Socialist Alternative

Thousands leave Labour: We need a political voice for the working class & young people

Membership figures for the Labour Party haven’t been released since January 2020, but anecdotally it seems that people are flooding out. Firstly, when Keir Starmer was elected leader, many left and contacted groups like Socialist Alternative about joining a ‘real socialist’ organisation. Since then, there have been instances of waves of people leaving, such as after the leaked report showing the sabotage of the 2019 election by Labour Party officials, and more recently after the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey as Education Secretary.

Long-Bailey’s sacking happened on the flimsy basis of her having shared an interview with anti-cuts activist and actor Maxine Peake which correctly claimed that Israeli state forces were responsible for training US police in many of the brutal methods used against black people and BLM protesters today. By making criticisms of the actions of the Israeli state, Starmer decided, Peake automatically became an anti-semite and, by association, so did anybody who shared the article that nonetheless overwhelmingly focused on issues aside from Israel-Palestine. It’s clear that her original appointment to the shadow cabinet was a sop to the left and Starmer has acted at the first opportunity to remove her.

Whilst this was predictable, it was not inevitable. Socialist Alternative argued at the time that Starmer’s election represented a shift to the right in the Labour Party. It is the conclusion of ‘Project Anaconda’, coined by former deputy leader Tom Watson, who attempted to ‘strangle’ Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party. We warned that the right wing would not be as forgiving as the left had been for the last 5 years, and would not offer the olive branch of ‘unity’, but instead would work to push the left out of any meaningful position within the party – unless the left fought back.

Right wing tightening its grip

Unfortunately, the mistakes of the organised left within the Labour Party during the Corbyn era have been repeated under Starmer’s leadership. The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated both the victory of the right and the demise of the left. The NEC just voted on a constitutional change, which should happen at conference, to the election system for the NEC, which will make it harder for the left to win seats. At the same time, ‘Labour to Win’ has been launched out of a merger of the two Blairite trends ‘Labour First’ and ‘Progress’.

This move to the right will continue, under the pressure from the capitalist class for the Labour Party to once again become a safe pair of hands for their system. Meanwhile, the struggle is taking place on the streets and in workplaces, not inside the Labour Party. Protests, strikes and the anger of the working class and young people are only going to grow. Starmer and Angela Rayner’s cringeworthy taking of the knee in an office, days after 50,000 protested in London and 25,000 in Manchester for Black Lives Matter – only for Starmer to later publicly and repeatedly criticize the movement – sums it up. The Labour Party is absent as a visible or organised presence from protests and absent in the workplaces where workers have been organising to implement workplace lockdowns and winning safety equipment and sick pay.

The trade union leaders, some of whom supported Starmer in the leadership election, have also been, in the main, absent from these struggles. However, they will not be able to prevent the discussions rumbling throughout the trade unions about the labour movement’s political strategy now. Prior to Corbyn’s election, motions for disaffiliation from the Labour Party were a regular occurrence at trade union conferences. This may begin to return in the coming period and potentially on a higher level, given the speed at which the right have regained control of the Labour Party and the massive crisis facing working class people as a result of the Covid-triggered economic crisis.

There are some individual left MPs and councillors who have spoken out in support of the Black Lives Matter protests, but this is not enough! At a national level, the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs has had almost no impact since Starmer was elected. Their approach has unfortunately been reminiscent of its approach before Starmer was elected – making the odd radical sounding tweet with little concrete action to back it up. What is their strategy for pushing forward opposition to the Tory government? How are they going to raise the left-wing policies popularised by Corbyn under the current leadership if, for instance, Long-Bailey’s response to her sacking simply was to say she would “continue to support the Labour Party in Parliament under Keir Starmer’s leadership”?

What direction is Labour moving?

The more important question to be answered is: what direction is the Labour Party moving in? In the view of Socialist Alternative, it is moving further away from being a vehicle of struggle and is now unlikely to be a useful tool for workers and young people fighting back in the era of Covid and a new economic Great Depression.

Many of the same leading figures who have refused to take the fight to the Blairites in the party since 2015 are now all making high profile calls for left activists to ‘stay and fight’. It is no surprise that thousands fail to be convinced. While there are countless good Left activists remaining in the party, there has been a consistent lack of leadership provided. The simple truth is that the response of Rebecca Long-Bailey and other Left MPs to the past week’s events gives no indication that any serious resistance to the party’s rightward direction will be organised from above.

Since the original Blairite counter-revolution in the Labour Party, it has been an uphill battle to reshape it into something that is unequivocally on our side. The period under Corbyn’s leadership saw an influx of enthusiastic and politicised people join the party, but the leadership failed to seize the opportunity to make fundamental changes. This potential was thrown away by the leadership around Corbyn, and of organisations such as Momentum, as they refused to take decisive action against the old Blairite guard. In recent elections for the leading body of Momentum, the wing representing the continuation of the failed approach of leader Jon Lansman suffered a defeat, being removed from power by the new ‘Forward Momentum’ faction. This is a welcome step and we will support any progressive moves taken by this new leadership to strengthen the left inside and outside Labour, but it remains to be seen whether Forward Momentum will be able to draw the appropriate conclusions from events of recent years.

Bringing in policies such as mandatory reselection and demanding that councils set no-cuts budgets could have helped to put the left in a position of great political strength. But they weren’t utilised, in the interests of so-called ‘unity’. We’ve commented previously on these mistakes and others here.

Now, on the basis of the left being weakened within the Labour Party, it is even harder to achieve change within the party. Left activists will also find it increasingly unviable to ask young people to join, or stay in a party where its leader says things like the calls of the BLM movement in the US to defund the police are ‘nonsense’ whilst praising the work of the Tory government on dealing with Covid-19!

The labour movement, including trade union activists, anti-racist campaigners and those fighting to defend the NHS, will need to organise urgent discussions on the need for a political voice for the working class. Socialist Alternative has called for, and helped to organise, Conferences of Resistance since the 2019 general election. These types of conferences, organised in a democratic way at a local level, can meet to discuss the political demands necessary and organise to fight for them. Meetings such as these could be organised on a regular basis to help coordinate the various campaigns and develop a stronger political programme over time.

A political voice for workers and youth will have to be rooted in the struggle taking place on the streets and in the workplaces. It will need to unapologetically fight for a pay rise, an end to zero-hours contracts and free education, as part of a socialist programme. It will need to actively be part of the climate strikes and the Black Lives Matter protests, and not just visiting picket lines, but part of building and mobilising for strikes to win. It will have to be a mass organisation, committed to mobilising the widest number of people in its ranks – not just around elections – but week-to-week in all of the important movements up and down the country. It’s clear that workers and young people, frustrated by mainstream politics, will not sit back and wait but many will be at the forefront of building a genuine opposition to the Tories and for real change.

Those choosing to remain in the Labour party must now draw firm conclusions – the path of conciliation, retreats and silence in the name of “unity” can only lead to the “unity” of the graveyard. Only a combative, organised and determined fight for a really democratic and socialist party, free from Blairite saboteurs, can meet the needs of the stormy period opening up in Britain and internationally.

Socialist Alternative pledges to be part of any real attempt to build such an organisation of struggle, bringing to the table our experience as activists and trade unionists, our commitment to socialist politics and revolutionary change and our determination to win the world for the working class and the oppressed.

Further reading: What makes a workers’ party?

British capitalism in crisis – we need a socialist alternative

After the crash on the stock markets on 9th March, where £125 billion was wiped off the FTSE 100, the economic situation has continued to get worse. As the lockdown has been brought into place, with many non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and more closing down, it has meant that the economy has stalled. There has been the worst monthly decline in economic activity on record.

The predictions of the impact of Coronavirus on the economy have gone from bad to worse over the last week, from one that GDP would fall by 5% this year, to another saying 15%. In terms of production, economists at JPMorgan expect that there will be a 2% drop in quarter 1 of 2020 and 8% in quarter 2. Retail sales (excluding food) could collapse by 80%, according to Pantheon Macroeconomics group. Other household consumption is thought to also be decimated by up to 32%, according to Oxford economics. All of this points to a big slump in the British economy, even worse than the 2008 recession.

As a result of the closures, there has also been the devastating number of job losses – one study by YouGov predicted that 5% of the population has lost their job as a result of Coronavirus! There were a shocking 477,000 applications for Universal Credit in 9 days (compared to 55,000 in a normal week) as people were laid off en masse. Not only will this cause human misery, it will also impact the economy. There will be the increase in money being paid out by the government but also a decrease in the numbers of people paying tax, along with less money in their pockets to spend.

Already, high street shops are refusing to pay rent. Intu, which owns a number of shopping centres, announced that it only received 29% of the rent due to it for the first quarter of 2020. A luxury not afforded to working class people struggling with their rent!

Weakness of British economy

Whilst the Coronavirus pandemic has clearly had an impact on the economy, it has also exposed the major frailties and contradictions that already existed – both in the world economy and in Britain specifically. Britain, along with the rest of the world, was heading for an economic crisis in any case, with a huge number of possible triggers.

The period since the 2008/9 recession was not one of genuine recovery in the economy. The increase in wealth – which only went to the rich and then was only reinvested into speculation – was built on the basis of the unprecedented availability of ‘cheap money’ and massive injections of liquidity, fuelling new levels of debt and bubbles in the economy. The bailouts for the banks and big companies – totalling £995bn over a few years – as well as Quantitative Easing (QE) didn’t actually deal with the problems that led to that crisis. In fact, coupled with harsh austerity and low wages for the working class and poor, it served to store up the same problems, but on a bigger scale.

Before the pandemic, there were already structural problems with the British economy. The move away from manufacturing, which is less than 10% of GDP and mostly operated by foreign companies, and the shift towards the finance and service sector since the 1980s contributed to these problems. Britain’s GDP was only predicted to grow by 1% this year, household debt stood at £210bn (the highest in history) and productivity was essentially flatlining.

A repeat of 2008?

There are a number of differences between now and 2008 which mean that the capitalist class won’t be able to simply resort to the same measures to ease the impact of the recession, meaning that it is likely to be much deeper and last for longer.

Firstly, there is the issue of the depleted tool-kit at the hands of the governments, banks and finance institutions to deal with financial collapse. Interest rates have dropped to a historic low of 0.1%. UK government debt is already 80% of GDP. Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget just a few weeks ago – hailed as a break with austerity – meant an increase in government borrowing to around 2.4% of GDP. With the additional measures announced to combat the effects of Coronavirus, plus the recession, government borrowing could be hiked to 9% of GDP, the highest in the last 10 years.

Secondly, the united international approach, led by US President Barack Obama, of coordinating bailouts of banks and loans to various governments is unlikely to be repeated. With Donald Trump provoking division around the world, but particularly with China in the trade war, and increase in protectionist measures, meaning the partial reverse of globalisation, it proves much harder for a coordinated global response to stave off economic collapse. There will be further division and clashes as each country attempts to protect their ‘own’ national companies and banks.

Thirdly, as well as the Coronavirus crisis being the trigger for a previously-anticipated recession, it also has its own profound economic effects. The recession will be much sharper as a result of the sudden shock to the markets and sudden collapse in consumer spending, due to shops closing, people losing their jobs and staying inside. It’s unclear how many businesses will be able to reopen after the fears around the virus pass and it’s likely to have a long-term effect on the high street, manufacturing and other sectors.

Also, there is the massive amount of money that the British government is injecting into the economy in order to subsidise big business paying wages, provide emergency funds to the NHS and will have to pay out to hundreds of thousands of workers being laid off in benefit payments. A big spike in government borrowing and therefore debt will only add fuel to the fire.

These perspectives mean that, similar to the last ten years, but on a bigger scale, the working class will be forced to pay – unless we fight-back and change the system. The package aimed at helping businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic equates to £330bn in government-backed loans. This means that money will be given to companies and, if they cannot pay it back because they go bust, it will be the state funds that suffer. This means that government deficits will be much higher than they were after 2008/09 and they will turn to wholesale cuts and privatisation of public services. Companies are likely to be struggling, and after an increase in unemployment, will not be creating new jobs. Unemployment benefits, already meagre, will be slashed further.

What’s more, monetary policy has been shown to be increasingly ineffectual at staving off the downturn. Already the US Federal Reserve injected $1.5tr into the bond markets and it had little impact. Some, like Mario Draghi, former president of the European Central Bank, are calling for drastic increases in overdrafts and credit facilities for individuals in order to keep the economy going and zero interest loans to companies to save jobs (albeit with these to be backed by the government), but even this will not be able to stop the recession.

Workers’ struggle needed

The shock of how quickly things are changing and the impact of the recession may initially have a stunning effect on the majority of the working class. In the immediate term, the lockdown means that protests such as the climate strikes will not be happening. There is a strong feeling of solidarity among workers, and a correct sense ordinary people need to work together to battle against this virus. At this stage, among a layer of workers this feeling is also linked to some support for the measures taken so far by the government, including those which might be used in the future against the workers’ movement. But it is also true that a striking feature of the last couple of weeks has been how many concessions have been won by workers which to many would have seemed unthinkable just over a month ago – such as free hospital car parking and full sick pay in many local councils.

As both the economic and public health crisis deepen, it’s clear that anger at the government’s many dramatic failures will grow, as will opposition to any measures which restrict the ability of workers to organise and demand what’s needed – both in terms of the response to the virus and help for the NHS, and in terms of jobs, wages and living standards.

However, there is already serious anger at government inaction, the conditions that health and other workers are being forced to work in and the lack of financial support for those out of work. This anger will only grow as the economic effects become clearer to people. This cannot be another recession in which working class people are forced to pay the price.

Whilst the government will attempt to spin the story again that “we’re all in this together” and that the Coronavirus was something beyond anyone’s control, this is far from the truth. The impact of decades of privatisation and austerity – government enforced planned poverty – mean that the NHS, for example, is completely under-equipped to deal with this crisis. The slow response to testing and people being able to work from home has allowed the disease to spread. And it is the inherent contradictions of the capitalist system – of shorter, shallower booms and increasingly devastating busts – that meant that the economy was already tinkering on the edge.

As well as anger with the situation that hundreds of thousands of people will find themselves in in the coming weeks and months, this experience will also be a further nail in the coffin of capitalism being seen as a legitimate system. The need for socialist measures – of proper funding, nationalisation and democratic workers’ control over the running of society – have never been clearer. Now is the time for us to prepare and build for huge movements which will develop against attempts to make workers and young people pay yet again for the mistakes of the capitalist class. These movements will need to go beyond trying to fight the worse effects of capitalism and instead fight to replace it with a socialist society on a global scale.

Who is Keir Starmer?

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour MP for Holborn & St Pancras and Shadow Brexit Secretary, is standing to be the next leader of the Labour Party. Prior to being elected in 2015, he worked as a barrister, was the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) from 2008-2013, appointed to the Queen’s Counsel (QC) in 2002, knighted in 2014 and became part of the Privy Councillor in 2017. Already this shows his links to the establishment and whose interests he is likely to represent.

Despite being named after Keir Hardie, socialist and first Labour Party MP, Starmer went to a fee-paying grammar school and is now a multi-millionaire. As a barrister, it’s true that he did a lot of pro bono work, including campaigning against the death penalty internationally and working on the ‘McLibel’ case. However, as DPP for the CPS, he was responsible for the 2010 decision to not prosecute the police officer later found to be responsible for ‘unlawfully killing’ Ian Tomlinson (who died during the G20 protests in 2009). He oversaw the approach of quick and harsh sentences of young people involved in the 2011 riots and later defended the approach of “the speed [of processing cases] that I think may have played some small part in bringing the situation back under control.” He also argued for increased sentences to 10 years and a “tough stance” against so-called “benefits cheats”.

Starmer is ahead amongst Labour members in some opinion polls – perhaps reflecting that he attempts to appeal to both the left and the right within the party.His real politics, however, is very far from representing ‘continuity’ with Corbyn’s leadership. Starmer’s record, including backing the 2016 ‘chicken coup’, speaks to his real role in the last period – acting as part of the right-wing majority in the parliamentary Labour party and consistently seeking to undermine the leadership. In reality, he wants to take the party back to the right. But, is a so-called “return to the centre” really what the Labour Party needs?

Starmer’s role in the Labour Party

One survey by Opinium found that of 2017 Labour voters who defected to other parties in 2019, 37% did so because of ‘the leadership’ and 21% because of their stance on Brexit. And what was Starmer’s role in this?

It was primarily Starmer, backed by other Blairite figures such as Hilary Benn, who was the architect of Labour’s failed position on Brexit. He repeatedly undermined Corbyn’s position and as Shadow Brexit Secretary was given free reign to say what he liked. Notwithstanding criticisms that we can have of Corbyn, McDonnell and the left for allowing this to happen, it is completely hypocritical for Starmer to now blame Corbyn for losing the election because of Brexit!

It was absolutely the case that in order to win this election Labour needed to win both Leave and Remain voters to the Labour Party. This required taking an independent, pro-working-class approach, rejecting the pro-capitalist politics that dominated both the Remain and Leave campaigns during the referendum campaign. This would have required a principled opposition to the EU, using Corbyn’s demands for re-nationalisation as a way of exposing its neo-liberal character, and being more specific about what Corbyn would have tried to renegotiate and how he could deliver a Brexit in the interests of the working class . This approach, coupled with an internationalist position of actively linking up with workers across the continent, fighting to defend migrant workers and opposing racism along with opposing nationalism in any form (right or ‘left’), could have united Leave and Remain voters behind a socialist programme.

Instead, Corbyn’s position of remaining neutral and allowing the likes of Starmer to take the lead meant that Labour either came across as indecisive, satisfying neither the leavers who wanted an end to the Brexit impasse, nor the remainers who wanted to oppose a Tory Brexit.

Starmer consistently argued for a second referendum, including when Corbyn was arguing that the Labour Party would vote against Johnson’s withdrawal agreement bill, by saying that they would vote for it if a second referendum was guaranteed. Starmer pushed for Labour conference to adopt a Remain position and when it didn’t and Corbyn abided by the decision to “stay neutral” (itself a mistake), Starmer was openly critical of this position. It was he who constantly said in another referendum that Labour would campaign for Remain, including calling the Labour Party a “Remain Party”.

As was mentioned earlier, Starmer was also part of the attempted “chicken coup” against Corbyn in 2016, where he resigned as a shadow minister in “protest” and backed Owen Smith as leader. We should remind Corbyn supporters of what this coup represented – an attempt by the Blairites to remove left ideas from the leadership of the Labour Party and to drive out supporters of Corbyn at all levels of the party. This was just one event in a 4-year campaign to undermine Corbyn’s leadership at every opportunity, which in no small way contributed to the impression many voters had of Corbyn as being a “weak leader”. Any MP who was part of this process should be judged as not just in opposition to Corbyn as an individual but anti-austerity ideas in the Labour Party more generally.

His leadership campaign

Despite his left rhetoric, there are also clear signs that Starmer is drawing from the right. For example, the chair of his leadership election campaign is former Progress (a Blairite trend) vice-chair Jenny Chapman. At the same time, Starmer has employed Simon Fletcher, who ran Corbyn’s first leadership election, as strategic advisor.

By Starmer saying, “We have had far too much division. We want to come together, we have to end factionism”, what he actually means is an end to the Corbyn project and the attempt to shift the Labour Party back to the left. His aim, as he has stated, is to appeal to both Momentum as well as “people who might self-identify as Blairites”.

The right wing of Labour, now mainly united around Starmer as a candidate, aim to reverse the partial gains made in the Labour Party for the left. Unfortunately, some sections of the left will also draw the conclusion that Corbyn was too left-wing and the next leader needs to be more “moderate”. As the above mentioned Opinium poll, as well as most other opinion polls show, it was not the policies of Corbyn that were unpopular. Policies such as nationalisation have majority support in the public.

Starmer clearly recognises this and is attempting to present a left-wing face by saying the party shouldn’t “lurch to the right”. It is a mistake for ‘lefts’ such as Paul Mason to support him and there needs to be an organised battle within the Labour Party to stop this from becoming leader, because of what it will mean in terms of a move away from left policies.

The loss of Labour votes didn’t start with Corbyn and the 2019 election. Blair repelled millions of working class voters from the Labour Party and Corbyn was tasked with trying to win them back. As well as issues around Brexit, the role of Labour-run councils in carrying out cuts over the last 10 years has had an impact. There was a jarring between the anti-austerity message of Corbyn and the actions of Labour councils in many working class towns. It would not be possible for the Labour Party to be transformed into a party that struggles against austerity whilst the councils are implementing it. Not to mention that the overwhelming majority of Labour councillors are opposed to Corbyn’s leadership.

Blairism

CLP secretaries in the areas where Labour lost to the Tories in the last elections are said to be supporting Starmer. But they are mistaken if they think that he will be the answer to winning back votes from disillusioned working class voters in the North.

Starmer’s message is one of “unity” of the party, to not criticise Corbyn or Blair. However, even if we leave aside the cynicism of this approach, which is purely an attempt to gain votes from all sides, it also completely underestimates the civil war that has been taking place within the Labour Party. Other leadership candidates such as Rebecca Long-Bailey, as well as Corbyn himself, also made this mistake. It is not possible to sustain a “broad church”. This isn’t to say that there can’t be differences of opinion – in any workers’ organisation that will be the case – but it is not possible to combine the anti-austerity, pro-nationalisation and pro-worker message of ‘Corbynism’ with the diametrically opposed pro-austerity, anti-nationalisation and anti-worker record of Blairism.

For example, Starmer’s Brexit position is linked to support for the EU’s Single Market. This represents support for a race-to-the-bottom in wages and conditions across the EU, such as in the Posted Workers Directive, which allows companies to employ migrant workers based on the terms and conditions they would receive in their home countries, ignore existing trade union agreements and super-exploit migrant workers. This is reflected in his position that immigration is “too high” and needs to be reduced whilst at the same time arguing for “free movement of labour”. Socialists support free movement of people, including defending the right to asylum, but that is different to the free movement of labour which allows companies to move workers based on boosting profits. The Single Market also allows for privatisation of public services as part of “competition laws” – something completely at odds with the Labour manifesto demands of nationalisation.

It is for all these reasons that if Starmer is elected leader of the Labour Party, it will represent a set-back for the left and potentially a rapid move away from the anti-austerity message. We have commented elsewhere on the problems that the left candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey has, in terms of her policies and approach to the leadership campaign, as well as the problems she faces if she doesn’t tackle the Blairite wing of the Labour Party (https://www.socialistalternative.net/post/labour-leadership-race-mobilise-to-defend-socialist-policies). Despite these shortcomings we support her standing on a left programme.

In recent days Long-Bailey has taken the positive and correct step of declaring herself in support of Open Selection to increase the level of democracy in the Labour Party. Starmer has not committed to these basic democractic reforms, and as a representative of the Blairite wing of the Party should be fought against.

Covid-19: Who’s really to blame for the spread of the virus?

Today, Health Secretary Matt Hancock attacked those who continued to go outside as “very selfish”. He said it was the fault of people who were going to bars, clubs and restaurants last week, despite them being open, that they’ve been forced to close them. Meanwhile, Cumbria police tweeted “a national emergency is not an excuse for a holiday” to have a go at people visiting the Lake District over the weekend.

But most of those visiting parks and taking countryside walks this weekend will have thought they were following government guidelines – which had specifically said that outdoor walks and exercising were okay – so long as a two meter distance is maintained between people who don’t live together.

New, further reaching measures are expected to increase the “lockdown” in the next couple of days. Measures to limit and slow the spread of Coronavirus are clearly needed and people generally want good, scientific advice and guidance about what they should and should not do. However, the rhetoric coming from the government and in certain parts of the press over the weekend is aiming to put the blame on us as individuals and to let themselves off the hook. It should be remembered that it was Boris Johnson who, just over a week ago, was telling us to carry on as normal (aside from some extra hand washing), and explaining that his strategy was for enough of us to catch the virus to develop a so-called herd immunity. Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s chief advisor, is even alleged to have said “if some pensioners die, too bad”.

The government is also using this issue, and the huge desire for effective measures, to bring in unnecessary attacks on democratic rights, including some draconian measures, such as the police having the right to arrest and detain anyone they suspect of having Coronavirus, with these measures only being reviewed after six months.

The Tory government is preparing the ground to divert attention from their mishandling of this crisis, and decades of neoliberal policies which paved the way for it to be far more devastating than it needs to be. We oppose any attempts to scapegoat working class people, when it is the drive for profit that has been put before public health.

New guidance says that people should avoid travelling unless it is essential at the same time as pictures are on social media showing people cramming onto the tube in London. Is this because people just don’t care? No! Ordinary people have shown thousands of times over in this crisis that the vast majority want to do what they can to protect society and the vulnerable. But on the one hand, workers are told to keep their kids at home unless they are ‘key workers’; on the other, Pets at Home have written to their staff claiming that dog groomers are ‘key workers’ and should stay in work. It is big business that is responsible for most of those still being forced to travel to work – and by failing to confront these major capitalist companies seriously, the government is to blame too.

Other mixed messages have included the supposed strategy of ‘herd immunity’ against staying indoors, self-isolation against continuing to go outside for exercise. Most people are confused about what they should do for the best. Many have no choice but to go outside or go to work.

Obviously, we should all take some personal responsibility for the way in which we act in this crisis. But we should counter this attempt to already rewrite the history of how Coronavirus has spread so rapidly and why it can be fatal to so many. This is a crisis of the capitalist system, with lethal consequences for potentially millions of working class and poor people globally.

The virus itself appears to have been able to spread from animals to humans as a result of the profit-driven food production and distribution system, despite many other epidemics over the last couple of decades showing that poor standards in food, lack of planning and control and disruption to ecosystems are part of the problem.

Then, the slow response initially from the Chinese regime – which first responded by attempting to cover the crisis up and persecute health workers for blowing the whistle – and then from other governments internationally, allowed the virus to spread around the globe. Social care and health services, having been starved of resources for decades, are buckling under the pressure and struggling to treat people, let alone prevent the further spread of the virus. People will be dying in NHS hospitals because there are insufficient ventilators, beds and staff – not primarily because a minority of people didn’t follow social distancing guidelines strictly enough.

Instead of accusing ordinary people of not taking this seriously, the capitalist class should look at their own inaction. Their main concern is their profits and the impact on the economy, rather than people’s health. They aren’t even prepared to fund testing beyond the most severe hospitalised cases! There is lots of evidence suggesting that mass planned testing is far more effective than even the most stringent social distancing regulations.

Compare this to the explosion of solidarity in local communities. Support groups and networks have been set up to help elderly and vulnerable people who are unable to leave their houses. NHS workers are being given flowers in supermarkets and banners have appeared outside hospitals thanking them for the work they are doing. Many ‘key workers’ are putting their own health at risk in order to help others.

Most things point to people obeying the ‘rules’ from the government. Figures from Springboard, an agency which does high street customer profiling, found that last week 41% less people visited high street shops compared to this time last year. People are working at home when they can, unless their employer is forcing them to go in. The idea that individual actions are mainly to blame suits a capitalist establishment which would much prefer us to be divided and looking at each other rather than them. It can also have a big negative impact on our mental health, with predictions for depression, anxiety and paranoia to increase.

Not only has this crisis revealed that the capitalist system, after decades of neo-liberalism, is completely incapable of handling it – it is also laying bare its individualistic, competitive, dog-eat-dog nature. Whilst workers in the NHS are battling fires with not enough equipment and communities are coming together to look out for each other, government ministers are just pointing blame at “morons” (in the words of Piers Morgan) for going out to enjoy the sunshine over the weekend.

Leaders’ debate: “You are going to sell our NHS!” Vs “getting Brexit done.”

In case you missed the first leaders’ debate, Boris wants to get Brexit done. So much so that this was his answer to every single question! It doesn’t matter if his deal is worse than Theresa May’s, will open up the NHS to be sold off to US big pharma or will mean a border in the Irish Sea.

Many people will be frustrated that the debate around Brexit has gone on for so long and may have sympathy with the idea of “getting it done”. But that is not the only issue. The kind of Brexit deal that is agreed is important. People are also concerned about everything else – jobs, pay, the NHS.

It was therefore correct that Corbyn was able to keep dragging the debate back to the fundamentals – the increasing levels of inequality and how this has been caused by the “coalitions of chaos” over the last nine years. From his opening remarks, Corbyn attacked the Tory government for presiding over a massive increase in poverty whilst giving tax cuts to the rich. He promised in relation to the NHS to end the internal market, to fill the job vacancies and to end privatisation.

Despite being mocked by some in the audience and Johnson himself, Corbyn defended the idea of a shorter working week which would increase productivity and also be better for people’s health – “along with better pay”. This received a huge round of applause from the audience and will be supported by many workers across the country, along with Corbyn’s pledges for a £10 an hour living wage and an end to zero hours contracts. Corbyn was mostly able to hold his own on the issue of Brexit. His position during and since the referendum has been confused and confusing as he has attempted to face both ways.

However, the clear message he repeated throughout the debate of renegotiating a deal within 3 months, that will defend jobs and the NHS, and having a referendum within 6 months is a step forward. In our view, though, by promising to have a close relationship with the EU Single Market, Corbyn will not be able to achieve a deal that will be in the interests of the working class.

The audible groans from the audience every time Johnson mentioned “getting Brexit done” were probably repeated throughout the country. He cannot defend the legacy of Tory austerity and wants to avoid talking about his election promises, because he knows he will abandon them if he wins.

The defence of “the union” above everything else would have raised some concerns for some in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Johnson was attempting to hark back to the early days of the Tory party by claiming the the union was the most “successful political project of the last 300 years”. But those days are gone! The Tory Party has lost substantial support and its ever diminishing membership is ageing. It is a party in crisis.

It is a mistake for Corbyn to have ruled out a 2nd Scottish independence referendum in the”early years” of a Labour government. Labour will struggle to get votes in Scotland on this basis. However, Johnson is also at risk of losing seats in Scotland over his position on Brexit. Corbyn is still facing issues with the Blairites in his party, reflected in the questions about anti-semitsm, which is in fact being used to undermine him because of his anti-austerity policies, but he answered this well in the debate by making a firm stand against all forms of racism.

Johnson struggled on the questions about personal integrity, telling the truth and Prince Andrew whereas Corbyn was able to present himself as more genuine. Whilst both promised that “austerity is over”, the debate didn’t really allow time for more detail about what that means. Just a matter of seconds were given over to talk about climate change for example, but Corbyn was able to get in points about jobs as part of a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’.

Johnson accused Corbyn of wanting to overthrow capitalism and to “destroy wealth creation”. Corbyn was able to respond by saying it was wrong to have billionaires and and very poor people, that businesses and the rich should pay tax and that everyone should be entitled to free education.

The debate, only 50 minutes long, spent the first 30 minutes on Brexit. It ended with an absurd question about Christmas presents (which Johnson still managed to make about his Brexit deal), but overall Johnson came across as one dimensional whereas Corbyn’s message of voting for hope would have chimed with many working class people struggling in austerity Britain.

It remains to be seen whether this debate will affect the opinion polls, but it is clear that if Corbyn takes this message out to the people, organising mass rallies and protests, the situation can be turned around and we could see a Corbyn-led government on 12th December.

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