Prime Minister Boris Johnson is taking an unusual interest in foreign affairs at present. This is partly because he needs an excuse to get out of the country as often as possible to avoid awkward questions and attacks from his opponents.
These opponents are not the ineffective ‘Opposition’ from the spineless Opposition front-bench team headed, rather than lead, by Sir Keir Starmer, but from Johnson’s own parliamentarians.
The fact that the Tories have lost two recent by-elections will only have strengthened this particular opposition, with even the most loyal Johnson supporters fearful of losing their seats. As both by-elections were caused by sex scandals it was almost inevitable that the Tories would lose these seats, even Tiverton where a 24,000 majority was overturned. But a Liberal revival is, of course one of these traditional signs of the coming of summer that do not herald any great positive change. Losing the much more marginal Wakefield was probably less of a surprise than was the winning of that traditional Labour seat at the last General Election.
Jonson being replaced by another Tory, who will be a Remainer, or later by a right-wing Labour government led by Starmer, will not be much or even any improvement.
More positive opposition is to be found in the upsurge of industrial action. One small example of these struggles is that of the striking parking enforcement officers in the south London borough of Wandsworth who are striking to not just to secure pay parity with those in other councils but for their jobs to be brought back in house, which would ensure that parking fines are reinvested locally rather than used to pay dividends. If successful, this action will benefit all local people and not just the enforcement officers.
Train strikes have dominated recent headlines. It is noteworthy that despite the disruption they cause and repeated attacks by the right-wing media against RMT, public opinion, admitted by the same right-wing media, is on the side of the striking railway workers.
As a small stop press: it is pleasing to note that David Lammy, who was criticised in our trade union news for refusing to support the Heathrow Airport British Airways strikers, has backtracked. He claims that he was misled into thinking the workers were fighting for a pay rise rather than the reversal of a previous reduction – but this change of heart might be due to his local party rebelling and him being forced to think again. It is perhaps telling that Starmer has taken no action against those MPs, including a few front-benchers, who defied his instructions not to visit RMT picket lines.
Industrial militancy is stepping up in the most unexpected places. The British Medical Association, which is the main trade union for medical doctors, has launched a campaign to secure a 30 per cent pay rise.
This figure is not absurd. Dr Emma Runswick, in her speech urging support for the figure, mentioned a long list of recent inflation busting rises: “All around us workers are coming together in trade unions and winning big, last month bin men in Manchester 22 per cent; Gatwick airport workers won a 21 per cent pay increase two weeks ago; and in March cleaners and porters at Croydon hospital won a 24 per cent pay rise.”
It is not just those in the medical profession who should carefully heed her closing words: “Those workers got together and used a key tool that trade unions have – the ability to collectively organise, collectively negotiate and collectively withdraw our labour… vote for this motion and I’ll see you on the picket lines.”