Right Wing Watch Newsletter: Bye Bye By-elections

Last week's RWW newsletter will be the last one for the moment, but at least the Tories are getting a kicking.

Sadly this will be the last RWW newsletter for the moment, as funding for this project is running out. We say goodbye on an uplifting note, however, with the Tories getting their arses handed to them in two different byelections, as well as by the RMT’s unflappable Mick Lynch all over television.

This week I looked at why the right wing media attacks on the RMT are failing to turn the public against the strikes. And I was once again covering the Tories’ obsession with taking ordinary people’s rights away as Justice Secretary Dominic Raab announced a bill to replace the Human Rights Act.

Bye Bye By-elections

By-elections are not generally very good news for governing parties who are going through tough economic times. However, losing two MPs because one was convicted of sexual assaulting a child and the other admitted to looking at porn in the House of Commons probably didn’t help the final vote counts for the Tories in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton, which were lost to Labour and the Lib Dems respectively. 

Wakefield is very much part of the Northern Red Wall which was lost by Labour in 2019, while Tiverton and Honiton is part of a set of South Western seats which are prime targets for the Lib Dems. Tactical voting in both seats helped maximise both parties’ votes, though whether Labour and the Lib Dems can make this tactic work at a much wider scale in general elections is doubtful without some type of formal agreement on which seats the other party won’t contest. Both parties have been resistant to the idea of having any kind of formal voting pact in the past.

The fallout from the two losses puts Boris Johnson, who is currently away on diplomatic trips for Commonwealth, NATO, and G7 meetings, in an even worse position. Conservative Party co-chair Oliver Dowden (he of the privet fences of suburbia), quit following the by-election defeats, while Nadine Dorries tried to act as a human shield for the PM by doing one of her classic tweets in which she said the Government was focused on dealing with a cost of living crisis ‘which no Prime Minister or gov has faced the likes of since WW11.’ Classic Dorries.

The losses further intensified calls from Johnson’s opponents within the Conservative Party for him to step down, with former leader Michael Howard reportedly saying that the 1922 Committee should change its own rules on not allowing another vote of confidence within a year of the previous one, in order to get rid of Johnson sooner rather than later.

Wedgie week

Some Tories had reportedly billed this week as Wedge Week, in which they would constantly hammer on divisive issues aiming to energise their right wing supporters with ‘red meat’ policies they know are highly controversial. Keeping up the pressure on their plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, replacing the Human Rights Act, and the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which is having its second reading next week and will allow the UK to unilaterally overrule parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement related to Northern Ireland.

All these issues see the Tories picking fights with either domestic opposition (refugee organisations, lawyers, civil liberties groups), or with the EU. Nadine Dorries and other Tories may say that the Government is ‘laser focused’ on the cost of living crisis, but this is a lie, because when you look at their legislative programme, much of it is about removing rights to protest, to contest government decisions through judicial review or appeal to the ECHR, privatising Channel 4, to regulate ‘harmful content’ online, and enforce ‘free speech’ on campuses by allowing people to sue universities if they get no-platformed. 

Where is the focus on the cost of living crisis, or expanding investment in renewable energy, on housing, or any of the most pressing economic and social concerns that materially affect people’s lives? This government has shown that they much prefer fighting meaningless culture wars than actually doing anything to help people with the multiple crises affecting the UK. It’s telling then that Oliver Dowden, one of the leading culture warriors in the Tory Party, has chosen this moment to resign.

Importing the culture wars

One of the main trends in British right wing politics over the past decade has been its increasing Americanisation, which Brexit has accelerated, as well as the increasingly obvious political financing of UK think tanks like the IEA, Policy Exchange, Adam Smith Institute and Taxpayers’ Alliance. 

These think tanks have huge influence over the policy platform of the Conservative Party. For example, “ExxonMobil gave Policy Exchange $30,000 in 2017. The think tank went on to recommend the creation of a new anti-protest law targeting the likes of Extinction Rebellion, which became the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022”, according to OpenDemocracy.

One of the first stories I published for Right Wing Watch in January was about Young Voices UK, a PR agency promoting young right wing media commentators and funded by US dark money sources like oil baron Charles Koch. 

Well, today the US Supreme Court finally overturned Roe V. Wade, the decision which made access to abortion a right in every US state. It’s quite interesting to see the types of British conservatives who are pleased about this. Connor Tomlinson, one of the young reactionaries promoted by Young Voices UK, and who also writes for Net Zero Watch, a group accused of climate science denialism, said that the ruling didn’t go far enough and that abortion should be banned in every state in the US. 

There were many other right wingers who seemed pleased by the ruling, including Tory peer Lord Moylan, Andrew Lilico, Scott Benton MP, and groups like Turning Point UK and another new Tufton Street think tank, the New Culture Forum. Other MPs like Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg who have voiced support for removing abortion rights in the past, don’t seem to have said anything yet, and may feel they should keep quiet because they are cabinet ministers. 

Where do we go from here?

We need to shine a light on political financing. We need a government that believes in transparency, that believes in using the power of the state to radically improve the lives of the most economically vulnerable people in society. Economic deprivation robs us all of a chance to live in a functioning society in which we work together for the common good. 

We need to create the conditions where raising the top rate of income tax is seen as a no brainer. Right wing neoliberals like Milton Friedman spent decades creating the intellectual groundwork for their policies, and the left needs to do the same. We need more left wing think tanks, and media organisations. Two big right wing news channels launched in the UK in the last year. There are no overtly left wing news channels on UK national TV.

Economist Richard Murphy said today that “Where the Republicans go the Tories follow. We take the right to abortion, contraception, gay rights and same-sex marriage for granted now. We shouldn’t. Very soon Tory think tanks will have their sights on all of them. Fascism is on the march.”

I cannot disagree with this. Looking at the right wing over the last six months, it’s remarkable how many ideas formerly considered far right have slowly worked their way into the discourse of the mainstream right. The echoes of the jackboots of history’s fascists can be heard in the campaigns to abolish the Human Rights Act, as it can be heard in the overturning of abortion rights, and the relentless attacks in the British press on trans people and other minority groups.

Comrades, it’s time to organise, it’s time to fight, because if we tolerate this, it’s us next.

John Lubbock leads on the Right-Watch project at Left Foot Forward

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