The world is turned upside down. Covid-19 is a pandemic unprecedented in over 100 years. Millions have been infected, deaths are in the hundreds of thousands. The lockdown experienced worldwide has created conditions for a global recession many economists predict will be worse than the 1930s Great Depression.
The UK government with its part-time prime minister was slow to respond. While Boris Johnson glad-handed downplaying the risk in February, the Cheltenham Festival and international football fixtures went ahead in March when the World Health Organisation had sent out warnings since January and many countries had stopped large social gatherings.
Having hastily dropped the ‘herd immunity’ strategy, fearing the weakened NHS could be overwhelmed, the government switched to delay and then suppression of the virus. As many frontline health and social care staff and Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer have pointed out, PPE provision and testing, tracing and treatment have been slow if not too little too late. Opportunities to join an EU procurement scheme were boycotted for political reasons. Way back in 2016, when scientists warmed of a pandemic within the next five years, the May government continued to run down stocks of protective material.
Besides the devastating human cost in lives, the cost in livelihoods has also been incalculable. Bryn Jones looks at the way the new chancellor Rishi Sunak has adopted Keynesian-style pump-priming to inject billions into the economy, in the form of loans to businesses and, belatedly, the self-employed. He asks whether a new form of corporatist capitalism is in the making.
Millions are becoming jobless, millions are furloughed and many companies large and small will go bust. Prem Sikka underlines the economic consequences while reminding us we’re not all in it together. The rich can use their wealth to cushion the crisis – some having the brass neck to ask for a bailout like tax-doging billionaire Richard Branson – while the poor and vulnerable, with little or no savings, must wait for at least five weeks for Universal Credit and survive on £95 weekly. Councils have been told to house the homeless but have been allocated insufficient funds for its provision.
Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are proportionately taking the heaviest hit in terms of medical fatalities. Peter Kenyon considers whether Keir Starmer can meet the challenge of holding this hapless government to account. He draws a stark contrast between Britain and Germany, where the government from the outset began a widespread testing, tracing and treatment regime. Germany’s death toll is at least four times lower than UK. South Korea and New Zealand, coincidentally run by women, took similar routes.
What’s needed is a people’s bailout. Millions more should be pumped into supporting jobs and local councils to help with testing and tracing. Environmental health and public health departments, although reduced, have skilled staff. Support is also needed to ensure all homeless and women victims of heightened levels of domestic abuse are given alternative safe accommodation.
Alex Sobel MP argues costs to the state are enormous, so better to provide a universal basic income for all and reclaim through progressive taxes. Many small businesses have failed because they cannot foresee a way of repaying the loans. The self-employed are in a similarly parlous situation while for gig economy workers it’s even worse.
In the midst of this crisis Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner were elected as leader and deputy leader of the Labour Party. Starmer won in the first round with 56% of the vote against Rebecca Long Bailey and Lisa Nandy. Both now have posts in the shadow cabinet. Don Flynn analyses the challenge facing the new leader with a part-time PM and stand-ins. He sees the new team as having a Wilsonian balance, with our task being to hold the leadership to the ten pledges and the best of the Corbyn manifestos.
Julie Ward puts a strong case for extending the Brexit transition period while Paul Teasdale sees economic catastrophe in refusing to make plans with the EU. Alena Ivanova highlights the plight of over three million EU citizens facing the requirement to apply for settled status by next June or become illegal. The right to stay should be a basic right.
Fifty years ago the modern Women’s Liberation Movement was born. Socialist feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham was a participant. Chartist spoke to her about the debates at the Oxford conference and its impact on women’s struggles for equality and justice. Alice Arkwright celebrates the #MeToo victory in the historic conviction of Harvey Weinstein and draws lessons for women’s collective action.
On the international scene Mary Southcott looks at Turkey’s role as Middle East power-broker and how it has heightened the migrant and human rights crisis in the region. Dave Lister sees a failure in the Stop the War Coalition’s virtual silence over the Assad and Russian-backed bloody war in Syria. Glyn Ford looks at developments in Germany with the removal of Merkel’s chosen successor following compromises with the far right AfD.
Helen Hayes MP highlights the continuing discrimination against the Windrush generation while Dermot McKibbin alerts us to the thousands of abandoned leaseholders in the wake of the Grenfell fire.
The Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the catastrophic consequences of ten years of Tory austerity, cuts to public services, privatisation, de-regulation, tax failure and possessive individualist ideology. Despite this context, health and public service workers have demonstrated huge community commitment. Companies have converted production to provide PPE. Against the odds people have come together in local mutual aid groups and are respecting the lockdown and social distancing.
Test, trace, treat and isolate those infected must be the mantra until a vaccine is found. The task falls on Labour’s new leadership to ensure this government are called to account for current and past failures, to champion international cooperation, for best practice in fighting the virus and for a social and sustainable economy directed by people not markets.