You hardly have to join many dots to understand that the policy of the British government was never not herd immunity. But the fact that it still is ‘targeted herd immunity’, despite and even including the lockdown measures, seems to be less understood.
Rather than considering the lockdown as a complete u-turn from the British government, it ought to be seen as more of a desperately cobbled together alteration of the herd immunity strategy, one that has evolved from its initial lunatic-cum-sociopathic simplicity, to something rather more under the radar and based on factors that I will attempt to make sense of based on the information available to me.
Despite their own statements to the contrary, the British government never once attempted to contain the virus.
As we’ve seen from countries that prioritised containment, the first thing you do is shut the airports or impose targeted flight bans (on flights from viral hot zones) or extremely strict quarantine measures. The British government has never done any of this and I doubt it ever will.
There’s a lot of perhaps understandable silliness about this from liberals who imagine that just because, for example, Donald Trump did something it must automatically be wrong. The conflation of vital containment procedures like travel bans during a pandemic with some kind of anti-immigration ideology or praxis (such as Trump’s Muslim ban) is nonsense. In the US, it was the expert Anthony Fauci and not the racist buffoon Donald Trump that recommended the shutdown of flights from viral hot zones (China, Continental Europe and then the UK and Ireland). Trump, thinking about the economy and the huge trade deal he’d just signed with China, had to be sold on this vital feature of containment and mitigation.
Though the US had obviously been exposed at the point of Trump’s travel bans, the reality is that viruses don’t buy plane tickets. But people from viral hot zones do. And when you’re talking about a virus that could present in an individual as nothing worse than the common cold (if you’re very, very lucky), or as a completely asymptomatic infection, or be in the up to 2-week long asymptomatic incubation stage, any form of containment or even mitigation should contain travel bans to stop continuous and multiple viral transmission routes.
This was the entirely correct thing to do and Trump’s previous unwillingness to do it was part of his general ‘it’s just a flu’ denialism, which was itself part of his at times delirious initial economy-first zealotry.
In fact, not closing airports or imposing quarantine measures, or, from their perspective, interrupting the physical flow of business and freezing airline businesses, is a huge element of the ideology of the economy-first crusaders. And it’s very important to understand that the British government, much like the Trump regime, is hugely shaped by both a general economy-first ideology (it’s what they’re infamous for) and, in the specific case of Covid-19, an economy first lobby.
According to this lobby, and to paraphrase the psychopath-in-chief Donald Trump, the cure can’t be worse than the disease. The cure is economic demobilisation, which is necessary for any effective lockdown. There is barely even a shade of doubt on the fact that this ideology, of interrupting the British economy as little as possible, was the driving force behind the British government’s criminal ‘do nothing’ approach.
Allow me to contrast.
On 12th of March, Boris Johnson, the Risen Christ according to The Daily Mail, formally announced that the UK had moved from the ‘contain’ phase of the epidemic (as I said, if you look at what the UK government did, there was no ‘contain’ phase –an as yet immeasurable amount of people were essentially allowed to be exposed to the virus including during the period I’m now describing) to ‘delay’. The speech was astonishing in its monstrousness. People might think my language is unfair or hyperbolic, but as we now know from what is now on record and from the weeks of inactivity that preceded this, what the British prime minister was announcing here was a policy state mass murder.
Here is the killer, if you pardon the expression, part of his speech:
“We have all got to be clear, this is the worst public health crisis for a generation. Some people compare it to seasonal flu. Alas, that is not right. Due to the lack of immunity this disease is more dangerous.
“It is going to spread further and I must level with you, I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”
At the same time, his chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance was claiming’ as many 10,000 British citizens were already infected, while the Chief Medical Officer of England, Chris Whitty, was predicting a death toll of 500,000, based on the WHO modelling of the virus roughly carrying a 1% death rate.
British policy is here laid bare. Those who claim that ‘herd immunity’ was never a strategy and it was never the intention of the British government to let people die are the true conspiracy theorists. As the British government did not hide this. Again, “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”
If actions speak louder than words then inaction, in the case of the above, sings merrily along with it. Never mind airports, Johnson announced that schools would not be closed – in fact, nothing would closed. The only thing Johnson did was ‘advise’ over-70s not to go on cruises (surely a huge blow to the 16% of pensioners living in poverty in the UK) and for schools not to go abroad for school trips. In contrast to Scotland, despite its epidemic being a couple of weeks behind that of England, mass gatherings weren’t even banned by these laissez faire lunatics. It’s almost like they wanted you to get the virus.
Well, of course, they did.
As all this was going on, Robert Peston for ITV had broken the story that the British strategy for the oncoming onslaught of Covid-19 was literally what Johnson had said: let lots of people get infected, allowing many to die, so that the population would build up ‘herd immunity’; thus saving the UK from having to do those nasty, economically destructive European and Asian lockdowns, while meaning our workforce would be exposed to the virus, and among those who survived or just sucked up having a loved one die needlessly, ride out any potential return of Covid-19.
Of course, it was utter lunacy of the highest order. The country that voted for Brexit, widely regarded around the world as being one of the most lunatic acts of self-destruction in the history of nation states, and cheerily regarded such irrational self-destruction as progress, was about it to do it again.
A deluge of world-leading experts – epidemiologists, microbiologists, virologists and immunologists – immediately said that the British plan was raving madness. The death toll, up to 500,000, would overwhelm the NHS, leading to its collapse, and social order might collapse with it. Moreover, even on its own terms, regarding ‘herd immunity’, so little is known about Covid-19 that nobody, even the experts who had fought it and studied it in detail in South Korea and elsewhere, knew the nature of the immune response.
Maybe the immune response of Covid-19 would be transient and partial like that of the four other cold-causing common coronaviruses (hence why we keep on getting colds)? Or maybe it would be more akin to its deadlier cousins, the two coronaviruses that cause SARS and MERS, where the immune response – which is still not well understood – can be up to 3 years for the former and 1 year for the latter.
But governments shouldn’t be basing policies on these huge, cavernous uncertainties. Herd immunity is something that would be achieved by vaccination, not by allowing millions of people to be exposed to such an unpredictably volatile and deadly virus as Covid-19. And that was the big deal for me – the hundreds of thousands of people dying, the shattered families and the potential break down of social order. Call me over-sensitive if you must, but that this policy was at one point being actively, or inactively, pursued by the British government is what was giving me the willies.
It still does. It ought to send shivers down your spine.
It’s widely believed that the government’s eventual u-turn didn’t come until Professor Neil Ferguson, of the Imperial College London (hardly a den of anti-Tory or radical thought), produced a model showing in detailed terms that the ‘herd immunity’ strategy would lead to 240,000 deaths and the collapse of the NHS.
The British health secretary Matt Hancock denied herd immunity was or ever had been a strategy of the government. In this endeavour of deceit, he was supplemented by a legion of journalistic and social media trolls who were caught between defending herd immunity and claiming anyone with reservations (including the world leading experts and medical officials of almost every other country on earth) were ‘nutcases’, ‘fear-mongers’ and ‘hysterics, and denying it ever existed as a policy or strategy.
But unfortunately, for them, their government’s own chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance was at the very same time saying the precise opposite.
Vallance was on radio laying bare the herd immunity strategy – let 60% of people across these islands get the disease and protect the vulnerable (people aged over 70 and people with a defined list of conditions.
Easy stuff, if not for the nuances of a of an unknown virus hitting a population with hugely divergent health needs – as we’re seeing in horrific detail, the hundreds of thousands of people dying from this virus include people who are more likely to have lifestyle illnesses associated with poverty. In our unequal often anti-egalitarian societies, this has clear racial and class connotations, as can be seen in the horrific imbalance of deaths among poorer African Americans in the US and people of colour in the UK. None of this was even considered. It still isn’t being considered, but more on that later.
Indeed, in the days that followed, it turned out that Dominic Cummings, chief aide to Boris Johnson, had said that the government strategy was “herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”.
This is a man who names his children after Anglo-Saxon kings and employs open eugenicists to be part of his British government-paid for team. He’s the English Bannon, roughly speaking. To put it delicately, Cummings is someone who should be nowhere near any government – a moon-howling fascist of a man, who if not for Brexit might find himself the warm up act to Nigel Farage at a some deranged anti-European proto-fascist rally in England.
Meanwhile, Graham Medley, another government adviser and expert in infectious disease modelling, was babbling about ‘ideally’ putting ‘all the more vulnerable people into the north of Scotland’ and ‘having a nice big epidemic in Kent’ – no, I don’t know either.
Now, as promised, the contrast.
With the controversy of ‘herd immunity’ going global and, quite rightfully, alarming citizens of other countries afflicted by this pandemic, the centre-left prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, taking into account everything her own scientific advisers had told her, had the following to say about it:
“There were some countries who initially talked about herd immunity as strategy. In New Zealand we never ever considered that as a possibility, ever.
Herd immunity would’ve meant tens of thousands of New Zealanders dying and I simply would not tolerate that and I don’t think any New Zealander would.”
That sounds like the kind of fighting talk that anyone would want to hear when faced with the genuinely unprecedented uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it wasn’t just words. Ardern, who is a new breed of progressive centrist (similar, in fact, to the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon, but who luckily presides over a country unchained from the British chancellery), immediately understood that New Zealand’s health system, which was not in great shape due to the austerity of past administrations, would not cope with a severe epidemic (sound familiar?). So the NZ response was based around containment and never letting it get to the people in such a wild and uncontained manner. To put it another way, she practiced actual containment. Not pretend containment like the British.
So NZ, much like South Korea, immediately imposed quarantines at airports from virally ‘hot’ countries and areas. As the situation in the world deteriorated, NZ imposed a total travel ban on entry to the island. In conjunction with this, recognising that the disease would already be in the country, they began a system of extremely intensive testing, contact tracing and community surveillance – this system is collectively known as aggressive surveillance.
The results are there for all to see. And while you can’t take your finger off the pulse during a pandemic, thus far New Zealand has had 4 deaths. And that’s 4 too many for their government.
But the contrast is in the response. New Zealand didn’t pretend that they were powerless in the face of Covid-19 swarming the country, but rather fought very hard to remain a few steps ahead of the virus, never letting gain widespread rapid community transmission.
New Zealand has effectively beaten this wave of the infection, but has it just returned to normal? No, it continues to maintain strict quarantines for all new entries to the country, much like Korea, which through its ingenuity, can forego quarantines by simply testing everyone who enters the country.
This is containment. This is fighting the virus. This is putting human beings before the economy.
So what of the UK lockdown? Did it really constitute a u-turn on the part of the British government? Had they really come to see the error of their ways regarding the herd immunity strategy? Did they now understand that the best way you fight this virus is by demobilising your economy, keeping people on enforced lockdowns and testing the living fuck out of your population?
The short answer is: it doesn’t seem at all likely.
Though an entire article on its own could be written about the UK’s pathetic testing efforts, their complete blasé attitude, peppered with deceit and propaganda, regarding testing is symptomatic of what the lockdown is really all about.
I do believe that the British government realised that their initial strategy of letting everyone, save some shielded people, get the virus would lead to the collapse of the NHS. And I do believe that stopping this is what lies behind the Damascene conversion of Johnson from a laissez faire lunatic telling you to go to work as normal, but be prepared to die or kiss goodbye to your loved ones, to someone who, until he himself got the virus, was standing in front of the podiums with the official British Covid-19 slogan of STAY AT HOME. PROTECT THE NHS. SAVE LIVES. emblazoned on them.
But, unlike Italy, which was the worst hit country in Europe and the World, the UK hasn’t matched lockdown measures with a massive increase in testing – the testing necessary to implement community surveillance, the kind of testing necessary to understand in great detail the contractions and leaps within the epidemic. Nor has it even cut off or provided extra surveillance at external sources of continuous transmissions and infections – i.e. airports.
For example, the Italian government can now say with certainty that the disease is flattening out and the peak, which hit just over a week ago, has continued to flatten in a downward trend. They can say this because they now conduct 17,315 tests per 1,000,000 of their population, even more than testing behemoth that is Germany.
In contrast, the UK only carries out 5,416 tests per 1,000,000 of the population. Though this is better than nothing, compared to Italy, the British government have only a tiny snapshot into the way the epidemic is going. But, and this is the point that gives me genuine anguish, the testing system in the UK isn’t even being upscaled in a manner that they ever want to get to the kind of capacity where community surveillance would be achievable.
To put it another way: if you take seriously the reports that the UK government is looking to lift the lockdown in the next 3-6 weeks, they are going to be lifting the lockdown without any of the necessary resources we need to even begin lifting a lockdown.
Forget even the fact that it seems unlikely that the ‘curve’ will be sufficiently flattened in the UK in 3-6 weeks to warrant a lifting, even partially, of the lockdown, to lift a lockdown you have to have the testing capacity capable of ensuring the virus, however and wherever it may rear its head again, can be controlled.
So far, quelle surprise, the British government’s procuring of testing has been about hoarding millions of antibody tests that have one singular aim – despite saying they would first be rolled out to front line workers, the real target market is you and I. The real target market is workers, so the UK can ‘get back to work’. Again, given no reliable antibody test has yet been found for Covid-19, this strategy reeks of a government that is desperately stranded between extreme ignorance and an ideological obsession with finding ways to bypass or coexist with the virus and get the economy mobilised again.
As has become apparent with almost every element of post-Brexit Britain, ideology is often mixed so destructively with pure incompetence – after the British health secretary boasted about the effectiveness of the antibody tests, with Boris Johnson even chiming in and calling the tests a ‘game changer’, they turned out to be duds. The tests are useless, but they would’ve been useless regardless of their functionality – given no one, let alone the useless UK, knows the nature of the immune response to Covid-19, antibody testing that would ‘clear’ people to go back to work would still be putting people at risk. Again, what if the immune response is only partial and transient? That’s why Germany’s ‘immunity passport’ idea is supplemented by billions of euros in research regarding the immune response and is a measure that could be used, only after they have sufficiently contained their much milder epidemic.
Days before it became clear the antibody tests were useless, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the then Chief Medical Officer of Scotland Catherine Calderwood could barely hide their disdain when the antibody tests were brought up by the media.
The British had heard of the German plan and, as what amounts to a bunch of marketing types and failed PR men, came up with entirely hollow talk of ‘immunity bracelets’ based on what they then believed was the ‘game-changing’ antibody tests. After it was quietly announced the millions of tests they’d hoarded were useless rubbish, the ‘immunity bracelet’ idea was never mentioned again. This is not comical. These are the people allegedly tasked defending almost 70 million people from an unprecedented global pandemic. Though the whole escapade might be put down to incompetence, its very inception once again more than hints at the dominant ideology at play – the economy comes first.
But it’s not just about testing – it’s also about organisation and the will to fight.
The UK’s has whinged about not being able to source tests or the chemicals necessary for manufacturing the tests. But when Covid-19 was first emerging on the global stage as a pathogen with pandemic potential (way back in January), the UK could’ve been stockpiling these things or working out super-efficient and detailed testing regiments (both of which Germany and many other large countries did, including increased capacity of domestic manufacturing of the tests), but it didn’t.
Nor, on a grim side note, did it bother bolstering the English NHS, which has suffered decades of byzantine corporatisation from Labour and Tory governments, negatively restructuring it towards market values and privatisation, as well as a solid decade of real term austerity cuts. This has meant the loss of many frontline workers, wards and resources.
One of the strangest things about this for me is the slogan ‘Protect the NHS’ – of course we realise that doctors, nurses and all frontline healthcare workers are precious and must be protected in this fight, but that is not up to us. We fund the NHS through taxation precisely so they can protect us when we need them most.
But in the warped reality of Tory Britain, now we have to protect the NHS due to the fact that the Tories, helped along with processes of corporatisation implemented by New Labour, have decimated the NHS in England. Yes, we should’ve protect the NHS – from political forces like the Conservative Party.
Of course one understands that one must act according to reality and not according to what we want reality to be, so we have no option but to accept that we must take the NHS as the over-stretched, fragmented mess that our political class have made it. Nobody can undo the damage done to the English NHS overnight, but the fact our health service has to be protected from, erm, ill people gives more than a glimpse into the tragic irony at play across austerity-ravaged Britain.
Though healthcare is a devolved issue in the UK, this has not saved the Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish NHS’ – though we can avert austerity, cuts to our allocated budget by the British government mean we can only ever go so far. If we bolster one service, we must cut another. Those are the rules of the British Union.
None of these known deficiencies were even remotely addressed in the long time period when other countries were preparing for the worst. When it came to ventilators, the best Boris Johnson could do is ‘ask’ industries to repurpose production lines to make ventilators – the results so far have been dismal, with not a single one of these British-produced ventilators yet meeting regulatory approval. Germany has donated 60, while the British government pleads to US president Donald Trump for 200, while China has allegedly given 300 ventilators.
In Scotland, we’ve only managed to meet ventilator requirements by procuring them ourselves and by repurposing 200 anaesthetic machines.
If not for hundreds of thousands of PPE donated by Turkey, those on the frontlines would be even more exposed than they already are.
But there are other things the UK could be doing, if it truly wanted to fight this virus.
Other countries, including Korea (tests 10,038 tests per 1 million), Republic of Ireland (14,581 tests per 1 million) and New Zealand (13,029 tests per 1 million), have begun recruiting volunteer armies to essentially track down cases of Covid-19 manually. The volunteers identify symptoms and then log the name of the patient into a system (apps are being developed and used) and they are quarantined for the necessary amount of time. This is the level of surveillance society needs to ensure that the virus is cut off from its fuel supply – us.
But what happens if the British government doesn’t want the virus cut off from its fuel supply? What if the lockdown wasn’t actually a u-turn from the hear immunity strategy, but rather a means to ensure that the strategy could be staggered and incremental? What if they really do want all of us, save a few people deemed sufficient frail enough to be ‘shielded’, to catch the disease in the still entirely abstract hope that it makes us all immune to it?
What if they understand the nuances of Covid-19 mortality, that the health of different populations depending on geography, class and race is not homogenous, but simply are willing to let the death levels we’re seeing occur in some half-arsed idea of ‘staggering’ the epidemic towards herd immunity?
They allowed millions to become infected before implementing the lockdown, so what if the plan is to lift the lockdown at the first sign of flattening, without any of hint of attempting containment and surveillance, allowing more people to become infected, hoping that the amount of critical cases never exceeds the capacity of the NHS? They might think the virus can be controlled in this way, but everything we know about Covid-19 tells us that it will ravage any population that is exposed to it.
The British government might think that they can ‘stagger’ the deaths and critical cases, and even if this was true, does it really matter if tens of thousands more people die needlessly staggered or all at once? Some of the media have reported with surprise that, as one example, only 19 patients are currently using the NHS Nightingale hospital, set up as the first of many ‘temporary hospitals’ set up across England to deal with Covid-19 cases. But most hospitals in England have boosted their ICU capacities and have thus far mostly not breached their capacity.
What if these Nightingale hospitals aren’t meant for now? What if they’re in place for when the UK government lifts the lockdown, exposing many more to the virus, and thus ensuring that critical care capacity is at the necessary levels to allow the NHS to function, the infection to hit most of the population (thus creating the advertised ‘herd immunity’) and the economy to mobilise?
They might have one eye on countries like Denmark, who have lifted their lockdowns, allowing schools to reopen and people to get back to work, with only an unenforced understanding that people voluntarily take part in social distancing and hygiene procedures.
The difference is that Denmark’s epidemic was mild compared to ours, while they have a population smaller than Scotland. They also have tested far more people and thus have a better understanding of how the virus is behaving and where it is (Denmark tests 12,448 people per 1,000,000). Even they, with their superior containment infrastructure, compared their strategy to ‘waking a tightrope’.
They might even push the example of Wuhan on us, but life is far from normal in Wuhan. Most business remain closed, while the testing regime for entering and exiting the city is not something the UK could or would ever even try to replicate. Italy and Spain, who are much further on in their flattening and have better testing, have allowed some people back to work, but only a tiny fraction of the work force – the lockdown in those countries will continue until the epidemic moves from ‘flattening’ into reversal. But again, Italy has a testing capacity that the UK isn’t even trying to reach.
Whatever the motivations, the UK would be lifting its lockdown with a blindfold on.
Attempting to even understand ‘motive’ might be a fool’s errand when it comes to the behaviour of this British government. This is, lest we forget, Generation Brexit we’re dealing with. Brexit was of course one of the grandest displays of self-destruction in political history. Every single ‘motive’ behind Brexit is bereft of reason, but all of them are interconnected by the terrifying factor of decay. The UK, once stripped of the grandeur it acquired through the mass criminal enterprise that was the British Empire, is just a rock in the North Sea. It has no God-given right to ‘rule the waves’, as goes that particularly vicious and now comical British nationalist ditty.
It’s ironic that in the post-war era, when the UK was stripped of all its colonial possessions, it acquired the nickname of the ‘sick man of Europe’. It responded to this status by reaffirming itself as a world leader in making money out of money. The City of London became the centre of the most powerful financial empire on earth, but the expense of this was generations of industry and manufacturing, deemed to be of no short-term use in financial terms – all sacrificed so Margaret Thatcher could build up the UK as a trend-setter as the joint partner, along with Ronald Reagan, of the Anglo-American model.
The problem is that making money out of money is not only dangerous, as the 2008 financial crash made apparent, but it leads to a superficiality of creativity that places consumerism at the heart of everything. Everything is for the market. Consumerism is confused for progress – before you know it, the entire culture of your politics and vast swathes of your society are living in bubbles. When the bubble bursts, the people who build such bubbles only know one method. Every generation is just new skin for the old ceremony, with old orthodoxies being applied to every possible situation. The old Keynesian line about ‘when the information changes, you alter your conclusions’ has actually been appropriated by ‘neoliberal’ drones and used to uphold orthodoxies, even when such orthodoxies are damaging in the long-term.
But what is damaging to you and I is not always damaging to those who rule over us.
And, as with the 2008 crash and the bursting of bubbles, when things go wrong for the market, it’s society that must pay. Everything thus becomes expendable – jobs, benefits, hospitals, nurses and entire industries – as long as the narrow interests of finance capital are served.
Given the fact that the Tory government did nothing, allowing millions of people to use Covid-19 saturated public transport and go to concerts and other large public gatherings as the virus was swarming, we can now easily add ‘lives’ onto the expendable list. Beyond any of my predictions of UK policy going forward, this initial period of ‘do nothing-ism’ is a crime and those who participated in that crime must be held to account when all this is over.
Germany is of course also a major player in finance capital, but, unlike the UK, it not only maintained its industries, but pioneered them; hence why German cars can be found in every corner of the globe. Hence why its pharmaceutical companies and medical manufacturers are among the biggest and best in the world. Germany of course has an economy wired into the world of finance capital, but not to the extent that everything must be sacrificed for the benefit of the market. Hence why its medical system dwarves the austere and over-stretched NHS. Hence why it never even remotely had a problem with ventilator shortages. Hence why PPE has never been a problem for this manufacturing giant.
You can see where I’m going with this …
But perhaps in Brexit, intertwined with longstanding internal chauvinisms and ingrained racist narratives, among the decay of the shrinking, grim Austerian Empire that is the UK, the English people could only find solace by turning its superiors on the continent into fairy tale monsters that restrict their illusory former brilliance. Who needs the mundane reality of modern British life, where there are more foodbanks than McDonalds outlets, where people now called ‘key workers’ have been left to struggle to survive on minimum wage and zero hours contracts, when you can read conspiracies about European elites, Soros-funded organisations and the liberal establishment all collaborating against proud Britannia?
The most dangerous kind of fool is a deluded fool.
The Guardian today published an interesting article confirming not just that ‘targeted herd immunity’ was a policy employed by the British government, but it very well could still be. As I say, it’s impossible for experts, never mind me, to understand how the UK government could pursue this plan when the immunity response is unknown and when we know just how deadly Covid-19 is beyond those we perceive as ‘vulnerable’.
In the coming days and weeks, you can expect to hear a lot from government sources about how the lockdown is actually worse than the impact of the virus. This is a monstrous lie. On Good Friday, the Telegraph reported how ‘senior Conservatives’ were ‘warning of ‘the greater human consequences’ of an ‘economic downturn’ which could ‘result in high numbers of deaths’.
This is arrant bullshit. It’s designed to recast the lockdown as the problem, with Covid-19 seen as an inconvenience worth bearing due to the economic consequences. The panic that has prompted this is a forecast that the GDP of the UK will fall by more than 14% – 35% in the next quarter. The Daily Mail has called this an ‘apocalypse’, which can only be averted by lifting the lockdown.
A deadly virus engulfing the country couldn’t get the Tories out of their seats for three months before it arrived, but as soon as you start talking about GDP falling, you can expect a flurry of activity.
What I imagine over the next 3-6 weeks is the British government to talk a lot about how the poverty caused by the lockdown is more destructive than the virus – this is the same Tory government that has overseen an exponential rise in poverty and, with wicked irony, all the implications in health that accompanies poverty.
The idea that these people, including Ian Duncan Smith (a hardcore economy-firster on the Covid-19), the pathological liar and psychopathic implementor of the Tories’ worst poverty-causing benefit cuts, care about poverty is risible. Indeed, perhaps as grim foretelling of the impact Covid-19 would have on the UK, it was under Tory austerity, where living standards dropped and prices rose, where poverty came back in a way that threatened Victorian dimensions in certain places, biology moved with it. Diseases that we thought belonged to another era, such as typhoid, whooping cough, rickets and scarlet fever all made a return to the cramped flats and decrepit tower blocks of working class Britain.
Expect to hear from the right-wing media (or ‘the media’, as it’s otherwise known) tales of economic destruction – mass unemployment, plummeting GDP, massive contractions in the market. The worst recession for 300 years. These things are not invented, but they will be, as they already have been, emphasised above lives. This is a state that has already sacrificed many lives before, so why wouldn’t it do so again, especially if thought it could do so in a controlled way? Every single word of the kind of propaganda that talks about lifting the lockdown blind goes towards the economy-first calculation that x amount of lives are expendable in the face of economic distress.
They only care about their economy. From the first minute Boris Johnson understood that Covid-19 was coming to the UK and was going to infect lots of people, the economy has always come first.
Though his adoption of a lockdown prompted hope of a fight, every single bit of evidence points to the lockdown being part of what can only be described as a protracted, organised surrender to the virus.
The consequences of this surrender could be horrific. Horror is already unfolding every night across the UK, from Lands End to John o Groats. In the dark of the night, though the lockdown has made our towns and cities eerily silent, you can’t help but think about the hundreds of people across the country gasping their last gasp. You can’t help but think of the families as it’s explained to them that a loved one must die alone.
You can’t help but feel, selfishly, about the fate of you and your own families.
And that is why I genuinely hope every single word I have written here is wrong. I hope the British government will, for the first time, prove me wrong. Things like NHSX are moving in the right direction, but as with the antibody tests and the domestic drive for ventilators, it seems more like PR than a solid policy, especially when it isn’t backed up with solid contact tracing (testing, volunteers etc.).
And though this might be a tangent for English readers, those of us in Scotland must not think our devolved government is a safety net. Nicola Sturgeon today said that she will decide when the lockdown in Scotland is lifted and that it will only be lifted on the basis of epidemiological data demonstrating that it can be and with the benefit of the Scottish people foremost in any such decision.
But we must not kid ourselves. If London decides to lift the lockdown in England, how long can Scotland hold out? To even achieve this lockdown in Scotland, we, as a country without fiscal autonomy, had to rely on money provided by the British chancellery. We’ve already seen, such as with the British government centralising testing and prioritising England for PPE, that the more desperate England gets, the more it will negatively impact Scotland.
To extend and maintain a lockdown the reliance would thus be the same – on zealously British nationalist government that has already demonstrated open contempt for Scottish self-determination and our elected government.
That’s why my closing appeal is one for everyone who lives across these islands: If the British government, as I suspect, attempt to lift this lockdown early, we must simply not comply. We’ve already caught a glimpse of this, as many people across the UK became aghast at the herd immunity plan and began working from home, calling in sick and taking their children out of schools.
We must say that we will not go to our jobs and play our part as mere expendable batteries in a system that often takes much more from us than it gives at the best of times.
We must say that we will not meekly submit to plans hatched by stone-faced accounts-cum-politicians, who, from the moment they passed through the gates of their private schools, have been taught that the economy and not the people are the guiding force of society.
We must say that this unprecedented moment in world history calls on both them and us to re-evaluate how we relate to one another and how our own personal health and that of our loved ones is a fundamental part of our autonomy, the protection of which means employing every resource that we have at our disposal, as well as reaching out beyond our borders into the big wide world for help.
If the British government are acting against our collective interests, we must protect ourselves. The tragic theme of this entire sorry episode is the dawning realisation that we have to protect everything that we value from the British government – as previously mentioned, despite it being presented positively, this is the dynamic behind the slogan PROTECT THE NHS.
Jacinda Ardern and Angela Merkel promised protection for the people, they didn’t ask Kiwis or Germans to protect institutions due to their own destruction of those institutions.
We must place the onus on the government: they believe that the economy cannot be restructured to protect our health and wellbeing, but we must demand that our health and well being is what drives the restructuring of the economy.
These were the dynamics that led to the foundation of the welfare state. A concession by the state forced by the demands of the people it serves. We must again assert ourselves and these principles in the face of this unprecedented threat to us all. These principles must be bolstered and expanded in new pioneering ways – not surrendered to inflexible and, almost certainly, self-defeating economic orthodoxies that, I add with no glee, were brought to their knees in a matter of weeks by this sub-microscopic non-lifeform.
This entire reconsideration of the nature of our societies is not some ideological fancy that we can consider abstractly, but is a necessity that has been forced upon us. It is our choices that will shape our salvation or our demise.
If the UK doesn’t do this, and it seems unlikely that the same national electorate that delivered Brexit and the current hard right Tory government are even capable of contemplating the stakes, the end result could be a disaster of biblical proportions. The British state might find a point of no return the type of which none of us wanted to see.