- George Monbiotjournalist, author and columnist with The Guardian.
The United Kingdom’s Conservative Party has voted for Liz Truss to become its new leader, replacing Boris Johnson and making her Britain’s next prime minister. Truss served as foreign secretary under Johnson and has a record of “extreme neoliberal policies,” says British journalist George Monbiot. These include supporting tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulating the fossil fuel industry and refusing to regulate agricultural pollution. Monbiot also warns Truss will undermine the country’s model public health system and labor rights for organizing workers.
AMY GOODMAN: We start in Britain, where the Conservative Party has elected Liz Truss to become Britain’s next prime minister, replacing Boris Johnson, who stepped down following a number of scandals. Just before our broadcast, Queen Elizabeth formally appointed Truss to be prime minister. Truss, who served as foreign secretary under Boris Johnson, defeated Finance Minister Rishi Sunak in a party vote on Monday.
As a college student, Liz Truss once called for the abolition of the British monarchy but has since shifted her views on this and many other subjects. Truss is a former liberal democrat who initially opposed Brexit, but embraced leaving the European Union after the 2016 referendum. On Monday, she vowed to govern as a Conservative.
LIZ TRUSS: During this leadership campaign, I campaigned as a Conservative, and I will govern as a Conservative. And, my friends, we need to show that we will deliver over the next two years. I will deliver a bold plan to cut taxes and grow our economy. I will deliver on the energy crisis, dealing with people’s energy bills but also dealing with the long-term issues we have on energy supply. … And we will deliver a great victory for the Conservative Party in 2024. Thank you. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss.
We’re joined now by George Monbiot. He is an author, Guardian columnist, environmental activist. One of his recent pieces is headlined “Britain faces crisis upon crisis, and our leaders are absent. This is how a country falls apart.”
Well, George, welcome back to Democracy Now! Why don’t you start off by telling us who Liz Truss is? And talk about the country she will now head.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Thanks very much, Amy.
Well, that’s a good question. I’ve never seen anyone so uncomfortable in her own skin, so apparently ill at ease with herself. Every gesture, everything she says seems to be mannered and staged. So, the real Liz Truss, yeah, it’s very hard to discern that person behind the person who’s clearly practiced her every move in the mirror. And that applies, too, to her policies. She seems to adopt whatever policy she thinks is going to find favor with the audience she’s speaking to.
Now, the terrifying thing about what passes for Britain’s democracy is that when the Conservatives are in power and they lose their prime minister, the new prime minister is chosen only by members of the Conservative Party. And we think there are around 170,000 of these members. We can’t be sure, because it’s a closely guarded secret. But they are grossly unrepresentative of the nation as a whole. They are mostly male, almost exclusively white, generally rich, comfortable, complacent, living in just a few exclusive parts of the country. And that’s the audience that she has been appealing to. And so the policies that she’s been putting forward, which she seems to have some enthusiasm for, are extreme neoliberal policies — cutting the state, cutting taxes for the rich, even more austerity, even more privatization, if she can — just at the time when we need the complete opposite policies.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, George Monbiot, in terms of the policies you expect of her, given the fact that Britain obviously has had a resurgence of labor activism in recent months, what do you expect will be the main thing she attempts to accomplish in the early days of being prime minister?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Thanks, Juan. Well, she’s adamantly opposed to organized labor. She hates trade unions. She wants to shut down their capacity to strike and to take other forms of collective action. She also has strongly hinted that she wants to tear down the regulations protecting workers, protecting them from being forced to overwork, protecting their terms and conditions, their wages.
So, that’s a great threat to people, especially at a time of — well, we’re facing a serious economic recession. We’re facing a massive cost-of-living crisis as people find these enormous energy bills coming on top of very high rents in this country and many other ways in which their ability to survive is being severely squeezed. And she wants to destroy workers’ bargaining power, destroy their ability to set reasonable wages, and that will make the life of people in this country even harder than it is already, and it’s getting very hard indeed.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to ask you about the situation with the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, especially after — as we’ve been through now two-and-a-half years of COVID pandemic. What do you see specifically happening with the National Health Service, which is already in crisis, under Liz Truss?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, our National Health Service is the pride of Britain. And in fact, it’s seen around the world as an exemplar of how a health service should be run — free at the point of use, with a great deal of goodwill holding it together by very dedicated staff. Doctors, nurses, all the rest of the staff within the NHS are famous for putting in 110%.
But again, Liz Truss seems to hate the NHS. In fact, the Conservatives hate the NHS, because that small number of people in this country, the 170,000 or so, they generally have private healthcare. They pay for their healthcare, so they don’t see why they should be paying taxes for the rest of the 67 million people in this country who use public healthcare. So, for a long time, the Conservatives have been trying to rip down the NHS and privatize our wonderful public health system.
And as a result of that, with the gross underfunding even as people’s needs are rising severely because of the aging population but also because of COVID and the backlog that that has caused, and we have a massive recruitment crisis — there are far too few doctors and nurses at the moment — already it’s struggling, and Truss seems destined only to make things worse. She wants to cut, cut, cut, so that she can deliver tax cuts to the wealthiest people in the country. And when she was challenged on that, when she was asked, “Isn’t it unfair to be giving those who already have so much money even more money whilst strangling the public services on which the great majority of people in this country rely?” she said, “No, I don’t think that’s unfair at all.”
AMY GOODMAN: What about climate, George, which certainly is an issue that you extensively follow, where she stands?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, in this case, we have direct evidence, because she was once environment secretary in a Conservative government. And it’s a tough competition, because environment secretary is a punishment posting in this country, and so you generally get extremely poor-quality environment secretaries. But she could well have been the worst we have ever had. She tore down regulations. She cut funding for the regulators so that they simply could not do their job.
In fact, I turned vegan because of Liz Truss. And the reason for that was I discovered a horrendous case of agricultural pollution of a dairy farm, which had wiped out a long stretch of river, completely destroyed it, apparently deliberately. It had built a pipeline going out of the slurry pits straight into the river — could not have been a more clear-cut case. But the regulator here, the Environment Agency, simply refused to enforce against this dairy farm. And when I wrote about this, astonished, two whistleblowers came forward from the Environment Agency, said, “We have been told from the top, by Liz Truss, not to enforce against dairy farmers.” So, that was the point at which I thought, “Right, that, for me, is the final straw. If there’s no regulation of this industry, I’m not eating its products anymore.”
And so, that’s a measure of the sort of person we have as prime minister. And already she’s signaled that she wants to reopen new oil and gas drilling and fracking in this country, just as we’re in the midst of a climate emergency, which we have felt to a very great degree this summer with an unprecedented, deadly heat wave and a massive drought. And she wants to make things worse.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who joined a rally of striking British rail workers in London, saying workers need to stand together to fight against corporate greed and billionaires amassing more wealth. It’s the latest in a series of strikes impacting Britain’s transport network over the summer, with workers demanding better pay and working conditions in response to high inflation. This is Senator Sanders.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: What we have seen is a massive distribution of wealth going in exactly the wrong way. The middle class is shrinking, and the people on top are getting wealthier. Our job is to take on these oligarchs. And our job is to imagine a world of justice. It is not radical. It is not radical to say that every worker in the U.K. and in the United States is entitled to a decent standard of living. That’s not a radical idea.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Bernie Sanders standing with the rail workers. Someone else who stood with them was Sam Tarry, who was a shadow minister with the Labour Party. The Labour Party. And the Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, fired him as a result, even though when he was walking that picket line, he was talking about how important Starmer’s leadership has been. He was the — he sacked him as shadow minister. George Monbiot, the significance of this, and where Truss —
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — would also stand on all of this?
GEORGE MONBIOT: So, the great weight that we all carry on our backs in this country is the billionaire media. I know you’re very familiar with that in the U.S. with Fox News and the rest. Well, we’ve got Rupert Murdoch operating full throttle here, mostly through the newspapers. The great majority of our newspapers are owned by billionaires or corporations run by billionaires. And they are lethal to democracy. And Keir Starmer is trying to appeal to them, is trying to appease them, because our history shows that if they don’t back you, you’re very unlikely to become prime minister, to form the new government.
And, now, I think he’s wrong about this. I think he can go over the heads of that media. I think people are ready for massive change. But he’s timid. And I think, actually, he’s cowardly. And his strategy seems to be — right? — “If I just sit here and not be a Conservative, people are going to be so disgusted and horrified by the Conservatives that they’ll have to vote for me. They’ll have to vote for Labour.” Now, that might happen, but I think that’s a very dangerous strategy, because if people perceive that politics doesn’t deliver for them, that if there is no real choice, that no one is going to stand up for workers, no one is going to stand up for the living world, no one is going to stand up for hard-pressed families who are desperately struggling to pay the rent and to pay the bills, then they don’t turn to one of two bad choices. They look for an anti-politics instead. And that’s why neoliberalism and fascism go hand in glove. Neoliberalism, as practiced by Truss and, to a lesser extent, Starmer shuts down political choice. People then look elsewhere, and they find fascism an attractive option. So I think Starmer is playing a very dangerous game. He’s doing tactics, but he’s not doing strategy. He’s not seeing the bigger picture.
AMY GOODMAN: George Monbiot, we want to thank you for being with us, author, activist, Guardian columnist. We’ll link to your pieces, “Britain faces crisis upon crisis, and our leaders are absent. This is how a country falls apart,” your latest.
Next up, we go to Chile, where voters have overwhelmingly rejected a proposed new constitution that would have given Chile one of the most progressive charters in the world. Stay with us.