On Tuesday this week, Boris Johnson announced a new range of steps to lift the lockdown. Starting from 4 July, large sections of the economy will be able to reopen, including pubs and restaurants, as well as hotels, cinemas, and hairdressers.
While many are rightly sceptical of any easing of the lockdown measures, Tory MPs and ministers – under the leadership of Chancellor Rishi Sunak – have successfully pushed for the easing of the 2m social distancing rule.
One senior minister told the Financial Times that, “If other countries can do one metre or 1.5 metres why can’t we? What’s so special about the UK?”
Well, for starters, we’ve suffered the highest excess deaths per million in the world!
Johnson’s latest announcement is the result of continued and mounting pressure from big business. The bosses want the government to ignore the scientific advice so that profit-making can be resumed.
The owner of one pub chain, for example, had even threatened to unilaterally open his outlets, regardless of whether Downing Street gave the green light.
So @OakmanInns will be opening all sites on the 4th July. It would irresponsible for us to delay as we would be putting jobs at risk. To open without proper forward planning would also be wrong. We cannot wait for the Government to make a decision. pic.twitter.com/fufdJJSLuh— Peter Borg-Neal (@PeterBorgNeal) June 17, 2020
This pressure on the Prime Minister has also been reflected in terms of dissent from within his own party.
The 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers have been growing increasingly restless and rowdy, demanding that the lockdown is eased for the sake of the economy.
“It’s now people’s absolute duty to go back to work,” said Charles Walker, a prominent Tory MP. “This country is going to go bust.”
This highlights the huge splits that already exist within the Tory Party. And these, in turn, reflect the conflicting pressures from the capitalists, who want to save their businesses; and ordinary people, who want to save their lives.
As the Financial Times reported: “One [Conservative] MP said she had used social media to encourage people to frequent local shops — which reopened on June 15 — only to face a ‘pile-on’ by constituents who claimed she was recklessly encouraging the spread of the virus.”
Ignoring the science
The steps proposed to lift the lockdown fly in the face of scientific opinion. Indeed, the panel responsible for recommending the new “one metre plus” rule regarding social distancing was primarily influenced by economic – not medical – advisors.
The government is easing the lockdown at a time when the level of new infections is still twice that of comparable figures for countries such as Germany, France, or Spain. And there is no test-and-trace strategy in place to isolate new cases and control the spread of the virus.
The Tories’ recklessness and arrogance has provoked a backlash from the scientific community, including top researchers and experts.
A former scientific adviser to No. 10, Professor Neil Ferguson, recently claimed that if the lockdown had been initiated just a week earlier some 20,000 lives could have been saved.
Richard Horton, meanwhile, editor of top medical journal The Lancet, has publicly encouraged “resistance” and “rebellion” against the government, whose handling of the crisis he has called a “national scandal”.
To make matters worse, the R value (denoting how rapidly the virus is spreading) remains high across the country, with many regions at or close to 1.
Documents published by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies on 29 May indicate that if the lockdown is eased as scheduled it will likely push the national R value above 1, putting the UK on course for a second peak.
This, in turn, would either force the government to introduce another lockdown, further hitting the economy; or to keep business running and threaten thousands (or tens of thousands) more lives.
In other words, thanks to Tory arrogance and incompetence, the country faces the worst of both worlds: economic chaos and a public health disaster.
Why, then, are some in the Tory Party so determined to place yet more lives at stake? The simple answer is profit.
Boris Johnson has publicly opposed the anti-lockdown faction, which is said to encompass a majority of the Cabinet. While some of his ministers, such as Sunak, are taking to social media to encourage Britons to go out and spend, the PM has adopted a more cautious tone.
The Tory leader is, of course, wary of his recent drop in approval ratings and the public’s loss of confidence in the government's coronavirus strategy. The scandal surrounding Johnson’s closest advisor, Dominic Cummings, has done nothing to help in this respect.
“Mr Johnson appeared torn at the Commons despatch box,” the FT stated, commenting on the antagonist pressures on the Prime Minister, “between wanting to exhort his countrymen to shop and drink for Britain and his fear of reigniting a virus that has wreaked havoc in the country and almost cost him his own life.”
One minister complained about Johnson “listening to the scientific advice” as opposed to considering the economy. Another Tory MP, meanwhile, claimed that No. 10 was in “headless chicken mode”.
It is clear that the Tory Party – and the ruling class more widely – are split. The government has lost all authority amongst ordinary people.
These splits and divisions will further expose the Tories and their rotten system, paving the way for a reckoning against Johnson and the whole degenerate capitalist establishment.