A double whammy of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic is savaging Britain. An incompetent and reckless government has presided over the highest death rates of Covid-19 in Europe: over 68,000 official and 80,00 excess deaths in 2020. Infections continue to rise, a virtually privatised track and trace system is a national embarrassment, and mixed messages continue to flow from government ministers.
Meanwhile, with the unnecessary economic hit from Brexit we are witnessing spiralling price rises, congestion at ports with miles of lorry queues, and the livelihoods of many who live by farming under threat, as Keith Savage explains. Environmental and safety standards are being sacrificed for a bogus sovereignty.
We knew the economic costs of the pandemic would be severe. Despite Rishi Sunak’s discovery of the magic money tree his Tory predecessors said did not exist – and used to justify ten years of austerity – British workers are facing huge threats to jobs and living standards. Bryn Jones explains the limitations of the Sunak packages which miss out millions of self-employed, casual and agency workers. Jobless numbers have risen by 800,000 during the pandemic, and look set to continue without much more wide-ranging support measures. Labour needs to broadcast its pledges on a Green New Deal, nationalisation of utilities and massive investment in youth training to highlight Tory deficiencies.
We are now facing a new epidemic of poverty. The United Nations Aid agency is channelling £700,000 to feed insecure households across the UK, while the working poor are forced to resort to food banks in record numbers. If it had not been for Marcus Rashford’s campaign to have free school meals provision for all during school holidays, many millions more children would be going hungry. All this in the world’s fifth-richest country.
Contrast the £16 billion found for the expansion of the Defence budget (war industry) over the next four years, alongside billions for Trident replacement, the public sector pay freeze, the threat to discontinue the £20 weekly Universal Credit uplift last year, highest homeless numbers in decades, the list goes on. Meanwhile the top 100 UK bosses trouser 73 times the average worker’s income and the CEO of Ocado was awarded £58.7 million – 2,605 times the average Ocado worker, with the government refusing to raise taxes or close loopholes on this richest one per cent.
This is the way capitalism works, say its defenders. Prem Sikka shows that it helps if you are mates with ministers. He outlines the multi-million-pound contracts awarded to companies linked to top Tories: deals rushed through with no competitive tendering, many of them failing to deliver adequate PPE with millions wasted. Serco is the de facto corporation behind Test and Trace – no accountability and failed delivery.
This is the face of Conservative Britain increasingly isolated from its European allies: broken and a far cry from the illusory ‘global Britain’. This government will also be at odds with the new Biden administration in the United States, as Glyn Ford explains. Paul Garver looks more closely at the Biden/Harris ticket and highlights the role of the Democrat left in turning out the votes for Biden in key swing states.
But it need not be this way. Robin Hambleton sees a silver lining in the Covid crisis with the way it has encouraged caring for others and the planet. He posits that a more useful measure of government success would be to look at the degree to which care is valued rather than ‘growth’ per se. He champions power to the cities and regions as a further way to rectify wealth and power imbalances.
Don Flynn reports on Labour for a New Democracy, an initiative designed to inject fresh impetus into campaigns for proportional representation in Westminster elections and broader democratic reform across Britain’s antiquated broken state. Sandy Martin amplifies the calls laying out a road map to commit Labour to change by 2021’s party conference, while Sam Tarry MP calls for radical federalism. Ann Black, newly re-elected to Labour’s ruling NEC, explains some of the internal party debates while encouraging greater member engagement. This has been made more difficult by the continuing conflict over antisemitism and Jeremy Corbyn’s senseless suspension from the PLP, despite being reinstated into the party membership.
If Labour is to mount an effective challenge to the Johnson government it will need a more united front and a clearer narrative on the economy, as Bryn Jones argues. This means an end to internal wrangling – which has to start with the Starmer leadership.
Meanwhile Labour needs to set its sights on the open goals provided by government. Don Flynn highlights the plight of the Windrush generation, thousands of British residents denied compensation and support. Nigel Doggett and Dave Toke underline the climate crisis with wake up calls to turbo charge an alternative green new deal which can both provide jobs and avert climate disaster. We plan a regular climate countdown column leading up to the COP conference in Glasgow at the end of the year.
Environmental journalist Mark Cocker reports on the threat to our wildlife and habitat, which requires investment and protection. New Heathrow runways and road networks are not the way to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.
The vaccine rollout will take months while jobs in hospitality, creative industries, aviation and retail continue to disappear. Brexit just compounds the economic crisis. This act of national self-harm is likely to mean anything from a three-to-eight per cent fall in GDP. Starmer needs to wind back restrictions on members and refocus on building a narrative around a new democracy and a new economy. This is the route to winning back the lost ‘red wall’ seats, parts of Scotland and the south.