Made in Downing Street

We are facing a catastrophic situation, writes Alan Thornett. Society is in freefall in a number of countries, including this one, with the virus out of control.

Britain, we are told, is just two weeks behind Italy – the second most infected country in the world. Britain’s death toll yesterday was 422 against Italy’s 6820. The maths is not difficult to do, and there is plenty of empirical evidence backs it up. ICU units are rapidly filling up, particularly in London, which is the epicentre in Britain. We are heading for a situation that could overwhelm the NHS within a couple of weeks.

We, therefore, have to be clear. The depth and severity of the crisis we are about to face in Britain was made in Westminster by Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings – aided and abetted by compliant ‘experts’ who should have known better. Johnson abdicated political leadership in favour of spin, vacillation, and mindless populist optimism. Meanwhile millions were losing their jobs and face an uncertain future. Thousands will lose their lives.

We accept the necessity of the measures Johnson took yesterday for a partial lock down of society to prevent the spread of the virus, and they have to be enforced rigorously. But Labour, who has been sharply critical of Johnson throughout, is right to say that they don’t go far enough and have been right to argue, over recent weeks, for more stringent measures to be introduced. Labour was also right to insist that the measures must be regularly reviewed since important rights could be affected if it was wrongly used.

Ten years of Tory cuts, however, have ensured that when it comes to fighting a virus like this and protecting people from it there are no structures or people in place to do it effectively. Adult social care was in a state of collapse before this virus existed. What will happen to it now you can only shudder to think.

Johnson’s daily press conferences became a farce as he ruled out further measures one day – closing schools for example – only to announce them next day as government policy. He was even upstaged by the Premier League which closed down matches whilst he was still arguing that they should continue. He, and his ‘experts’, justified this repeatedly by stressing how mild this disease was. Most people, they said would hardly notice it and many would not notice it at all.

He has also defied WHO advice from the outset. When they said testing, testing, testing, he downgraded it dramatically. Even front-line NHS workers have still (utterly scandalously) not been tested. When they said the virus had to be hit hard and early if it was to be brought under control he advocated social Darwinist (and totally unacceptable) policy of deliberately letting more people be infected in order (equally scandalously) to create so-called ‘herd immunity’.

But there were no shortage of test kits for the rich. They bought theirs privately and Charles Windsor, nobody’s definition of an essential worker, was tested while medical staff are forced to take their chances.

This attitude led to another, equally scandalous, situation – the almost complete lack of safety equipment for NHS workers protect themselves as the hospitals filled up. It turned out that there were no stock piles of such equipment. Lying answers were given at repeated press conferences that lorries were already on the way with such equipment which turned out not to be true. Today, as we speak, some doctors are purchasing their own equipment in order to do their job.

His claim that he has been following scientific advice was blown apart with the revelation that his ‘herd immunity’ policy did not come from the at all ‘experts’ but from Dominic Cummings, who changed his mind mid-week in favour of the eradication of the virus only to find that Johnson was not prepared to implement it.

Johnson’s new mantra was that ‘we have to be careful not to act too soon’. Macron intervened, apparently, on Friday, to say that he would close the border with the Britain if Johnson did not take more stringent measures to stop the spread of the virus. At the same time Johnson advised people not to go into pubs and restaurants but told the pubs and
restaurants to stay open.

By the end of last week – one of the most extraordinary in British political history – Johnson was forced to recognise that if he was to avoid food riots on the streets, as people’s incomes were wiped out, he was going to have to do a lot more and spend a lot more – way beyond the measures that Sunak had taken in the budget and since.

He announced not only that pubs, cafes, bars, restaurants, gyms, theatres and cinemas would have to close but via Sunak went on to effectively nationalise swathes of the British economy. In order to prevent the meltdown, he put another 330bn into the economy on top of the 5bn in the budget and 10bn the previous Monday. Most of it was to underwrite the wage bills and other expenses of companies threatened with closure or already closed. This spending (and borrowing) went way beyond the spending figures that the Tories had repeatedly denounced Jeremy Corbyn for proposing.

One thing we can still say, for sure, is that none of it will be enough. Johnson still has no exit strategy from the virus, which is about to get a whole lot worse. Already self-employed people are up in arms because they have been completely left out, with no incomes other than going on the discredited universal credit, and others might find the money much more difficult to access when it comes to getting their hands on it.

The government is complaining bitterly about people disregarding appeals for social isolation over the weekend, but what do they expect? There had been mixed messages for days over whether this was voluntary or compulsory and a reluctance to take the kind of mandatory lockdown measures that are being taken in other European countries and beyond.

Johnson’s dithering was also a factor in the run on food in the supermarkets. He announced that (quite rightly) whole families could be confined to the house if one family member contracted the virus without making any provision for the inevitable demand on supplies as people rushed to ensure that they would have enough food if that happened. There was, it is true, panic buying, but that was also predictable and could have been planned for.

There is another aspect to this as well. We are being told that there is no problem with food supplies, but can it be true? Half of our food comes from Southern Europe where whole sections of society are in lockdown, with transport links and border crossings disrupted. The chances of maintaining normal food supply links from southern Europe seem remote.

The lessons from all this is that people have to look after themselves and their communities collectively when faced with governmental failure. There is evidence that confinement to the home, which is indeed necessary to fight the virus, puts women (in particular) who are in abusive relationships in a very dangerous situation. Solidarity therefore must also be extended to them to ensure that they do not end up as victims of measures that have to be taken to extract us from the virus.

Market failure has to be replaced by social solidarity. This is what makes the myriad networks and solidarity groupings that have sprung up so important. The left need to make building these our overwhelming priority over the weeks and probably months ahead.

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3 Comments on Made in Downing Street

  1. As ever – spot on from Alan.
    But – please! – it’s NOT “Ten years of Tory cuts”: it’s 5 years of Tory AND LibDem cuts, followed by 5 years of cuts implemented by the Tories on their own!

  2. Margot Lindsay // 25th March 2020 at 7:06 pm // Reply

    Thanks this is very accurate. Strange that the self isolation position is not discussed, I felt this insulting, though the policy was sort of understandable.

    “Market failure has to be replaced by social solidarity. This is what makes the myriad networks and solidarity groupings that have sprung up so important. The left need to make building these our overwhelming priority over the weeks and probably months ahead. ”

    Many thanks.

  3. Hi Allan

    Point taken

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