Lindsey German on the idiocy of Tory pandemic policy and Starmer’s witch-hunt on the march
It is obvious not least from the wariness of the government’s scientific advisers that the five day relaxation at Xmas is not a good idea. For perhaps the majority of people there will still be major restrictions on what they can do, but the relaxation will be enough that there will be an inevitable spike in cases in the new year.
Everyone who celebrates it would like to have a normal Xmas, spending hours close indoors with friends and family, going to pubs, restaurants, theatre, parties. But many also believe the costs are too great. It is interesting that several polls have shown a majority opposing this policy, preferring to sacrifice their usual celebrations if it means we can deal with the virus more quickly – especially so since the vaccine appears so close. This was an entirely political decision designed to placate Tory traditionalists and to help keep people spending – and we will pay for it in lost lives.
For people who make so many references to the Blitz spirit and the Second World War, it seems to have escaped their notice that for six years people put up with major disruption to their Xmas often in much more straitened and dangerous circumstances than those we now face. It is a question of priorities – and there should be nothing more important than our collective health.
That’s not how Johnson and co see it. Profits before health is clearly the guiding principle of the government and its supporters. There are howls of rage from Tory MPs about their constituencies having to face restrictions over the coronavirus crisis. With all the selfishness for which they are so renowned, they are demanding exemptions for socially distanced Tory towns, a number of which they will probably receive. Meanwhile whole cities like Leicester have been at high levels of lockdown since the summer.
This approach has led to a situation where Britain has spent more money than most comparable countries to combat Covid-19 but has some of the highest numbers of deaths and some of the worst economic performance. This is according to new research from the Financial Times.
One economist explained the problem:
"The government started out reluctant to lock down the economy, misperceiving what is in reality a short-term investment in the benefits of a virus free economy as a ‘cost’ to be traded off against lives lost."
Yet it is clear that this simple message has not got through to those who prioritise ‘the economy’. Indeed with the ending of the second lockdown (which wasn’t really a lockdown at all) this week and the reestablishment of the three-tier system in England we are seeing every mistake made earlier this year being repeated. Practically the whole country is in tiers 2 and 3 with no mixing of households indoors – yet all three tiers have the delights of unlimited shopping as all retail outlets stay open. Thousands of people can gather at sports and other entertainment venues. Schools and universities remain open.
It is hardly a surprise that the most neoliberal and deregulated country in Europe is also the one with the highest cases and the worst economic indicators. Money has been thrown at private companies – many of them run by cronies or relatives of leading Tories – who have failed abysmally to deliver adequate provision for PPE, testing and other essentials, while those receiving government furlough money for their staff have continued to pay rich dividends for their shareholders. Corruption is rife in government circles and this will continue unless we fight it.
Now their attempts at divide and rule are leading to a public sector pay freeze, allegedly because the private sector has suffered more than the public. This is about driving down wages and attacking workers who only months ago were being clapped by the chancellor and prime minister outside Downing Street. There has to be a concerted campaign from all the unions against this.
Jobs are also going at a rapid rate – the latest likely case being that of Philip Green’s Arcadia empire, where staff will be kept on in shops to sell off stock but will be let go in the bitter new year ahead.
It will require more courage, organisation and determination to fight these threats than has been shown by the TUC and some unions in recent months. The government has nothing but contempt for those who do the most important work in this country. The Covid-19 crisis has shone a light on the gross inequalities and inadequate public services of British society. The fight is on – and for us to win will require some fundamental changes to society, changes that will only come through our own actions.
Starmer’s opposition is to the left
One place they certainly won’t come from is inside parliament, or from the pitiful opposition of Keir Starmer’s Labour Party. Starmer is devoting more time to attacking the party’s left and the former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, than he is taking on perhaps the most venal government of recent times. I’m sorry to say but I always thought Starmer would be a disaster for Labour and so he is turning out to be. However, I underestimated how quickly he would round on the left.
His promises made to get elected as leader have turned to ashes. His general secretary has imposed a vicious internal regime on labour, refusing to allow discussion of the EHRC report, Corbyn’s suspension from the whip or related questions. Those who dare to defy his instructions are rapidly suspended. Labour’s NEC appointing Margaret Beckett as chair is a further snub to the left. His advisers are from the Blairite wing of the party who, like the Bourbons, have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing, and are determined to crush the left.
The latest outrage is Angela Rayner’s speech to the Jewish Labour Movement conference where she justifies expelling thousands of members not for antisemitism but for daring to question the scale of the problem, or for defending Jeremy Corbyn.
This dictatorial behaviour would have caused outrage had Corbyn attempted it, but yet again it barely raises a whimper from outside the left. Unfortunately too much of Labour’s left has also been wanting on this issue. The dominant line from Momentum has been to talk about unity, criticise those who leave Labour in the face of these outrageous attacks, and avoid talking about antisemitism and how it is being used. Some Socialist Campaign Group MPs want Corbyn to apologise – something he should not and I think will not do.
In the face of a witch-hunt – any witch-hunt – there is only one thing the left can do: stand up to it, refuse to be silenced and keep to their politics. In the face of this particular witch-hunt we should make clear that it will not silence us from talking about Palestine and about Israel’s dangerous role in the Middle East (the latest example being the assassination of a leading Iranian nuclear scientist). It also should not silence us from correctly assessing the scale and extent of antisemitism and how it can be fought.
That fight has to take place within but also outside the Labour Party. Not only is this because good socialists are leaving the party in droves, but because the impetus for real change will come from outside the ranks of Labour itself. There is much denigration of the extra-parliamentary left from MPs like Ian Lavery and John McDonnell. Yet this ignores two things. The left inside Labour is being increasingly sidelined, marginalised and persecuted – and too much of it is avoiding the difficult arguments.
And it is a fact that all of the major movements in Britain in my lifetime have come from outside Labour (while being supported by many Labour members). This includes the movement against the Vietnam war, Anti-Apartheid, the fight against the poll tax, the Anti-Nazi League, Rock against Racism, the Stop the War Coalition and many more. This is why I get a little sick of those who say there is no life outside Labour – the exact opposite is true, and they are miseducating people by doing so.
And I would argue what exactly is the point of being in a party which gags you from speaking the truth and which is totally selective in its outrage over racism? Many are debating this exact question, and whether they decide to stay or go, the future can only lie in fighting back against the attacks by the right. That means extra-parliamentary movements will continue, will grow and will become the key locus for political activity.
I will be taking a break from this Briefing for December and January. I want to have a bit more time for reading – and possibly writing longer projects. My comrade Alex Snowdon will be taking my place and I hope you enjoy his writing. In the meantime you can catch up with me on FB or Twitter (@LindseyAGerman).
All the best for Xmas and New Year and stay safe.
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As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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