Boris Johnson told the British public on 24th August that they must make significant sacrifices of their living standards to protect the freedom of the Ukrainian people. If this means high fuel bills, freezing or going hungry then so be it. Labour Affairs and others have already exposed the lies that underpin this rhetoric and we won’t go into them again here (see our editorial ‘Making Sense of the Ukraine Conflict’ in April of this year).
Johnson has in effect admitted that NATO/EU sanctions against Russia are hurting Britain without presenting evidence that they are hurting Russia in any significant way. Russia is comfortably able to meet its budget targets with discounted sales of oil and gas to non sanctioning countries and has benefitted mightily from increased energy prices on the world market. There is thus no good reason to prolong these sanctions apart from a desperate hope that in the long term they will damage the Russian economy.
This is an increasingly forlorn hope as Russia is slowly but surely winning the war in Ukraine. It is doing so slowly because it has the time and the resources to win without causing excessive casualties among Russian soldiers or Ukrainian civilians. The longer Ukraine resists peace negotiations the less of it there will be to negotiate when the will to fight eventually evaporates. When that is will be a matter of speculation, but no amount of Western weaponry will do more than delay the day when it happens.
Despite this, the whole British political establishment is unanimous in wanting to see British households and businesses suffer for a cause that is not only fraudulent but also likely to fail. We find for example a journalist in the Guardian bemoaning the fact that British politicians are afraid to call for their populations to make sacrifices in a noble cause (Guardian 18th August). Boris Johnson has just proved them wrong, so they should be pleased. Of course, no journalist at the top end or politician warmonger will be freezing or going hungry this winter: sacrifices are for the little people not for those who caused the problem. Liz Truss even resists ‘handouts’ to those who will suffer from her own policies which they never asked for and have no say in influencing. In the first editorial in this issue of Labour Affairs we explain how it cannot be the case that when there is a dearth of energy supply, we can go on consuming as much as we did before. We suggest a tiered pricing scheme to alleviate the inevitable suffering that will come this autumn. This is about the best one can hope for if one is to ask the British people to sacrifice themselves.
In asking for these sacrifices from the British people, we are now in unexplored terrain. In the past the lies that were told, for instance about Iraq, did not have any serious consequences for the British population apart from those who had soldiers in their families who were killed or maimed. This time the lies will have very serious consequences. Millions of Britons will suffer, see their household budgets shredded or their standard of living restricted. The pain will affect the lives of middle income families as well as those in the lower two quintiles of household earnings. Politicians and journalists tend to be in the top quintile and will not be significantly affected. According to Scottish power, even capping the fuel bill at around £2,000 per annum (already twice the cap last year) will cost the country £100 billion over two years (Financial Times 23rd August). We should note that some estimate the cap will rise to around £5,000 per annum or more by April 2023.This sum will not be committed to productive resources, but to the balance sheets of energy companies, thus making the country significantly poorer than it would have been had sanctions not been applied to Russia. And even this sum, which only affects households, will do nothing to save companies from going bust, contracting or raising prices, thus contributing to further inflation and higher unemployment. Labour Affairs does not know whether these sacrifices will be tolerated. One thing we do know is that all the political parties and all the press, with the partial exception of the Morning Star, will do their utmost to sustain the lie about ‘unprovoked Russian aggression’. Dissent is hardly permitted and where it exists it fails to get a wide hearing.
The only way in which it is possible to achieve these sacrifices without provoking civil unrest is to double down on the demonisation of Russia and tell as many lies about civilian casualties it is possible to do. Journalists will do as they are bid, many need no encouragement anyway.
It remains to be seen what will happen when eventually the reality of Russia’s winning and its emergence unscathed from the sanctions regime can no longer be denied. Europe and Britain will continue to suffer economic and social damage from high energy costs. At some point in the next year or two, it will be too difficult to maintain the fiction about the possibility of a Ukrainian victory and people in Britain and Europe will realise, not only that their sacrifice and that of their economies have been in vain, but that they are probably going to have to tighten their belts for the long term as well as the era of cheap fuel will be over, largely as a result of the sanctions against Russia, which has forced that country to look for other export markets. The Labour Party has been an enthusiastic participant in this war propaganda, but has so far avoided the call for its supporters to sacrifice themselves. At some point they will have to explain themselves to those who rely on them for the defence of their way of life and living standards.