At midday today, a minute’s silence will be observed in memory of all those who have died in the pandemic. This marks the one year anniversary since the UK – belatedly – went into its first national lockdown.
At that point, nobody realised what tragedy and hardship lay ahead. Just over a year ago, on 17 March 2020, the government’s own chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, asserted that 20,000 deaths would be a “good outcome”. But this ‘optimistic’ figure was reached within a matter of weeks.
Twelve months and three national lockdowns later, and almost 150,000 people in Britain have now died due to COVID-19, according to official figures. Throughout this period, the UK has consistently topped global league tables in terms of COVID fatality rates.
There is nothing ‘natural’ about this disaster. From day one, it was the reckless actions of this arrogant Tory government that have created an utter catastrophe, exacerbating the coronavirus crisis and causing tens-of-thousands of avoidable deaths.
Boris Johnson and his cabal of ministers are hoping that all will be forgotten now that there is light at the end of the tunnel, with the latest lockdown thawing, and the vaccine rapidly being rolled out across the country.
But ordinary people do not have such short memories. The Tories’ crimes will not be so easily erased from the working class’ collective consciousness. Those who have suffered – primarily workers, youth, and the most oppressed and vulnerable layers of society – will always remember this government’s murderous mistakes.
The Tories have blood on their hands. And it is time to bring them to justice – by organising to kick them out.
Inquiry and investigation
Those who have fought on the frontline have made their anger and outrage clear. “Somebody has to answer for this,” declared one nurse, speaking to the Guardian alongside other health and care workers about the need for an official inquiry into the Tory government’s (mis)handling of the pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, the government itself has dismissed this idea, with a Downing Street spokesperson stating that “now is not the right time”.
It seems that the public, however, disagrees. According to one recent poll, almost half of those surveyed support the call for an independent investigation. For comparison, only 18% opposed the demand for a COVID inquiry.
Such an inquiry would certainly not be short of evidence to examine and witnesses to call upon. After all, the past year has seen a litany of fatal errors by this government of crooks and charlatans.
From the beginning, Boris Johnson and the Tories were “sleepwalking into disaster”, with the Prime Minister AWOL and critical weeks of potential preparation time wasted.
Even as the virus raged through northern Italy in early March, the PM was bragging that he had “shaken hands with everyone” whilst visiting a hospital as part of his duties.
By 16 March, despite further alarming predictions coming from SAGE (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), the government was still dragging its feet over bringing in restrictions. Instead, as has been seen throughout the pandemic, the capitalists and their political representatives attempted to keep the economy open, prioritising profits over lives.
But this hubris soon turned to crisis. And as case numbers rose exponentially, with warnings that the NHS would soon be overwhelmed, Johnson was forced to declare a national lockdown from 23 March – a year ago today.
Blunders, crimes, and scandals
This prevarication proved to be fatal. By June last year, Prof Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London who had led efforts to model the spread of the disease, estimated that the week-long delay in introducing a lockdown had doubled the UK’s COVID death toll.
Even with restrictions in place, however, the Tory government still managed to make one blunder after another.
Under pressure from the bosses, workplaces such as construction sites and other non-essential businesses were allowed to remain open, providing breeding grounds for infection. Vital PPE and other medical equipment was not procured, with Tory ministers instead dishing out generous contracts to their chums and cronies. And infected patients were discharged from hospitals into care homes, leading to a surge of cases and deaths amongst the elderly and vulnerable.
At first, the public came together and a mood of ‘national unity’ prevailed. But this ‘Blitz Spirit’ quickly dissipated, as the death toll mounted and these Tory crimes came to light.
Support for the government took a sharp turn south over the ‘Cummings affair’, with revelations that the Prime Minister’s key political advisor had flouted COVID restrictions at the height of the lockdown. From then on, nobody was going to listen to Tory finger-pointing against sunbathers, socialising youngsters, and BAME communities.
Out of control
The government’s recklessness continued as the summer subsided.
Putting profits ahead of lives once again, Chancellor Rishi Sunak implored for people to “eat out to help out”. And – ignoring the advice of the unions – the Tories pushed for students to go back to schools and campuses, so that parents could return to work, and so that university managers and landlords could pull in fees and rents.
Even as COVID cases began to soar in September, the government ignored SAGE’s recommendations for tougher measures to curb contagion, instead introducing an ineffectual system of tiers and curfews.
Eventually, a second national lockdown – the so-called ‘circuit breaker’ – was brought in...six weeks after SAGE had initially called for it. By this point, it was a case of too little, too late, and the virus was well and truly out of control.
Of course, COVID might have been controlled, had the appropriate steps been taken: closing down all non-essential businesses; providing full sick-pay and free accommodation for those needing to isolate; and, above all, establishing a fully-functioning test-and-trace system – not in the hands of profiteering parasites like Serco, but under public ownership and control.
Instead, as the festive season approached, lockdown 2.0 was prematurely ended; shops were permitted to open for 24 hours a day; and coronavirus was allowed to run rampant through society.
No wonder, then, that Boris Johnson was eventually forced to admit defeat, cancel Christmas, and bring in a third national lockdown at the start of this year.
Eleven weeks later, as the days get brighter and the winter hibernation draws to a close, the PM’s fortunes seem to be improving, with the Tories experiencing a ‘vaccine bounce’ in the polls.
In reality, however, this support is extremely superficial. These ephemeral statistics belie the true instability of this Tory government – a government riddled with contradictions and crises.
Despite its 80-strong majority, Johnson’s government is a colossus with feet of clay. This has been demonstrated countless times over the past year by the Tories’ endless screeching U-turns: from exam grades, to free school meals.
And whilst the (so far mostly) successful vaccine rollout and prospect of summer socialising might bring the Tories some respite, the long-term perspective for British – and world – capitalism will not.
Rishi Sunak has attempted to paper over the cracks with his latest Budget, promising billions more in state aid to prop up the economy in the coming months. And like the Tories’ support, the UK economy too will likely experience a temporary vaccine bounce, as ‘pent-up demand’ is released.
But eventually the life support will be removed. Zombie businesses will collapse. Millions of workers currently surviving on furlough will face the dole queue. And austerity will be imposed upon communities who have already faced over a decade of Tory cuts.
Any remaining goodwill towards the government will quickly evaporate at this point; and wave upon wave of workers will be pushed into struggle.
The recent backlashes over nurses pay and new anti-protest laws, in this respect, are a harbinger of the turbulent events and militant moods that lie ahead. This – not fleeting feelings and transient trends – is what the left and the labour movement must base themselves on.
Opposition and organisation
Unfortunately, Johnson and his ministers have so far been able to get away with their crimes thanks to a complete lack of opposition from Starmer’s Labour.
If the Tories are riding high in the polls going into the May elections, it is only because they have been tacitly supported at every turn by ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer, who has fallen over himself to prove to the ruling class what a ‘respectable’ and ‘reliable’ statesmen he is.
Elsewhere in the labour movement, however, we have seen how workers – when mobilised and organised – can land a blow against the Tories. This was demonstrated just a few days into 2021, when a mass walkout by teachers forced the government to retreat over the question of safe schools.
The Labour and trade union leaders should take note. If workers are to successfully resist the attacks of the Tories and bosses in the period ahead, they should take a leaf out of the teachers’ book.
At the end of the day, the working class does not need an official inquiry to tell us what we already know: that the Tories are guilty of social murder.
In any case, workers can have little trust in such inquiries. From Hillsborough to Grenfell; Chilcot to Leveson: What have these ‘independent’ investigations ever actually achieved concretely in terms of providing justice?
In all these cases, there have been no arrests; no charges of criminal behaviour. Instead, the establishment has sought to protect its own.
The whole system is set up in this way – in the interest of the elites and their profits, privileges, and power. Capitalism is organised violence and theft, robbing from the poor to pay the wealthy.
The super-rich have only gotten richer throughout this pandemic. Whilst the Tories’ friends in big business have lined their pockets through corruption and cronyism, millions of workers have faced job losses and pay cuts; and millions more have put their lives at risk on the frontline.
The only way of achieving justice for all of those who have suffered in this COVID catastrophe is for workers and youth to organise and kick out this rotten Tory government – and the rotten capitalist system that they defend.