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Capitalist Decay And The Tory Crisis

The Conservative Party's recent by-election failures highlight more than just their own incompetence. They point to a fundamental crisis within the capitalist system itself, a system which the Conservatives strive to preserve amidst increasing dysfunction.

Starmer’s Labour victories aren’t merely good fortune; they are the death rattle of a decaying capitalist system that the Conservatives desperately uphold. Their recent by-election successes signal a condemnation of this failed system, not simply a testament to Starmer’s leadership or policy direction.

The staggering collapse of Conservative support reveals a deepening legitimacy crisis. Decades of policies serving the interests of the capitalist class have eroded the material conditions of the working class. Austerity measures, the COVID pandemic, Brexit, and attacks on trade union rights have intensified hardship and disillusionment. The mere “luck” of being exposed to these systemic failures makes Starmer’s Labour the beneficiary, even if their policies offer few (if any) fundamental challenges to the system.

The fragmentation of the Conservative vote offers further evidence of the crisis. Right-wing challengers (of the hard and far right type) like ReformUK arise on the back of working-class dissatisfaction, yet offer no solutions. The rise of ReformUK does not signal a true insurgent movement. Far from it, they represent yet another facet of the decaying establishment that is failing the British people. This party, largely populated by disillusioned former Tory members, lacks a positive manifesto for true change. Instead, they exploit social anxieties to advance policies that are fundamentally regressive. Xenophobic anti-migrant rhetoric, anti-net-zero, a drive for a smaller state, and the promise of low taxes—these are measures that disproportionately benefit the wealthy and the ageing elite, not the hard-pressed British worker.

Let’s not mistake discontent for genuine transformation. ReformUK offers a repackaged version of the same failing system that brought us here, a system that has consistently prioritised profit and privilege over the needs of the working class. They seek not to overturn the capitalist order but to benefit from its dysfunction. Their rise suggests further fragmentation on the right and the potential for drawing away votes from the Conservatives. Yet, they offer no viable solution for the crises facing Britain and serve as a clear example of how capitalism will exploit every crack in the system to preserve it. Some tactical voting favouring Labour demonstrates the depth of popular desire for change—any change—away from the Tory mess. Instead of reflecting renewed popularity for Starmer and Labour, these victories hinge on voter disillusionment with the Conservatives, demonstrating a negative vote against the Tories rather than a positive one for Starmer.

Lacking a compelling vision for economic well-being or social cohesion, the Conservative government has also resorted to stoking division. Their attacks on migrants and the trans community serve as a calculated attempt to ignite cultural warfare. This serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it offers a scapegoat for the nation’s problems, masking the culpability of a government whose policies prioritise the wealthy. Secondly, these attacks rally their base around emotionally charged social issues, distracting from their inability to deliver a decent living and a just society for the British people.

Historically, right-wing movements in crises often lean on the strategy of manufacturing fear and resentment towards vulnerable groups. This trend manifests in the Conservative Party’s relentless anti-migrant rhetoric and continued assaults on the “woke” or “hard left.” It is a cynical gamble to exploit social divisions and sow discord, all in a desperate attempt to distract from their failure.

This pattern mirrors shifts observed in Marxist scholarship. As capitalism falters under its contradictions—wealth inequality, exploitation, and instability—ruling parties like the Conservatives lose the ability to command popular consent. These failures become amplified during economic crises, as we see with the UK’s current recession and cost-of-living crisis. The public turns to parties perceived as offering alternatives, however superficial or reactionary they may prove.

The clashing ideals exemplified by George Galloway’s candidature expose the fracturing of left-wing British politics in Rochdale. Galloway, a reactionary figure with a history of courting controversy, has dabbled in red-brown alliances and espoused views widely condemned. His opportunistic bid for Rochdale hinges on exploiting anti-war sentiments connected to Israel’s geniocidal attack on Gaza while offering little in the way of a constructive platform. The race becomes more unpredictable as suspended Labour candidate Azhar Ali decides to run as an independent. This development showcases the ongoing weaponisation of antisemitism—both genuine instances and false accusations—that plagued the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. This pattern has created a toxic environment where nuanced debate about Palestinian rights is stifled, ultimately harming those the left should be championing. Simon Danczuk is the Reform UK candidate in the Rochdale by-election. A former Labour MP for the town, he was suspended from the party in 2015 after allegations emerged that he had exchanged sexually explicit messages with a 17-year-old girl. Danczuk’s campaign emphasises local issues and criticises Labour for being out of touch with its working-class base. However, his candidature is a controversial choice for some, especially considering Rochdale’s history with grooming scandals and Danczuk’s past suspension from Labour.

While the specifics of the Rochdale contest provide some uncertainties, the larger takeaway remains clear. After 14 years of misrule, the British population recognises the exhaustion of the Conservative project. Their alienation stems from the inherent flaws of capitalism, a system geared towards protecting the privileges of the few, not meeting the needs of the many.

While the Conservatives retreat into ideological warfare, Labour, supposedly attuned to the dire conditions faced by the working class, will likely propose policies aimed at ameliorating some effects of the crisis—modest relief from spiralling costs, potential adjustments to immigration policy, etc. Yet, these remain sticking plaster solutions. Until the root cause—capitalism itself—is addressed, lasting relief will remain elusive.

While revolutionary Marxist groups tend to hold limited sway over direct election results, our potential lies in influencing political discourse. Campaigns centred on anti-capitalist critiques and a refusal to accept mainstream narratives can introduce radical socialist ideas into the public consciousness. This may indirectly pressure centre-left parties like Labour to respond with bolder rhetoric, adopting aspects of a more left-wing vocabulary.

A strategic complication for revolutionary Marxists lies in electoral tactics. On the one hand, a pragmatic argument favouring harm reduction could justify encouraging a vote for Labour when faced with a significantly worse right-wing alternative. Conversely, some believe it’s counterproductive to legitimise any established party operating within a capitalist system. (I will cover this in more detail in a later post.) However, they might favour symbolic protest votes or independent candidates, prioritising long-term ideological groundwork over immediate electoral success. Ultimately, electoral participation is typically viewed as a minor component of revolutionary Marxist strategy, which values on-the-ground trade union organising, protest, and community-based action as primary drivers of real social change.

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