“It all ends in tiers.” So proclaimed the headline of the Daily Mirror this morning, commenting on the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday of a new system of local restrictions.
“After eight months of sacrifice,” the paper’s frontpage read, “[the] government still has no proper plan, no proper test and trace, and no proper support for workers”.
The Mirror’s assertion accurately summarises the mood in society. One snap poll by YouGov, for example, found that 64% agreed with the statement that “the government does not have a clear plan for tackling the coronavirus outbreak”. Even 45% of Tory voters said the same.
Everywhere, fear and uncertainty reigns. On one side, with COVID cases and hospital admissions soaring, people are rightly afraid of losing their lives or their loved ones to the virus.
On the other side, with no strategy or support coming from the top, millions of workers face the almost equally terrifying prospect of losing their jobs.
This is the dire dilemma facing the working class: forced to choose between further lockdown measures to save their lives; or keeping the economy open to save livelihoods. In effect, it is the option of death by disease, or death by unemployment.
Of course, decisions are not being made by workers, but by the Tories – and, in reality, by the bosses.
Last night, in his latest address to the nation, Boris Johnson warned that tighter restrictions were necessary to avoid a greater catastrophe. “We need to act now,” the PM stated, urging regional politicians to accept tougher measures, despite a lack of help from Westminster.
But such grandstanding is purely for show. For all his hand-wringing and faux-concern, Boris Johnson is ultimately taking his orders from the capitalists.
This was revealed yesterday by the release of official documents from SAGE, the government’s group of scientific advisors, which showed that Tory ministers have actively ignored expert advice in relation to curbing a second wave.
Several weeks ago, at the time of Johnson’s last major announcement, scientists were recommending a whole host of measures to subdue the spread of the virus. But these warnings were not heeded by the Prime Minister, who instead only brought in a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants.
SAGE told Government to lockdown on the 21st September. SAGE also said:-— Howard Beckett (@BeckettUnite) October 13, 2020
• move to online learning;
• test & trace is having “marginal impact”;
• pub curfews are having “marginal impact”;
• a failure to act will have “catastrophic consequences”.
Life or death consequences.
Amongst SAGE’s suggestions was a call for all university courses to be moved to online teaching only. But again, these recommendations were spurned.
And now thousands of students are suffering the consequences – imprisoned in halls of residence due to the recklessness of the government and university management, who were only ever interested in ensuring that fees and rents were collected.
Worst of both worlds
This has been the repeated pattern of the pandemic, with Johnson and the Tories constantly lagging behind the curve.
Afraid of damaging profits, the government drags its feet in regards to introducing necessary measures. But in the end, as the death toll rises, they are reluctantly forced to step in – but always too little, too late.
The result is the worst of both worlds, with Britain facing both a spiralling public health crisis and a deep fall in GDP.
Boris Johnson’s government is being torn apart as the Tory Cabinet attempts to look both ways at once.
On the one side, rebellious backbenchers reflect the pressures of big business. And they have a new champion in the form of the Thatcherite Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, who has made it clear that state support cannot continue indefinitely.
“I cannot save every job,” the libertarian poster boy announced to Parliament, as he outlined plans to scale back the government’s furlough scheme. In summary: mass unemployment looms.
Rishi Sunak confirms the government's furlough scheme will come to an end as planned at the end of October.— LBC (@LBC) September 24, 2020
TheChancellor says people need to be in viable jobs. 'I cannot save every business. I cannot save every job. No Chancellor could.'https://t.co/dlOvgfjMP5 pic.twitter.com/vWKjcI4Z7L
On the other side, Johnson knows that his political future depends on keeping a handle on the epidemic. But even here, he and his health secretary, Matt Hancock, clearly have no plan.
The test-and-trace system – largely handed over to private profiteers and parasitic outsourcing companies – has been an abysmal failure. And many are understandably refusing to comply with orders to self-isolate, for the simple reason that they cannot afford to miss work and stay at home.
The conflict between these two opposing aims has bounced the Prime Minister from pillar to post.
“Mr Johnson no longer looks like a man who really believes in what he is doing,” stated the Financial Times recently. “He is losing control of the pandemic; he is losing control of the narrative; and he is losing control of his party.”
“Forced into policies he hates, he is struggling to regain his political compass and is running scared — of mutinous MPs, of the right-wing press which has turned on him, and of his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, whose highly positive approval ratings among party members contrast with his own negative rating.”
It is this tension that also leads to the government’s contradictory messaging (eat out / stay in; go to the office / work from home), which only adds to the public’s confusion and uncertainty.
And this, in turn, contributes to the growing – and understandable – feeling of tiredness and frustration in society, with ordinary people asking: when will this ever end?
We must be clear, however: the Sophie’s Choice between our lives and our livelihoods is one of capitalism’s making. It is only because of the profit system that these aims are in contradiction with one another.
On the basis of socialist planning, public ownership, and workers’ control, there would be no such antagonism.
Instead, the necessary public health measures could be taken, without threatening incomes. Jobs could be protected, with necessary work shared out. And automation could be used to reduce working hours, without loss of pay.
Those who know best – workers themselves – would be in charge of implementing safety measures in workplaces. Such an approach would have avoided the disastrous reopening of schools and universities seen in recent weeks.
And the vulnerable could be protected, with a fully-funded, publicly-owned, and universally-available healthcare system, including proper social care for the elderly and disabled.
All of this is possible. But not under capitalism. And not under this government of chaos, which only cares about protecting the bosses’ profits.
That is why we cannot trust the Tories with our lives. And it is why it is beholden on the leaders of the labour movement to come out fighting, and to mobilise workers in the struggle for a clear socialist alternative.