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Matt Hancock in Westminster, June 2020. Photo: Flickr/Andrew Parsons

Matt Hancock in Westminster, June 2020. Photo: Flickr/Andrew Parsons

Lindsey German on Tories, warmongering and a returning protest movement

Matt Hancock’s resignation when it eventually came was in keeping with his previous ministerial career: the expression of a feeble and bumbling persona hiding a deeply corrupt and incompetent practice. That Hancock should have resigned more than a year ago should not be in doubt. The man presided over the sending of patients with Covid-19 back to care homes; the highest number of deaths from the virus in Europe; the persistent awarding of lucrative health related contracts to friends and cronies; and the refusal to take adequate lockdown measures to protect lives.

It says so much about this government that none of these were regarded as a resigning matter – nor that we had evidence the prime minister and his colleagues regarded Hancock as ‘useless’. It is a government which believes itself above sanction and regards the rules as just for the ‘little people’ it so despises. Breaking lockdown rules and easing the path for friends and family to make fortunes out of the pandemic are all regarded as minor discretions for which a cursory apology will suffice.

The reason that didn’t work this time was because there was a wave of outrage including from many Tory voters about Hancock’s behaviour and Johnson’s claim that he considered the matter closed. It became obvious that this was doing damage to the government and that, with a by-election in Batley and Spen which the Tories are tipped to win, and the recent memory of the Chesham and Amersham by election where the Lib Dems trounced the Tories, Johnson could not hold the line on this.

For many, it’s a matter of regret that this is over an affair – and the breach of social distancing entailed – rather than over some of the great crimes committed by this government over the Coronavirus crisis. I don’t care about their sex lives, but I do care about them screwing working class people. There is also another issue that is passed over by a lot of the comment.

Gina Coladangelo was appointed as a non-executive director at the Department of Health. If she was appointed while having the affair it was clearly a breach of protocol, as was non-disclosure of the affair whenever it started. The bigger question however is why? She had no qualifications for the role as far as I can see, just personal connections, but was able to pick up £15-20,000 salary for a very small part time role (as much as many health and care workers pick up for a year’s full-time work).

The fact that she has resigned already indicates it was closely connected with the minister himself at the same time as she was having the affair. It stinks. Even worse we are now told that Hancock used his personal email for department business – which means the many deals and contracts awarded may have escaped scrutiny of civil servants.

It’s all corruption at the highest level, but we shouldn’t expect much change from this government. The new health secretary Sajid Javid has little to recommend him and will be as keen on outsourcing and privatising the NHS as his predecessor. And we can be sure he will continue the attacks on working class people this entails, as well as denying decent pay rises for the nurses and other NHS staff.   

The latest scandal begs the question of why the Tories are riding high in the polls – the answer being Keir Starmer. It looks like Labour will lose Batley and Spen on Thursday. They are blaming this on large sections of the Muslim community there voting for George Galloway, especially over Palestine. But Labour’s problems go deeper than this. Starmer has been awful on Palestine, and the comments by an aide linking pro-Palestine sentiment to antisemitism are appalling and will rightly be condemned as Islamophobic.

There are many other discontents however among Muslims and non-Muslims that Labour has failed to address. It is simply useless in opposition – timid, tired and slow. Starmer is being run by Blairites and it shows. Expect a challenge to his leadership from Angela Rayner among others if this continues. The crisis for Labour looks to be much deeper than anything she or another similar leader can solve.

We may look back on the Corbyn leadership period – which tried to present a left and radical alternative – as Labour’s last chance to renew itself as a party of the left and working people. The vigour and venom with which most of the PLP and the party’s right and centre attacked these aims ultimately defeated Corbyn. It looks like it has also damaged Labour to its core.

On the march again

The People’s Assembly march on Saturday showed where a lot of the focus of protest and opposition is. Originally planned for when lockdown had ended, it still went ahead with twenty thousand people and was especially invigorated by the presence of some of the key movements which grew during lockdown, including Kill the Bill, Black Lives Matter, XR and Palestine. All of them gave it an energy and dynamism. There was major backing from national trade unions, although less mobilisation from local branches than we needed. It was very important to assert our right to protest and to try to bring together the different movements into one opposition to the Tories.

While many especially from outside London could not be there, it marked a big step forward in organising jointly among so many campaigns, including the disability protesters DPAC, Waspi women, NHS organisers and Gypsy, Roma, and Travellers. However there is still much to do to defeat the government. The unions should be mobilising at their grassroots, and some of the left needs to go beyond the sectarianism of just turning up with stalls and papers without promoting or building the demo. In the next months there will be a range of protests including next weekend on the NHS. The People’s Assembly has shown itself as the major grassroots anti-austerity campaign. Time to build it even wider.

Gunboat diplomacy is back

I said last week – as did others in Stop the War – that the Black Sea skirmish between Russia and British warship HMS Defender was a deliberate provocation on the part of the British government. Not often you’re proved absolutely right so quickly, but the sodden mass of MOD papers found at a Kent bus stop proves that there was a discussion about whether to sail into Russian waters round Crimea and how the Russian forces would react. That’s why there were Daily Mail and BBC reporters on board. Incidentally Defender is part of the force accompanying the provocative voyage of the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to the South China Sea. It’s not exactly new for British ships to be going round the world fomenting trouble, but let’s name it for what it is.

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Lindsey German

Lindsey German

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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