally.

Leaving the European Union for workers should translate into leaving the Capitalist EU and joining with European workers to fight for a Socialist United States of Europe. Only a socialist system can end oppression and exploitation and improve the lives of the majority population of the world, the working class.

European workers have to take the power from the likes of Johnson and Macron who impose the brutality and cruelty of capitalism on the world – the only way is for workers to organise democratically with all those oppressed for socialism.

Workers can build a national strike movement, a workers alternative and a revolutionary party that can overthrow capitalism.

  • Out with Johnson and the Tory government!
  • Build a national strike movement!
  • Build a workers alternative to the Labour Party!

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