500 extra border guards, £434m to ensure medicine supplies, £108m to keep businesses afloat and £138m for an ad campaign. These are just a few headline figures from Boris Johnson’s £2.1bn no deal planning package revealed earlier this week.
These announcements are nothing but a slap in the face to those who spent the past nine years struggling to make ends meet under Tory austerity. To all those who campaigned to keep their local schools, libraries and children’s centres open, just to be told over and over again that there is no magic money tree. It turns out, unsurprisingly perhaps, that while there is no money to tackle poverty and resuscitate our public services, billions of pounds can always be found to fund another one of Boris Johnson’s vanity schemes.
The difference is that, unlike the unbuilt garden bridge and the abandoned redevelopment of Crystal Palace, his latest pet project would cost Britain much more than tens of millions from the public pocket. The damage limitation package is just a band-aid on the wreckage that no deal would inflict on our communities, with working-class people bearing the brunt for decades to come. It might, of course, also be that all this is just bluff, intended to make a bad deal appear more palatable in comparison. In this case, billions would be burned on nothing and ordinary people would still end up significantly worse off.
But there is no need to lose hope. Boris Johnson, with his majority of one, doesn’t have enough support in parliament to push through any kind of Brexit. If he fails, the days of his government will be numbered.
Labour is right to be demanding a general election – but that’s not enough. We need to be ready to win it, too. Defeating Johnson will be our last chance to prevent the historic catastrophe of a Tory Brexit and stop this hard right cabinet from fulfilling their Thatcherite wet dream. We are starting to learn what it consists of: Liz Truss has announced plans to set up Singapore-style tax havens in Britain, chief Brexit negotiator David Frost celebrates the opportunity to escape the EU’s “heavy labour market regulation” and Boris Johnson is already working on a free trade agreement with Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Priti Patel is rubbing her hands at the thought of clamping down on immigration and expanding the hostile environment.
Boris Johnson should not be underestimated. Far from a harmless buffoon, he is the most dangerous leader the Tories have had in a generation. If he crushes the Brexit Party by adopting their headline policy and unites the hard Leave vote, while the left and Remainers continue to be split, Labour might be condemned to wilderness years.
If all previous wake-up calls were not enough, the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election might be the last one we get. Of course, results in one seat don’t necessarily reflect the national picture but the 12.5% loss of support, primarily to the Lib Dems, mirrors what opinion polls have been telling us across the board. Remainers still don’t trust us to stop Brexit – and why would they when our policy is so unclear, and contradictory statements from the shadow cabinet and leader’s office are reported in the press nearly every week?
In reality, Labour is the only party that can keep Britain in Europe. We know that we can also do much more: undo the damage done by years of austerity, and decades of privatisation and deregulation. We can create decent jobs for all, build homes and strong public services in every community and ensure that no region stays left behind. We can deliver a Green New Deal for Britain and push for the same across Europe to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change. But we know we won’t be able to do any of this if the next decade and more is spent bickering over customs unions, scrambling for trade deals and trying to ameliorate the chaos that any kind of Brexit would inflict on our economy and society.
If a general election happens – and we must make sure it does – it will be the most important one that many of us have ever lived through. The future belongs to us and our transformative vision for Britain, or it belongs to the hard-right wing of the Tory party. Unless we come clear on Brexit, we are handing it over on a plate.