31st October 2020
Who is that masked man? Boris Johnson announces national lockdown for England
England is now into a second national lockdown, for one month initially from Thursday 5th November, following an announcement this evening by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Schools and universities will remain open, non-essential shops and the hospitality sector will close. The National Education Union are calling for schools to be included in any lockdown, as infection rates are increasing significantly in secondary schools.
This situation has come about through a combination of factors but is predominantly due to the blatantly class biased handling of the pandemic by the Tory government. This has resulted in a loss of public trust in the government’s strategy, leading many to make their own decisions about how best to navigate a route through the crisis.
There has always been a lumpen hard core for whom, as far as they are concerned, the rules do not apply. This group can be as diverse as organisers of house parties on working class estates, dinner party hosts in the suburbs, to the Prime Minister’s chief political adviser. The real unravelling of trust came with Dominic Cummings’ ill fated trip to Barnard Castle, after which it was clear that there was one rule for some and one for others.
Confidence in the government was certainly not universal before the Cummings debacle but there was a greater degree of latitude given by most people, prepared to believe the line that the government was ‘following the science’ and that what was tough today, would result in a brighter tomorrow.
The Tories initially fuelled the illusion of a quick fix by dangling a series of carrots at the daily government propaganda briefings into the summer. Discussion about air corridors made it sound as though holiday plans could actually be delivered. The ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme fostered the idea that some degree of economic normality was around the corner, with gyms, shops and libraries also opening across the summer.
A vaccine before Christmas has been talked up time and again by the Tories and the right wing press, although the medical and scientific community are noticeably cooler about the prospect. The much vaunted Operation Moonshot, the Tories’ post summer big idea has gone quiet. Test and trace is widely regarded as a farrago, which has succeeded in doing little more than putting £12bn into the pockets of Tory supporters Serco, while doing little or nothing to save lives. In mid October Serco announced it expects bumper profits after securing an extension to its Test and Trace contract.
Funding Christmas panto in ten cities across England, from the National Lottery, was a further desperate attempt to garner some popularity as the government’s credibility with the general public guttered into the autumn. While schools opened and students returned to university in September it was clear that a second wave was well underway. The need to break chains of transmission, by introducing a national lockdown period, was the clear scientific advice being pressed upon the government in late September.
This advice was deemed too unpopular so was ignored. Any illusion that the government was following the science, was stripped away. The big players in the hospitality sector were clearly worried about their profits, the small individual businesses were not promised enough in the way of government support to give them a chance to survive. Meanwhile, many companies in the arts and cultural sectors remain in danger of going to the wall, while individual freelancers are having to take any job they can to make ends meet.
It is only two weeks into the three tier system announced by the government, aimed at managing the pandemic at a local level, and that appears to be failing, with infection rates soaring and predictions that a second wave could see twice as many deaths as the first.
The government has always tried to sell the line that it is backing both public health needs and those of the economy. The reality remains however that private wealth has always edged ahead of public health in the government’s planning. The poor, the elderly and those from ethnic minorities in working class communities have never been the natural constituency of the Tories. The fact that the death count is highest amongst these communities is clearly a factor in the gamble the government is taking with the lives of ordinary people.
A national lockdown is here. The carrot this time is to ‘save Christmas’. Exactly what will be saved and for whom is almost too macabre to predict. A four week lockdown, followed by a frenzy of household mixing and a breakdown of social distancing, can only end up with one result come January.
It is probable that the Tories’ big business backers will not tolerate measures much more stringent than this over their honeypot period in December. Is it likely that the government will be believed by the public if they take a harder line anyway? Nevertheless, measures to manage Christmas need to be thought through and agreed well in advance, in order to allow plans for the holiday period to be made with some degree of confidence well in advance.
The irony is that, along with endangering so many lives by not taking a stronger public health line, the economy is on the brink of crashing anyway and threatening the livelihoods of millions.
Priorities need to change as a matter of urgency. Test and trace needs to be taken out of the hands of the money grabbing private sector and put into the hands of local Directors of Public Health. The companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook, profiting from the pandemic, need to be made to pay their way. The opposition needs to build outside Parliament to make sure that Tory class interests are exposed.
The Labour opposition inside Parliament, uninspiring so far, needs to challenge the government more effectively. Kier Starmer has not shown himself capable of that to date. A question mark must hang over his future if Labour is to be a force for working class people once more.