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Sean Ledwith considers the tensions unfolding at the head of Government.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak must have delivered yesterday’s Downing Street briefing through gritted teeth as it has become apparent he represents that faction within the cabinet that wants to end the lockdown sooner rather than later. Although he loyally stuck to the script regarding five tests for revising current policy, insiders suggest Sunak is not on the same page as his boss. With his eye primarily on the economic fall-out of the ongoing outbreak,Sunak is reportedly in cahoots with acting PM Dominic Raab and abomination-without-portfolio Michael Gove in wanting to see the UK actively taking measures towards an ‘exit strategy’. According to one account, Gove told a cabinet meeting last week: I’ve come to the view that we need to run this hot. In plain English, relax the lockdown while the virus is still spreading through the community for the sake of re-booting the economy. As one commentator concisely put it, this indicates Gove is pro-death.

School teachers up and down the country will not be surprised to see Gove among those willing to jeopardise their physical wellbeing, aswell as that of pupils, bearing in mind that his disastrous tenure at the Department of Education was responsible for seriously corroding their mental health. There will also be disgust at his cold-hearted and hypocritical approach to the impact of an early end to the lockdown that contrasts to his fast-tracking of the testing process for the sake of his own family.

As if the notion that Raab and Gove are champing at the bit to push the British public under the corona bus is not bad enough, Tony Blair inevitably popped up to add his blood-soaked pennysworth to those who want to prioritise the economy over public health. For those unsure about the way forward on this crucial question, it is a safe political rule of thumb that whatever Blair supports will be a disaster.

Reports over the weekend suggest Boris Johnson and his Health Secretary Matt Hancock are on the other side of the debate in the top team, arguing for a more cautious strategy that wants to see major reductions in the infection and fatality rates before such a relaxation is considered. We should not be lulled into thinking that somehow means Johnson and Hancock have been transformed into great humanitarians who can now be relied on to safeguard our welfare.

The Sunday Times revelations a couple of days itemised a horrendous sequence of misjudgements and oversights over recent months by both men, and the rest of the Downing Street team, that have already led to over 16 000 deaths in the UK. Decisions such as permitting 190 000 people to fly-in from Wuhan and other affected areas in early 2020 while sending 279 000 pieces of PPE in the opposite direction (!) indicate both men should actually be forced to resign in disgrace and never allowed near power again.

Johnson’s and Hancock’s new found sense of civic duty only derives from venal political opportunism. The former knows, with his eye on the tabloids as ever, that he cannot be seen to turn his back on an institution that literally saved his life, while Hancock must also recognise his career will be in ashes unless he can resolve the scandal of PPE shortage. Having been too slow to implement the lockdown, neither man could be trusted to make a sound judgement on when to bring it to an end.

We should, however, not focus excessively on the personality clashes in play here. There has been much speculation in the media over the alleged trade-off to be made between public health and the economy over the lockdown call-in political terms the Johnson v Gove viewpoints.  This actually highlights the fundamental madness of the capitalist system that leads some to regard these two factors as somehow at odds with each other. In a socialist society, where the state was run by and for workers, no such ghoulish calculation would need to be made. The corona crisis has starkly illustrated that in a clash between their profitability and our health, the instincts of the ruling class will always veer towards the former.

During the briefing questions section, a Liverpool journalist asked whether, in hindsight, the decision to allow a Champions League game in that city on March 12 was a mistake. Everyone now knows the answer is resoundingly in the affirmative but, of course, Sunak brushed aside the question with a brisk smoothness that his fans among the right-wing press bizarrely regard as a strength. The journalist elaborated that the North-West now has one of the highest regional infection rates in the UK, part of which can feasibly be traced back to that event.

Apart from the now routine platitudes, nor did Sunak have any credible answers on why the UK is still criminally short of PPE and on course to fall far short of the government’s self-imposed target of 100 000 tests per day by the end of this month. A chartered flight bringing 400 000 gowns from Turkey inexplicably failed to materialise and even when it does, only offers temporary respite for a daily demand from the NHS for 150 000. The last few weeks have proven beyond any doubt that no Tory politician, from whichever faction, can be trusted with the health and wellbeing of the British people.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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