After yet another u-turn on schools, it's clear that organisation and popular pressure are the only antidotes to the Tories’ reckless handling of the pandemic, argues Kara Bryan
We are swiftly approaching the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed case of Covid19 in the UK. The anniversary of the first lockdown will soon follow it. Yet, almost a year on, we are no further forward. We are in fact in a far, far worse position than we were at the peak of the first wave.
Johnson promised us ‘world-beating’ and, true to his word, he has delivered. Now known abroad as ‘Plague Island,’ we have one of the highest death rates in the world. Not bad for a small island in the North Atlantic.
Thanks to a fatal combination of corruption, cronyism, endless dithering and an impressive catalogue of calamities that would even make even Gavin Williamson’s doppelganger, Frank Spencer, blush, we now have 80,000 dead. The death toll in less than one year now exceeds our total civilian deaths in the UK in the entirety of WW2. We are averaging 60,000 new daily cases and over a thousand daily deaths.
As photos of ambulances queuing to offload patients outside hospitals began to flood social media, London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a ‘major incident’ and warned of the critical situation now facing our hospitals. The government noted it has been at least a few days since its last U-turn.
In the face of pressure from the National Education Union (NEU) to close schools, the government had planned to mitigate the effects of school closures by redefining key workers in a cynical move to maximise student numbers and consequently undermine attempts to minimise the virus’s capacity to spread.
Now ‘critical workers’ would include, well, pretty much everyone including those who work from home and, rather than address Williamson’s failure to keep his promise to provide children with laptops, underprivileged children without access to digital hardware were advised to attend school. Nurseries were left out of the school closures equation and still remain open allowing parents to continue to go to work whether they are critical workers or not.
As a result, there is now 30% more movement in this lockdown than there was in the first and in many (predictably) poorer communities, demand for school places has outstripped supply. This ultimately led to yet another U-turn forced by teaching staff raising the alarm, in which the Department for Education (DfE) was forced to update its guidance for critical workers, advising parents and carers ‘to keep their children at home if they can.’
We are now at a critical point. Our NHS is facing a crisis like at no other point in its 73-year history, while Johnson continues pissing in the wind. It was public pressure which forced the schools to close and forced the first lockdown, it was collective pressure from parents, campaign groups and teaching unions which averted the reckless wider re-opening of schools in June and it has been the tireless campaign of the NEU to safeguard children and teaching staff that finally forced the third lockdown.
This government has nothing to offer but U-turns, empty promises and more death while Starmer’s shadow cabinet offers the most ineffectual opposition in living memory. Consistently failing to oppose the most dangerous and incompetent government this country has ever seen and even going so far as to remove shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey for demanding schools remain closed until it was safe, Starmer has proven himself to be silent in opposition, a mere squatter where a real leader should stand.
It is all too clear that we will have to continue that fight into the foreseeable future, as this shambles of a government will undoubtedly continue to ignore the science, will push wider school reopening too quickly and seek to make us pay for the economic catastrophe which they have inflicted upon us as a result of their incompetence and wilful, criminal neglect.
At a time of national crisis and in the absence of any legitimate opposition, it falls to the workers to organise. This has been admirably demonstrated by the NEU, who have steadfastly opposed the government where Starmer has been silent and successfully produced a blueprint for all unions and workers to follow. It has been, and will continue to be, our collective action and solidarity that gets us through this pandemic.
We must collectively demand a zero-Covid strategy and oppose the race to the bottom. We cannot take another four years of Johnson’s criminally negligent and corrupt government. We must never forget how deadly this government has been and will continue to be, if left unchallenged. We are now in a state of emergency so grave that we can no longer tolerate a government who sabotage our every endeavour to contain the virus and blame us for the inevitable fall out of policies which made it impossible for us to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
We are now fighting for our lives on two fronts. We are fighting a new invisible enemy we cannot see and, simultaneously, facing an old but equally deadly adversary we can see very clearly. An enemy working against us from the inside. Make no mistake. This is the fight of our lives.
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Kara Bryan is a writer and activist and regular contributor to the Counterfire website. She is a member of Counterfire and Stop the War
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