From midnight, Britain will be back in lockdown. But this latest national shutdown will not be a simple repeat of the first. Thanks to their arrogance, recklessness, and bumbling incompetence, Boris Johnson and the Tories now face a far deeper crisis than back in March.
When the virus initially hit the UK’s shores, the Prime Minister was able to appeal for ‘national unity’; for the country to rally together and show some ‘Blitz spirit’ in the face of adversity.
But his government’s cack-handed response quickly put paid to any such moods.
It was rapidly revealed, for example, that Tory cuts and privatisation had left the NHS woefully unprepared for a pandemic. Frontline workers were left scrambling for PPE. Vital equipment such as ventilators was in short supply. And the disease was soon spreading like wildfire through care homes, as elderly patients were shunted out of hospitals to free up beds.
NHS staff were rightly applauded as heroes amongst local communities. But the clapping on Downing Street was pure hypocrisy, with Johnson and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak refusing to recognise the efforts of nurses and care workers when it came to announcing a new public sector pay deal.
Any remaining ‘spirit of togetherness’, meanwhile, soon evaporated when the PM’s key advisor Dominic Cummings was caught breaking the government’s own guidelines by taking a 500-mile round trip from London to Durham.
Support for Johnson and the Tories plummeted in the wake of the Cummings affair. And it has rightly remained there ever since, as things have gone from bad to worse.
The Prime Minister’s latest lockdown announcement followed a tragically predictable pattern. At every step, Johnson’s government has dragged its feet, always prevaricating over the introduction of public health measures due to the pressure of big business.
This time around, scientific advisors were already recommending a national ‘circuit breaker’ weeks ago. Documents show that such a suggestion was made by SAGE – the government’s official scientific advisory group for emergencies – back on 21 September. This same call was then subsequently echoed by Starmer and the Labour Party.
But Johnson – under pressure from Tory backbenchers and from the bosses – actively ignored both the experts and the evidence, even as a second wave was clearly taking off.
This same deadly dithering has been seen repeatedly since the beginning. First there was the government’s pursuit of a flawed ‘herd immunity’ strategy. This delayed the March shutdown by a week, causing a doubling of COVID-related mortalities, according to some estimates.
Due to the exponential spread of the virus, Johnson’s hesitation in introducing the latest lockdown could prove equally fatal.
Fiasco and farce
Just as with the first nationwide closure, big business are again being allowed to get away with murder. Breeding grounds such as construction sites, for example, will remain in operation.
Similarly, schools and universities are staying open, but without the necessary health and safety measures that teachers and lecturers have demanded. Meanwhile, having been lulled to campus under false pretences, students are now suffering in isolation – all so that university managers and parasitic landlords can continue to make money from fees and rents.
Even as infection rates dropped over the summer, the government still managed to mess things up. Alongside curbing the disease in order to save lives, the whole point of a lockdown should have been to provide some breathing space to tame the virus going forwards.
With case numbers lowered, a combination of restrictions, contact tracing, and targeted quarantines could have kept a lid on outbreaks. But instead of seizing this opportunity, Boris Johnson rushed to reopen the economy – giving a green light to the bosses, and encouraging workers to head back to offices.
This was accompanied by Sunak’s now infamous ‘eat out to help out’ scheme. Of course, nobody was told that we were really just helping out the capitalists, and that we would soon all be back at home, eating in.
Topping off this catastrophic circus is the fiasco of the test and trace system. Put simply, this has been an unmitigated disaster, with the operation suffering from delays and outright corruption. Private profiteers such as outsourcing giant Serco, meanwhile, have been laughing all the way to the bank.
Chickens coming home
Now all of the chickens are coming home to roost for Johnson and his government. Public support is in decline. And even attempts to prioritise profits over lives have backfired, with the IMF predicting that the UK economy will fall by almost 10% this year.
At the same time, neither the bosses nor his own backbenchers are happy with the Prime Minister’s performance. Conservative MPs are in open revolt. “My members are all asking me who is going to be the next party leader,” the Financial Times reports one Tory backbencher as saying.
Many are instead looking to Rishi Sunak, the poster boy of the neo-Thatcherites. His call to ‘balance the books’ and keep the economy open, after all, is an open appeal to big business, who are growing frustrated with Johnson for his unreliable zig-zagging.
“Diehard Tory voters in the City are pulling their hair out over decisions being made,” stated one senior banker interviewed by the FT. “There are real worries over how poor this government is. The access to No 10 right now as a FTSE 100 chief is as bad as it’s ever been.”
Our heart bleeds for this neglected fat cat.
Elsewhere, Tory bungling has further antagonised voters in Scotland, Wales, and the North of England. Support for Scottish independence has reached record highs, setting Holyrood on a collision course with the Westminster government. And the imposition of restrictions on cities such as Manchester has led to defiant (but ultimately toothless) rhetoric from regional leaders like Labour’s Andy Burnham.
Unlike with the first national shutdown, then, Boris Johnson goes into this latest lockdown with his reputation in tatters; with his party split down the middle; and with the very future of the ‘United’ Kingdom now being called into question.
Unfortunately, Labour has not taken advantage of this situation to land a knockout blow on Johnson’s stumbling government. Indeed, from the outset, Keir Starmer has consistently pulled his punches, as part of his role as a so-called ‘constructive’ opposition.
Starmer’s aim, in this respect, has been to prove to the establishment that he is a ‘responsible’ and ‘respectable’ statesman; a leader who can be called upon by the ruling class to reliably serve ‘his country’ if necessary.
Tories to blame
This is a government with blood on its hands. But it is also a government of crisis, which could be brought down on the basis of militant mass struggle.
Rather than attacking the Corbyn movement, Starmer should be denouncing Johnson and the Tories. Figures such as Burnham should be organising Labour activists and working-class communities into a fighting campaign. And the trade union leaders should be mobilising members in preparation for coordinated strike action in defence of jobs and against austerity.
The Tories are to blame for the COVID chaos. We cannot trust them with our lives, nor with our livelihoods.
In place of this blundering bosses’ government, we need a workers’ government. Only with bold socialist measures, a plan of production, and workers’ control can we effectively fight the virus.