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Priti Patel delivering the government's briefing, 25 April. Photo: Flickr/Number10

Priti Patel delivering the government's briefing, 25 April. Photo: Flickr/Number10

The government is doing everything it can to deflect from its own failures and blame anyone else, writes Lucy Nichols

Today the Director of the National Crime Agency, Lynne Owens, warned the British public against ‘amoral, corrupt and exploitative’ criminals who may use the Coronavirus for personal gain. She wasn’t talking about the Conservative Party, although you could be forgiven for thinking she was.

The government’s handling of the crisis has been almost criminally negligent, so there was a certain level of irony in today’s briefing as Priti Patel assured us that the British state would continue to be tough on crime. Dangerous driving, fraud and drug offences have increased since we went into lockdown, though Patel was proud to report that shoplifting has gone down (probably something to do with most shops being shut). The briefing today took a stern tone; perhaps the government are tired of coming across as weak and incompetent and have now decided to use Patel to scare us into submission.

In true Conservative form, Patel used her time to sing the praises of police forces across the country, highlighting their ‘compassion’. Owens continued by regurgitating a variety of meaningless crime statistics and arrest numbers. In light of even more government failings this week, it is understandable that Patel was wheeled out to remind us how important the state actually is when it comes to keeping us safe (from criminals, not the Coronavirus).

Little mention was made of the unfulfilled promise that millions of essential workers and their families would be tested for the virus. Why would the government make this bold promise if they knew it wasn’t even remotely realistic? The most recent Dominic Cummings-related scandal was also barely touched upon. How is it possible that the Prime Minister’s aide has been attending secret SAGE meetings despite being neither independent, nor a scientist? Has he been banned from these meetings yet? Of course Patel didn’t answer these questions – or any questions, really.

On the day that we surpass 20,000 deaths, the government should be committing to providing the NHS with the PPE and other vital equipment it needs. We should be able to protect the staff who protect us - including the many thousands of migrant workers that the NHS is so dependent on. Instead, Patel refused to say whether she would eliminate the NHS surcharge for migrants, or to even thank these crucial workers.

The government must be held accountable for its mountain of failures, lies and broken promises. We must ignore today’s attempts to scapegoat the criminals who want to ‘exploit this national crisis’. The current risk is not people whose material conditions have led them to crime; NHS England is predicting 30,000 deaths by the end of May – this will make us one of the worst affected countries in the world. Hopefully by then we’ll know who the real criminals are.

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