by Ann Orr
In March 2020, the UK government announced a £123 billion package in response to the crisis sparked by Covid-19. Measures included a mortgage holiday and the state covering 80% of furloughed workers’ wages. Announcing some of these measures, Chancellor Rishi Sunak claimed “this is no time for ideology”. What he meant was that this is no time for the Tory and capitalist ideology which idealises the ‘free market’ and believes that, left to its own devices, it will find innovative and low-cost solutions to all problems. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Covid-19 has so glaringly exposed.
Death toll skyrockets
In the initial weeks of Covid-19 restrictions, many believed the government was doing all it could to deal with this crisis and that we were “all in this together”. Both views defy reality. Johnson’s government ignored warnings and delayed action, leading to massive PPE shortages. Recent figures suggest 200 health and social care workers have died after contracting Covid-19. The Tories and previous governments have overseen decades of underfunding of the NHS and of care being privatised. At the time of writing, the UK has the highest official death rate in absolute terms across Europe. World-wide it is surpassed only by the USA, according to the Financial Times. Even the Tories cannot spin this as a success!
In recent weeks, the focus has shifted to the economic fallout. Different institutions have made varying predictions, ranging from expected contractions between 6.5% and 12.8%. The Bank of England has stated GDP could fall 14% in 2020. This would amount to the deepest annual drop since 1706. While we cannot say exactly how deep the unfolding recession will be, it is clear the last recession will appear mild in comparison. It is also clear that the Tories will expect ordinary people to pay the price for this. A two-year public sector pay freeze is already being talked about, exposing the hollow nature of the Tories’ support for health staff and other key workers.
Stormont serves big business
Stormont politicians, although not following the Tories directly, are also clearly pushing for a return to economic activity in the name of profit, despite the risk to public health which could lead to a second wave of infection. Throughout this crisis, they have not ensured companies protect their staff. In Northern Ireland, there has also been talk of increasing local council tax rates by up to 30%.
Cummings scandal sums up Tory hypocrisy
Any remaining belief that “we are all in this together” evaporated with the Dominic Cummings scandal. While countless people made huge personal sacrifices, did not see dying relatives or accompany their children to hospital treatments, Cummings broke the rules he himself helped shape. For many, this was the final straw and Johnson’s approval ratings have plummeted since. The Tory party representing the interest of the elite and doing so with such arrogance and sense of entitlement is nothing new. With Starmer now the leader of the Labour Party, there is no clear alternative being given. Workers and young people must find other ways of organising to resist attempts to make us pay for this crisis. Organising in workplaces is vital to this, as is building socialist forces to strengthen the struggle, not only against the Tories, but also to fight for a future in which we can democratically control society’s resources in order to plan for human needs, not the profits of the super-rich.