Only a militant left can defeat new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
The new British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. | Frank Augstein / AP

Boris Johnson assumed the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom today after securing enough votes to become leader of the Conservative Party, succeeding Theresa May. His election has been greeted by a number of right-wing leaders internationally, including President Donald Trump, who praised Johnson as “Britain Trump.” Johnson, who previously served as Britain’s Foreign Secretary and as Mayor of London, was a prominent figure in the pro-Brexit campaign to leave the European Union. He has a long history of race-baiting and relying on anti-immigrant rhetoric. People’s World presents the following guest editorial from Morning Star, Britain’s daily socialist newspaper.

The long-expected calamity has come to pass: Boris Johnson has been chosen as Britain’s Prime Minister.

In his victory speech, Johnson named three priorities: to “deliver Brexit, unite the country, and defeat [left-wing Labour Party leader] Jeremy Corbyn.”

On the vital importance of the last, the incoming and outgoing prime ministers were in complete agreement: Congratulating her former foreign secretary, Theresa May tweeted that he could count on her support to “keep Jeremy Corbyn out of office.”

Britain’s Establishment remains terrified of a Corbyn-led government and what little unity it has left is summoned up to try to exorcise this specter.

The Tory Party has given that job to Johnson. He will be a dangerous opponent.

Criticism of Johnson tends to focus on his personal “unfitness for office.” Johnson is clearly a repulsive character and his record of race-baiting, dishonesty, reckless risk-taking, and egotism will make him a terrible prime minister.

But the labor movement has a duty to assess political risks based on class politics rather than personalities.

May was the author of the “Go Home or Face Arrest Vans” under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration of 2010-15 and as PM presided over the Windrush scandal that saw black British citizens deported and denied medical treatment.

[Former Conservative PM] David Cameron conjured up images of a “swarm” of migrants—actually refugees fleeing wars which his government helped to ignite, as with its catastrophic assault on Libya. Johnson is not the first PM with a racism problem.

Where his coronation both poses a risk and presents an opportunity to the left is in his greater distance from the Establishment “mainstream” and the already evident breach between him and parts of the permanent state.

Britain remains mired in one of the most serious political crises in its history. The ruling class has largely lost its legitimacy and governing institutions are held in deep contempt.

A popular vote to leave the EU upset decades of Westminster consensus and has spawned what could still prove a terminal crisis for a Tory Party, whose membership are gung-ho for a policy its big finance, fossil fuel, and hedge-fund paymasters regard as madness.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with then-British Minister of Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson during the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 18, 2017, in New York. | Evan Vucci / AP

The crisis stretches way beyond our borders. It stems from the current economic set-up’s delivery of worsening jobs and living standards, growing poverty and joblessness, and patent inability to address systemic problems.

We see it in [Italian Prime Minister] Matteo Salvini’s brutal war on refugees in the Mediterranean and in [French President] Emmanuel Macron’s savage repression of mass “gilets jaunes (yellow vests)” protests in France.

But Johnson’s playbook is the U.S. one and like Donald Trump he intends to mobilize intolerance and fear as weapons against a resurgent socialist left that—unlike the right—could actually resolve the crisis in the interests of ordinary people.

We have only to look at the U.S. crowds chanting: “Send her back” about black Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar to see how frightening the future Johnson represents could be.

At the same time, one of the strengths of the Corbyn-led left has been its ability to speak to parts of the country politicians have long ignored, providing the novel spectacle of mass Labour Party rallies even in old Tory strongholds like Canterbury or Cornwall.

Johnson poses a particular threat to black and Muslim communities and the left needs to draw on the strength of these communities in building a fightback rooted at local level.

Johnson epitomizes upper-class contempt for working people, and the left can, if it stands with and for working people and refuses to patronize them, show that it has answers that he doesn’t.

To do so, we must build a fighting left movement that clearly offers sweeping, radical change and appeals to the angry, the wronged, and the destitute.

If we fall into the trap of alliance with the “status quo” wing of the Establishment for fear of Johnson making things worse, we will dig our political graves.


Morning Star
Morning Star

Morning Star is the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. Morning Star es el diario socialista publicado en Gran Bretaña.