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Dominic Raab at Coronavirus briefing on 22nd April. Source: Flickr - Number 10

Dominic Raab at Coronavirus briefing on 22nd April. Source: Flickr - Number 10

While the government continues to distort facts, labour movement outside parliament has started to bear fruits inside, says David McAllister

One thing which appears to have grown as fast as the virus in the last two months has been the distance between propaganda and reality. Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s insistence that we are now at ‘the peak of the pandemic’ appeared to come with so many ambiguities and caveats as to render it meaningless. He added that he couldn’t give a numerical answer, because it is ‘a question of degree’, and that they have yet to see the number of new cases come down. 

This is unlikely to inspire any confidence in a government, whose negligence over lockdown measures and other protections, such as testing and PPE, has created such an unpredictable situation in the first place. You can only conclude that they are trying to sound as if they are on top of a situation while actually fighting blind.

This is undermined even further by the harrowing findings of the Office for National Statistics, which, unlike the government figures, factor in the deaths outside of hospitals, such as the growing figure in care homes. A further investigation into these figures by the Financial Times revealed that the real death toll could, in fact, be as high as 41,000.

This is more than twice as high as the official figure. It is the most damning indictment of this government, with their commitment to minimising disruption to the economy, failure to discipline employers where workers are still doing non-essential jobs, and endless dithering over a number of protection measures, that there could be such an alarming level of uncertainty over the biggest health crisis in living memory.

This makes it even more sickening that Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove, along with a number of Tory backbenchers, could even dare to push for a lifting of the lockdown sometime in the next month. Michael Gove said he wanted to ‘run this hot’, meaning lifting the lockdown while the virus is still deadly and spreading. He could not have been clearer if he had announced “we want people to die so that big business can continue making profit.”

The consequences for ordinary people, both economically and medically, will extend far beyond the virus itself. The chief science officer identified four aspects of COVID-19 leading to death, two of which included lack of access to care due to an overwhelmed NHS, and one being due to deprivation. A far more accurate description is surely that this is how the system could cause death, since it points towards the need to massively ramp up healthcare provision, not least by reversing the devastating effects of cuts and privatisation on the NHS. 

The same is true of deprivation.  These things have been causing death for a decade, as welfare and wages have been slashed, public services stripped, and healthcare staffing and resources put under unbearable pressure. These deaths are not now, nor were they ever, some phenomenon of natural science. They are the direct result of too much wealth sitting in the hands of too few people, and a system which repeatedly prioritises wealth over health.

All of this raises questions about how society is run, and in whose interests. It’s funny how, after years of preaching the virtues of the free market, there’s suddenly a clamour for state bailouts from big businesses such as Virgin the moment they sense trouble. It has to make you wonder if collective, democratic control of this stuff would be a better way of running society.

The labour movement should be able to take some encouragement from the influence it has had on how this crisis has been framed, helping to put the spotlight on to the government’s failures. Even Kier ‘exit strategy’ Starmer started to press the government for answers on some of the scandals over PPE and testing. This is a reminder that, far from looking to change things from within Parliament, the wider labour movement outside of Parliament is a far more effective weapon for changing what happens inside it. 

The government is confused and divided, and remains vulnerable to popular pressure. They should not for one second be given any respite.  This crisis has the potential to take so much received capitalist wisdom and spring it into the air. But ultimately that comes down to what we do as a movement.  

I encourage you to watch People’s Assembly’s public meeting on Thursday evening, ‘The Virus Doesn’t Discriminate, the System Does’, get active in your unions, show as much solidarity as possible with health care workers, and push for a better kind of society which looks after the millions, not the millionaires.

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