Ten years of Tory austerity, with massive reductions in public spending and welfare services, have wrecked the social foundations of the UK. Keir Starmer is right to highlight this context and how it has amplified the devastation Covid-19 has wreaked on our lives and NHS. The cavalier approach to early lockdown, failures on PPE provision, neglect of those in care homes, reluctance to provide basic support for poorer families, chaos on schools and incompetence on travel restrictions, and a constant flow of mixed messages have all amounted to the highest death rate in the world, with numbers approaching 125,000. Combined with the impact of Brexit, as yet disguised apart from delivery failures on fishing and Northern Ireland, and Boris Johnson’s government amounts to a saga of failure.
The prime minister has blood on his hands. The failures of Government lie with him. As Peter Kenyon explains, it is now time for Labour’s leader to take the gloves off. This means opening the box of economic and political ideas that meet the needs for recovery and rebuilding. Brandishing a Union Jack is not in that box.
The reason the vaccine programme has been successful is because it has been delivered through NHS structures and a professional network of medics and pharmacists. This contrasts starkly with the ‘Moonshot’ test and trace programme outsourced to Serco and other private companies, which might as well be part of the astral debris floating through outer space.
The economy is in a critical condition. At least two-and-a-half million are likely to be unemployed alongside over 200,000 businesses lost and a ballooning spending deficit. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has been found guilty of law-breaking in awarding over £2 billion of contracts to Tory crony companies. While chancellor Rishi Sunak has agreed to extend the furlough life-support package until September, many self-employed workers on low incomes have fallen through the net. The Government is also refusing to make the £20 weekly uplift in Universal Credit permanent. The poor, workers and small businesses are likely to bear the brunt of the fallout while tech giants like Amazon and Google have profited from the crisis. Bryn Jones reports on the economic prescriptions of two prominent socialist economists who argue for sustained and widespread government intervention, wealth taxes and redistribution to meet the challenge of post-Covid recovery. Starmer’s team would do well to study their books.
Besides the deaths and the social and economic impacts, coronavirus has also produced a surge in mental illness, as Steven Walker explains. His analysis echoes much of what the outgoing Children’s Commissioner, Ann Longfield, has said in a damning report on Government failure to provide counselling and emotional support for young people.
Gender inequality has also grown through the pandemic, as Alice Arkwright explains. A TUC report shows how women have borne the brunt of childcare, home-schooling, redundancy and job loss. Fifty years of progress in women’s rights looks set to be turned back. Mary Southcott reflects on the changing nature of feminism as women grapple with new challenges whilst standing on the shoulders of ‘difficult women’ pioneers.
Under cover of the pandemic the Government has also begun to backtrack on promises made about Brexit bonuses. Fisherfolk feel rightly abandoned and farmers are under the cosh, with delays, bureaucracy and price rises threatening trade with our biggest partner. Workers’ rights and environmental protections look set to be jettisoned. Jan Savage explains how the NHS continues to be under threat from trade deals which could open up health to further privatisation, particularly from US Big Pharma and other corporations.
The election of the Biden/Harris Democrat ticket could slow this process. Gary Younge puts the Democrats’ presidential election win under the microscope. The left and Black voters were a major part of the success story. It is vital that the Sanders and Squad camp keeps up the pressure on Biden. Trump may be gone but Trumpism lives on. Defeating white supremacy and resolving the unfinished political business of the Civil War will decide whether the embattled right returns.
Don Flynn interrogates the racism that imbues the structures of the UK immigration system, through the hostile environment to the Windrush scandal, locating its virulence in our own unfinished disengagement from British colonialism.
On the international front, Josef Weidenholzer regrets the departure of the UK from the EU while calling for the left to reforge positive relations with our European allies. Sybil Cock describes the findings of a recent Israeli civil rights group branding the Israeli state an apartheid state, the latest example being the denial of equal access for Palestinians to Covid vaccines. Dave Lister rebuts a simplistic approach to internationalism, and particularly silence over Assad’s murderous rule in Syria.
The pandemic has also underlined the deficiency of the Westminster electoral system. Mark Serwotka makes a forceful case for electoral change, citing the absurdity of a first-past-the-post system that enables a minority government to inflict untold harm on its people.
Chartist continues to work with Labour for a New Democracy to commit Labour to proportional representation and a wider revolution in Britain’s antiquated state—from abolition of the House of Lords, to decentralisation of power to local, regional and national governments. Peter Rowlands looks at how this might play out for Labour in the forthcoming Welsh elections with the shadow of Scottish independence lengthening.
Starmer has committed Labour to a constitutional convention. This should mean the entire membership of the Labour Party is enjoined to debate the nature of the democratic socialist future we are striving for. Party members must be free to debate all questions, including racism and antisemitism, within a framework of mutual respect, as Duncan Bowie argues. Organisational methods like suspensions are not the way to end factionalism. Open political debate and thorough reflection on the party’s strengths and weaknesses is the road to travel.