At around 11pm on Thursday, the government announced (via Twitter!) that new localised lockdown rules would be introduced across large areas of the north of England, in an effort to combat a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
The measures apply to Greater Manchester, Leicester, and parts of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire. They centre around a ban on visiting other people’s homes and gardens.
Who’s to blame?
Tory Health Secretary Matt Hancock placed the blame for the local lockdowns and the worrying bump in new case numbers on people visiting other households and not abiding by social distancing regulations.
But the new measures ignore bars and restaurants, which are still encouraged to open themselves up to customers. And they provide no relief for workers on the frontline or in non-essential work. As before, if you cannot work from home, you are compelled to go in to work, whatever the risk.
So you can meet with your family in a pub – but not in their back garden! You can go out to work in a busy workplace, facing hundreds of customers a day, endangered by poor safety provision from employers – yet you cannot see your family while remaining at a safe distance.
The Tories have cheerfully declared it our patriotic duty to go out and mix with strangers in shops and pubs. This week, for example, a government subsidy for eating in restaurants comes into effect.
Yet now – as the reckless easing of the lockdown causes a new resurgence in the pandemic – ordinary people are being blamed, left reeling in the wake of a stream of confused and nonsensical ad hoc policies.
The Tory government’s regulations can be easily summarised, however. Basically you can mix with whoever you like – as long as you are spending money, or making money for the bosses.
Significantly, the lockdown was announced just in time for the first day of Eid, on Friday 31 July. It seems to be a deliberate move to target Muslim communities, disrupting this most important festival with almost no notice. This is especially the case, given that the rules only apply to people meeting in each other’s houses, and not to pubs, restaurants, etc. Why?
Tory MP for Calder Valley, Craig Whittaker, let the cat out of the bag when he said on LBC radio that the “immigrant and Asian population” were to blame for prolonging the lockdown.
"If you look at the areas where we've seen rises and cases, the vast majority – but not by any stretch of the imagination all areas – it is the BAME communities that are not taking this seriously enough.”
This is blatant dog-whistle racism, marking yet another attempt by the Tories to shift the attention away from their inconsistent messaging and incompetent mishandling of the pandemic. This is the real reason for the recent rise in new cases.
What is behind the prevalence of the virus in the most affected areas is high levels of precarious, frontline work; greater poverty and overcrowding; and poor health and social welfare services.
As we have reported on before, this disproportionately impacts BAME communities. The scapegoating of immigrants, Muslims, and other ethnic minorities for the pandemic will only result in lockdown measures being used to further the racist repression and excessive policing of these groups.
As ever, the Tory government is placing profit ahead of lives. Throughout the coronavirus crisis, they have consistently been several steps behind reality.
Anyone could have predicted the effect that the premature reopening of the economy would have – especially since the level of infections had not been dramatically reduced prior to lockdown being lifted. Yet the Tories consistently downplayed the danger.
At the same time, the government has seemed totally unprepared. Last Friday, for example, Boris Johnson spoke at a hastily organised press conference, saying it was “now time to squeeze the brake pedal” on the lifting of the lockdown.
Together with the government’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, the PM said it may be necessary to reverse some of the relaxation of the lockdown. For example, pubs may be closed again in order that schools can reopen as planned in September. This is still set to go ahead, despite opposition from the teaching unions.
This sudden shift in approach will come as a shock to anyone accustomed to listening to the Tories’ deludedly upbeat PR. It is a sharp U-turn on the government’s previous assertion that we should all feel safe packing out shops and bars, mingling in workplaces, and stopping shielding.
The truth behind this zig-zagging is that Johnson and the whole reactionary Tory government have consciously held the interests of big business first, and the necessities of combatting the pandemic a distant second. They have been deliberately blind to the risk until it is too late.
Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, Keir Starmer’s response has been lacklustre. “No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus,” the Labour leader tweeted. "But announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the government's communications during this crisis.”
Pointing out the Tories’ confused communication and failure to deliver a functioning track-and-trace system is true enough. But Starmer has basically welcomed the policy itself, despite its inconsistency and inadequacy.
At the end of the day, the Tory government is responsible for no less than mass murder. The UK is one of the worst affected countries worldwide when it comes to excess deaths from COVID-19. How many have needlessly died due to Tory incompetence, callousness, and arrogance?
The number of coronavirus-related deaths is the equivalent of several Grenfell disasters every day – all because of the hesitation of hubristic Conservative ministers, who were more concerned for the bosses’ profits than the public’s health. Yet Starmer is basically non-committal, refusing to attack the Tories head on and point the finger at them.
Blood on their hands
If working-class communities themselves were in charge, local lockdowns could be effectively applied and implemented in the actual areas of risk. Similarly, if given control, organised workers could ensure that workplaces are actually safe to return to, with non-essential services kept shut.
But the needs of the capitalist economy make a mockery of attempts to fight the pandemic. The bosses only care about reopening businesses as soon as possible. And their friends in the Tory government are more than willing to oblige.
We need a workers-led response to the disease – one that puts the working class first, utilising whatever measures and resources are necessary to protect people, on a local and national level. This means fighting the pandemic with bold socialist policies.
With a socialist economic plan in place, the impact of the virus could have been drastically reduced and shortened; thousands of lives could have been saved. Instead, we have a corrupt government that has sought only to protect the profits of the capitalists, at the cost of our lives.
The Tories have blood on their hands. They – and the rotten system they defend – must be overthrown.