Socialist Alternative

Public Health England Axed as the Tories Attempt to Shift Blame Away from Private Sector Chaos

Two days ago the Sunday Telegraph announced that the Tories are planning to privatise Public Health England and merge it with SERCO and SITEL, deepening the private sectors involvement in the NHS. And today Matt Hancock has confirmed that this plan will go ahead. The Tories claim that PHE has failed the British public; the truth is that it is the private sector that is at fault.

A short timeline of SERCO’s bungling incompetence:

April 30: SERCO was awarded a £45.8 million contract to run the test and trace programme, despite a track record of appalling incompetence. Only months earlier, SERCO was fined £2.6 million for failures on an asylum-seeker accommodation contract between September 2019 and January 2020.

June 22:  Revealed that 90% of people contacted as possibly infected with Covid-19 were traced by local health protection teams rather than the national SERCO call centres and online service, despite SERCO leading the process.  

July 16-22: Figures collected between July 16 and 22 show that only around 50% of people from the same household as a person infected with Covid-19 were being contacted.

July 20: Revealed that SERCO is responsible for two major privacy breeches in the test and trace programme. The government admits to breaking the law in rolling out its test-and-trace programme without a full assessment of the privacy implications.

July 22: Revealed that operations at SERCO are subcontracted to 29 other companies – 85% (9,000 of a total of 10,500) of staff are not employed directly by SERCO. SERCO condemned for failing to learn the lessons of the collapse of construction giant Carillion in 2008. 

August: SERCO’s contract was set to run out on August 23. But despite their incompetence, a further £528 million has now been allocated to extend testing and tracing from that date. This money should be going to fund public health teams who already have the skills and knowledge needed to carry out test and trace operations.  

Why is this so important?

A report commissioned by Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, and carried out by the Academy of Medical Sciences was published on July 14, and advises the government that, without intervention, a realistic worse-case scenario could see an additional 120,000 Covid-19-related hospital deaths (excluding care homes) between September 2020 and June 2021.  

With a fully operational test and trace system this need not be the case, but the current situation should not fill us with confidence.

If the government, and their mates who run outsourcing operations, is unable to get a handle on test and trace now, what hope will they have later in the year when the number of people exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms, due to winter flus and colds, is predicted to rise from 100,000 to 360,000?

Socialist Alternative actively supports the demands for pay rises for NHS and care workers. But we also need to protect our NHS and care workers by putting in place a fully functioning test and trace programme.

We say:

  • Bring all test and trace services in house. No compensation for SERCO or SITEL
  • For an immediate public inquiry independent of government and composed of trade union representatives and health experts into the Tories’ mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Renationalise the NHS, under democratic control and ownership of workers. Don’t repeat the mistakes of the past by leaving representatives of capitalism in control. Kick out ALL the profiteers
  • Bring the pharmaceutical industry under public ownership to ensure an efficient and joined up response to producing a vaccine
  • Pay NHS and care workers what they deserve. For an immediate 15% pay rise as a step toward correcting the loss of pay over the last decade

Super-rich, big business and arms dealers flock to back Starmer’s Labour

Labour’s capitalist donors are beginning to return to the party again, according to the Guardian.

In a sign of Keir Starmer’s ongoing successes in purging the party of socialists and socialist ideas, one significant former Labour donor was reported as saying: “I would not give Labour money under Corbyn, but I would now be happy to give money to Labour. Previous donors need to meet Keir and Angela and learn to trust them, because the history over the last four years has been horrific.”

Juliet Rosenfeld, whose late multi-millionaire husband Andrew donated considerable sums of money to Ed Miliband’s leadership, said she had re-joined the party to vote in the leadership contest. “I voted for Keir and am delighted he has won… He is someone ‘without a side’. I trust him completely on the issues that matter, and I will, and have, encouraged others to come back to Labour.”

Andrew Rosenfield made an estimated £100 million fortune in the London property market before quitting the UK – just before the real estate crash – to live in Switzerland for five years as a tax exile. He was a vocal supporter of David Cameron in 2010.

But Rosenfield is really just the tip of the iceberg. To understand the significance of this development – of a so-called Labour Party dependent on capitalist donors – we only need to look at the history of New Labour donors.

New Labour: Sleaze and the arms industry

Anyone old enough to remember when Tony Blair was prime minister will remember the seemingly endless sleaze scandals, with government ministers, including the Blair himself, accused of providing favours for cash. This included peerages for multimillion-pound contributors to Labour, but also actual laws being written to favour individual interests.

The most high-profile of these was the government’s decision to exempt Formula 1 Grand Prix events from the tobacco advertising ban after Bernie Ecclestone, the F1 boss, made a £1 million donation to the party.

The Labour Party at this time not only abandoned any commitment to socialism (symbolised by the removal of the old Clause IV in 1995 which constitutionally committed Labour to the “common ownership of the means of production”), but also to honesty and human decency as they bowed down before their capitalist financiers.

Between 1997 and 2002, Labour accepted more than £12 million from arms and defence companies. This is in spite of the fact that, at the time, Labour Party rules stipulated that the party “will not accept donations from companies the activities of which are inconsistent with the principles of the Labour Party”, nor would it accept foreign-sourced donations.

In 1997, the Labour Party received significant donations from US-based Raytheon Systems Ltd. Raytheon Systems Ltd is one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers which makes a variety of high-tech weapons, including Tomahawk, Patriot, Sidewinder and Stinger missiles, which it then supplies to countries with a wide spectrum of attitudes toward human rights. Raytheon Ltd was awarded an £800 million contract by the Ministry of Defence in 1999.

Another major donor to the Labour Party in this period was British Aerospace – one of the Raytheon’s biggest competitors. British Aerospace began to take an interest in the Labour Party after Robin Cook, the then Foreign Secretary, announced in June 1997 that British foreign policy would be conducted with an “ethical dimension” and that human rights “would be at the heart” of this project.

For British Aerospace, this was not welcome news. At the time, the arms corporation had an outstanding contract with the Indonesian government to supply sixteen Hawk fighters at a cost of £350 million. Given the Indonesian’s government’s ongoing murderous occupation of East Timor, it seemed unlikely that this contract would be seen as “ethical”. But then, in 1999, British Aerospace donated to the Labour Party and, as if by magic, their contract was renewed.

Later that year, the world looked on in horror as over 20% of the population of East Timor were slaughtered because they dared to vote for independence. Of course, the British government could not be seen to have a stake in genocide so in September 1999, amidst massive public anger, Blair halted the supply of arms to Indonesia. Unfortunately, by this point the damage had already been done; the British Government quietly resumed selling arms to Indonesia just four months later.

The Observer newspaper further exposed the sinister relationship between New Labour and British Aerospace, now BAe, when it quoted an “industry insider” as saying that Dick Evans, the then chairman of British Aerospace, had unrivalled access to the British Prime Minister:

“Dick is entirely ruthless. He is a hard man and gets his own way. But he has also been the most successful in shifting the political ground and courting New Labour. He’s one of the few businessmen who can see [Tony] Blair on request.”

The former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook documented the disturbing relationship between British Aerospace and New Labour in his book The Point of Departure:

“In my time I came to learn that the Chairman of British Aerospace appeared to have the key to the garden door to Number 10. Certainly I never once knew Number 10 to come up with any decision that would be incommoding to British Aerospace.”

New Labour, it seems, could not appoint enough warmongers to governmental posts in this period. Richard Evans, the chairman of British Aerospace (BA), was, in 2002, sitting on the Government’s Competitiveness Council. BA’s chief operating officer Peter Gershon is paid £180,000 a year as the head of the Office of Government Commerce, which was set up in 2000. The former vice-chairman of BA, Richard Lapthorne, was appointed by the Government in April 2000 to set up its Working Age Agency and Lord Hollick, a Labour peer and party donor, was a director of BA from 1992-1997.

Today, Lord Hollick continues to work in an advisory capacity for British Aerospace and is a board member for the arms manufacturer Honeywell International. He was also one of Liz Kendall’s main financial backers in the 2015 leadership election and he donated £50,000 to Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign.

The door works the other way around as well. Michael Portillo, who served as Defence Secretary from 1995 to 1997, joined BAE Systems in September 2002 as a Non-Executive Director. George Robertson, Defence Secretary from 1997 to 1999, became a Non-Executive Director at military aerospace firm Smiths and a Non-Executive Director of the Weir Group, the Glasgow based engineering firm who are a major supplier of weapons systems for all Royal Navy submarines.

Today, right-wing Labour politicians are more cautious about where they get their money because there is now more transparency in the ways that money is donated. Previously, big donations were only listed if they were over £5,000 – making it impossible to tell whether someone had donated £5,001, £50,000, or £1,000,000… although quid pro quo arrangements still abound. But alarm bells should be ringing when board members at leading arms industries are pouring money into the opposition’s leadership campaign.

But the return of big money, under any guise, is a sign of a serious rot setting in within the Labour leadership. Working class people need independent political representation and they will not get it in a party bankrolled by the capitalists.

Could Starmer’s Labour be outflanked by the Tories again… this time on social care?

Tens-of-thousands have perished in Britain’s care homes, and rumours are now beginning to circulate that the Tories are putting in place far-reaching measures to “protect” social care, ahead of what could be another very deadly winter.

According to a Guardian report published, the government is taking steps toward bringing flailing social care services under the umbrella of the NHS – drafting in David Cameron’s former policy chief Camilla Cavendish to help write the proposals.

The government has since denied this, but as ever with the Tories, you cannot trust them as far as you can throw them. We have already seen the Tories being forced to nationalise Northern Rail, due to capitalist mismanagement.

But the real question is why Labour is not using the crisis in social care to talk about its National Care Service policy, democratically agreed at last year’s annual conference and which appeared in Labour’s General Election manifesto in 2019.

The manifesto stated that:“Labour’s National Care Service will form part of our universal public services, funded through general taxation, removing the burden of cost from individuals.”

“As we move towards greater public provision and the establishment of the National Care Service, we will ensure that care providers work for people, not for profit.”

“By introducing free personal care, Labour will apply the principles of the NHS to social care – providing services free at the point of use to those who need them. Providing free personal care to older people will ensure they will be able to live in their own home.”

Although not a full-blooded socialist set of proposals, these policies would mark a serious step forward for the chaotic and crisis ridden care services and would provide the beginnings of a way out from this crisis.
But it is not just that Labour is not talking about these policies – they are actively distancing themselves from them!

When asked by Andrew Marr on July 5 about possible plans for a nationalised care system, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodd replied:

“I would say, right now, the idea is just to protect that sector… I’m not going to say to you that Labour is going to be advocating some massive grand scheme right at this moment when social care is in crisis. We need a new approach for social care into the future.”

But Dodds has this entirely the wrong way round. Nationalisation is a solution to the care crisis, not a cause. For those who remember the early years of Corbyn’s leadership, this argument will be very familiar. Back in 2016, Labour’s then Shadow Health Secretary opposed renationalising the NHS because it would be too “disruptive”, before resigning as part of the chicken coup.

Labour’s leadership, despite Starmer claiming to be the unity candidate, has been retaking by the hard-right faction of the party and they see it as their job to show that Labour is a safe second 11 for the capitalist class.

The “constructive opposition” approach employed by the Blairite faction – which saw its most vulgar recent expression back in April when Starmer’s described the Tories handling of the pandemic as an “amazing piece of work” even while the virus was running amok in our care homes – is a proven failure.

But the pace of events has exposed this even more deeply with Labour now hopelessly reactive, frequently putting forward solutions that are to the right of the Tories.

We say:

  • The immediate transfer of home and residential care back to the public sector
  • Proper public funding to end the scandal of the vulnerable and sick being ripped of by the private sector
  • A decent living wage for all carers and for workers to be control of planning
  • Free care for all those assessed of being in need at the point of delivery

  • Read more on Labour here.

As the Covid-19 crisis continues, so do NHS cuts

Medical emergencies are natural but the response to them is not. After decades of funding cuts, privatisations, loss of beds, and critical staffing shortages, our NHS was increasingly unable to cope with seasonal flu and winter admissions. It did not stand a chance against a pandemic.

The government likes to boast that they managed to protect the NHS throughout the pandemic. But the truth is that the NHS only survived because of the enormous, sometimes ultimate, sacrifices made by its workers. It also survived by effectively shutting down large portions of its services so that it could focus on treating Covid-19 infections.

As a result, almost two-thirds of people with common life-threatening conditions, including cancer patients and people with respiratory problems, have been denied care by the NHS. This was an entirely preventable occurrence which flows from years of cost-cutting and planning for minimum need. It is also a time-bomb in public health, storing up huge problems into the future.

But if there are two central lessons to take away from this episode, it is that NHS and care workers are badly paid, badly treated, understaffed, overworked and this needs to change immediately. It also shows the complete inadequacy and dangers of planning for minimum need, with hospitals stretched to near breaking point even in normal times.

Are these lessons being learned by the government and NHS Trusts?

At the early stage of the pandemic in March, cleaning, portering and catering staff at a hospital in Lewisham were forced to walk out because their employer, a private company called ISS, failed to pay them. ISS also failed to provide adequate PPE, even after the first cases of Covid-19 had been admitted. More than 300 NHS and care workers have died from covid-19, often due to inadequate PPE and unsafe working conditions.

On January 8, Merton, Sutton and Surrey Downs Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) began a public consultation on plans worth £500million to reorganise local hospital services, which involve closing A&E and Intensive Care Units at St Helier and Epsom hospitals, downgrading them to district hospitals, and reducing the number of acute beds available across the sites by half.

The consultation was due to close on April 1, but because of the pandemic, campaigners demanded that the consultation be delayed. A not unreasonable request by any means – after all, one of the CCG’s key arguments was that care in the community could make up for the loss in the number of beds and what the pandemic exposed beyond all doubt was that care in the community was already in crisis and that there were not enough hospitals beds

Disgracefully, the CCGs refused to extend the process beyond five days and now continue to work up their plans away from public scrutiny. The same NHS Trust also made headlines in early April when it was revealed that they had run out of body bags due to the number of deaths and, appallingly, porters were instructed to use sheets instead to transport deceased Covid-19 patients.

But this is far from an isolated incident. In Leicester, the local NHS Trust is ploughing ahead with £420million plans to reorganise local hospital services. Again, another hospital will be lost, the Leicester General in this instance. The Trust does not currently plan for an increase in the number of beds, despite the considerable expense and the annual winter crises, arguing instead that crisis-ridden and sometimes non-existent community care will miraculously step in.

A nearby cottage hospital in Lutterworth, Feilding Palmer, was closed in the middle of the pandemic. The local trust had wanted to close the hospital for many years and campaigners immediately raised the alarm. Under pressure, the hospital has since been re-opened and used as an isolation facility for patients recovering from Covid-19.

These problems are unlikely to go away either, as the capitalists once again attempt to make us pay for the crisis through cuts and privatisation. In mid-May, a leaked email from NHS England’s London Regional Director Sir David Sloman, sent out internally on 29 April, revealed a plan to cut jobs and to use the private sector to deal with the massive backlog of elective surgeries. Disgracefully, the changes were proposed to take place behind the back of the public, with “public and stakeholders” only involved “in the process within the constraints of an emergency”!

Socialist Alternative members working in our NHS, care services, and those of us involved in health campaigns, will continue to fight these proposals, but also to demand not just an end to cuts, but the beginning of massive investment, to rebuild our services, with workers in control of planning.

Starmer’s cosy non-opposition enables Tories putting workers’ lives on the line

Little over a month since Keir Starmer won the Labour leadership election, and the departure from Corbynism couldn’t be clearer. Starmer pitched himself as the “unity” candidate throughout the election campaign, but, amongst other things, his shadow cabinet appointments, his list of donors (which he refused to publish ahead of the election, despite repeated requests), and his recent pronouncement that Corbyn was the reason that Labour lost in 2019, have shattered any remaining illusions about the class interests he serves.

In his latest affront to the membership, Starmer set out a five-point plan to “protect people from bankruptcy and homelessness due to rent arrears”. Controversially the plan called on the government to “grant renters at least two years to pay back any arrears accrued during this period.” But as Labour members were very quick to point out, many renters would be unable to pay back such arrears. More than a third of people renting in the UK live in poverty, and two thirds have no savings, living hand to mouth. With the pandemic, many, particularly those working in precarious jobs, now face the prospect of joblessness once the economy ‘reopens’ – if not immediately. Over 4,000 Labour members have since signed an open letter calling for Labour to pressure the government into cancelling rent.

It was to be expected that Starmer would move more openly to the right once elected, but that the process would be a delicate one. As the Financial Times reported last week, “MPs see his gradual approach to [changing Labour’s position on] Brexit as a template for how he is likely to shift away subtly from Corbyn’s revolutionary economic agenda.” But the pace of events since the beginning of the pandemic, which have pushed the Tories to take some significant measures to try and stave off mass anger, has accelerated this process. The rightward shift in the Labour leadership is now abundantly obvious as they flail around clinging to the idea of unity – couched as ‘no opposition for opposition’s sake’ – with an increasingly toxic government that is putting profit ahead of human lives.

Prime Minister’s Questions is a case in point. On April 29, Starmer faced Dominic Raab, who was standing in for the absentee PM. Raab called for Starmer to recognise the “good work” the Tories had supposedly done on social distancing and ramping up critical care capacity. Starmer went further, describing it as an “amazing piece of work.” No mention made of the government’s track record of attacking critical care capacity over the past decade and the annual winter crises this has left our NHS facing. No mention either, of the fact that nurse to patient ratios have had to be stretched from the usual 1:1 for ICU beds to as much as 1:7 in some cases.

On testing, the Tories had promised to achieve 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month (just two days after April 29). Starmer correctly pointed out that while official government figures claimed that, on the previous Monday, they had a capacity for testing of 73,000 a day, “when you drill down into the figures only 29,000 people were actually tested.” But he then went on to make excuses for them: “I have to recognise that the 100,000 tests a day by Thursday was only ever a staging post and perhaps that the exact date doesn’t matter as much as some would think.” This would have been news to the millions of health and care workers who fear going into work and are still not getting tested!

A recent report put together Keep Our NHS Public revealed that the number of Covid deaths of health and care workers is now in excess of 200. The Tories have failed to sufficiently expand testing, not to mention contact tracing. They refused to act in a decisive and prompt manner when lessons from other countries should have been drawn and we are suffering the consequences. Their attempts to use this crisis to farm yet more services out to private contractors, such as G4S, Deloitte, KPMG, Serco, Sodexo, Mitie, Boots, with a proven track record of extremely poor services, always putting profit before need, is also putting us at serious risk. Spin on two weeks and the Tories are still failing to meet this “staging post” of 100,000 tests a day. In fact, while testing capacity needs to be ramped up extremely quickly, with a new target far in excess of 100,000, the Tories have now failed to meet the May 1 target for nine days in a row! This is even according to their own manipulated numbers, which includes the number of tests sent out – so not people tested.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s pre-recorded speech to the country yesterday evening was an absolute shambles. With just 12 hours-notice, people were told to return to work before any hard and fast rules about safe practices have been published by the government. They have since been forced to concede that they meant by Wednesday – although he did not say this!!!

Workers are being put directly in harm’s way by this callous and chaotic government. Yet in a very revealing interview with BBC Breakfast last Wednesday, Starmer was asked about precisely this issue and whether that if he thought workers should have a legal right to not go into work if they think the conditions are dangerous. His response? “I’d rather not get into that situation… because if we got into that place, then we haven’t reassured people.” But as any good trade unionist knows, Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act enables an employee to withdraw from and to refuse to return to an unsafe workplace. Before becoming an MP, Starmer was a QC and the Director of Public Prosecutions. He knows about Section 44. The fact that he did not say it tells you all you need to know about the class interests his leadership serves.

A genuine opposition would be holding the Tories’ feet to the fire by exposing their failings, not for its own sake, but in order that they might feel some urgency in correcting their manifold mistakes. As it is, it is left to mass public anger and workers organised in trade unions, often through initiatives taken from below, to put pressure on them and defend workers’ lives and living standards in this crisis. Working class people are crying out for political representation!

Starmer’s shadow cabinet signals Blairite return

Tom Barker, Socialist Alternative National Committee

In the midst of a crisis unprecedented in modern times, Keir Starmer is now the leader of the Labour Party. Elected with more than 56% of the 490,731 votes cast, Starmer beat his main rival Rebecca Long Bailey, described as the Corbyn “continuity candidate”, into a distant second, receiving double the votes. (See our analysis of the election result here).

Throughout the leadership election, Starmer attempted to present himself as being on the left, claiming that he would maintain many of the radical anti-austerity policies positions won under Jeremy Corbyn.

But many, including some who voted for Starmer, are now livid at the Shadow Cabinet appointments. After emphasising the need for party unity throughout his campaign, Starmer promised that his shadow cabinet would be “balanced across the party”. But the pro-capitalist, pro-austerity right wing of the Labour Party was never going to be satisfied with anything other than the total defeat of the Corbyn project. Even a cursory examination of the new shadow cabinet reveals Starmer’s claims of seeking ‘balance’ to be completely false.

Out of 29 appointments made by Keir Starmer, there are just four who supported Jeremy Corbyn against Owen Smith in the 2016 leadership election. By contrast there are 17 who backed the Chicken Coup or who voted for Owen Smith in 2016.

This means that, of all those appointed to Labour’s Shadow Cabinet who were also MPs during the 2016 leadership election, 68% (or 17 out of 25) played a direct role in overturning basic democracy in the party, supporting a vote of no confidence in Corbyn less than a year after he received a decisive democratic mandate from members.

Just three MPs – Cat Smith, Andy McDonald and Rebecca Long Bailey (RLB) herself – backed RLB, the Corbyn ‘continuity’ candidate, in 2020. All apart from RLB have very junior positions within the Shadow Cabinet. (The Labourlist website says 4 MPs who supported RLB were appointed to Shadow Cabinet, but they appear to be including Angela Rayner who, of course, was not appointed by Keir Starmer but elected by members.)

What’s more, not is this a cabinet made up primarily of MPs from Labour’s right, it also includes some especially committed Blairites – often with particularly unsavoury histories. Among them is Rachel Reeves, who is most famous for declaring that ‘Labour is not the party for people out of work and on benefits’. Her appointment is particularly pertinent at a time when hundreds of thousands have faced lay-offs and redundancies. Charles Falconer, previously a boot boy for Tony Blair, especially over the Iraq war, is also making a political come back under Starmer’s reign.

Is this “balance across the party”? It is not even balance amongst Labour MPs who, as we all know, do not represent the views of the membership: MPs who support RLB make up just 10% of the Shadow Cabinet whereas across all 243 MPs 33 (or 13%) voted for Rebecca Long Bailey. Across the wider members, however, Long Bailey received the support of 27.6% of first preference votes. A balanced shadow cabinet would therefore consist of around almost three times the current number of Long Bailey supporters. What’s more, Starmer was only able to secure a victory in this election by falsely donning the clothes of Corbynism, pledging to maintain many of the popular policies in the 2017 and 2019 manifestos, for example.

Of course, even were a strict ratio of support for Long Bailey to shadow cabinet members to be maintained, it would hardly be the point. There is no ‘balance’ that can be struck between the interests of the working-class majority and those of the capitalist class – whose profits stem from the exploitation of labour. Under Corbyn, the possibilities for the Labour Party becoming a vehicle to advance workers’ interests and mobilise struggle were opened up. Starmer’s aim, in standing for the leadership, was to close down these possibilities and ensure that Labour could once again act as a safe ‘second eleven’ through which the capitalist class could rule. The make up of his shadow cabinet only confirms this.

This is not balance. This is an anti-Corbyn and anti-member, and most importantly, right-wing and pro-capitalist cabinet.

Covid-19 what we say: emergency measures to aid the NHS

One week since the World Health Organisation belatedly declared a global pandemic, the Covid-19 virus has spread to 114 countries and killed more than 4,000 people. We now sit at the bottom of a very steep curve which experts believe could claim the lives of around a quarter of a million people in this country alone.

After a decade of austerity, the NHS is woefully unprepared to fight the coronavirus. There is currently a national staffing shortage of more than 100,000 workers. We have one of the lowest numbers of hospital beds compared with other high-income countries and we have only a fraction of the intensive care beds found in France or Germany.

All this before the Covid-19 outbreak! Even Jeremy Hunt – the hated former Health Secretary who for six long years oversaw dramatic cuts to our NHS services – is openly critical of the government’s handling of coronavirus. Boris Johnson’s government is failing on every front, but Hunt’s hypocrisy is still beyond comparison.

NHS cuts

Tory policy over the last decade has been to keep cutting the number of beds and to cut hospital capacity, meanwhile farming more and more services out to the private sector. The deadly risk this poses for working-class people is now brought sharply into focus. As this article goes to press, Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow has declared a “critical incident” because they have run out of acute beds due to Covid-19 admissions and are now turning away those in dire need!

What the coronavirus crisis clearly shows is the serious dangers of planning for minimum need. The NHS, as with all our services, needs to have slack built into it – with funding and planning which can enable it to deal with national emergencies. The crisis also shows why free, publicly provided health care is not just desirable, but an absolute necessity.

The GMB union, which represents NHS staff, is rightly calling on Johnson’s government to “take action in Parliament” in order to get the “necessary legal powers to requisition the beds of private sector hospitals across the UK.” This is absolutely correct! But it is not enough to simply place demands on this government of the rich, which has already proven itself to be completely ineffective in the face of this crisis.

Trade unions must begin to mobilise their members in support of such demands. We need to fight for real funding for the NHS, decent pay and conditions for its staff, and for frontline workers to be given full control of planning. We need to see the taking over private hospital beds (of which there are around 10,000 nationally) – without handing over a penny of public money to the profit-hungry privateers. Nut we also need the government to go further, requisitioning private hospitals themselves, as well as other suitable buildings that can be used to expand capacity.

Medical workers in the private sector should immediately be seconded over to the NHS and a programme of fast-track training should be initiated for workers with basic care and health skills – with the oversight of trade unions representing health staff – so they can assist in fighting the pandemic. All privatised cleaning and ancillary services must also be brought back into the public sector. The trade unions must lead in this process and make it clear that compensation for shareholders should only be paid on the basis of proven need!

Planning needed

The coronavirus outbreak starkly illustrates the necessity of rationally planning of the economy. It shows why cooperation, not competition, is vital to ensuring the world’s health. Globally, there are currently at least fifteen drug companies that are separately researching and testing coronavirus vaccines!

If these companies were to work together, then we would be a good way closer to developing a vaccine and producing it fast enough, and in the quantities that are required. But it is not in the nature of capitalism for big business to cooperate. No, the law of the ‘free market’ is competition, with each firm independently racing to find the cure which they then hope to monetise!

After the SARS epidemic in 2003, which claimed the lives of around 800 people, and which at one point looked set to develop into a global emergency, there was initially a flood of funding from capitalist governments into research into vaccines. But work that began to test existing drugs, to see if they were effective against SARS, a virus closely related to Covid-19, was abandoned when that threat faded and, with it, the prospect of financial profit. Had this work been continued we may not be facing this crisis today. The pharmaceutical companies should be nationalised now, under democratic workers’ control and management. This way we could ensure that human need is prioritised over profit.

Our health service also faces a massive shortage of ventilators, respiratory equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other resources needed by health workers. The response to this shortage from Public Health England so far? Downgrade the guidelines to say therapy units and high dependency units. In Leicester, there are reports that hospital that full protective equipment including “FFP3” respirator masks, gowns, visor, goggles and gloves are now only needed for staff working in intensive care and intensive staff are being supplied with FFP3 masks only for confirmed cases of coronavirus and surgical masks for suspected cases. This is despite the fact that evidence suggests surgical masks are completely inadequate protection for against health workers against contracting the virus!

Moreover, in a sign of just how out of his depth Johnson is, the Tories only approached manufacturers to make ventilators for the NHS as late as last weekend. But why should private companies like this be making a killing from this crisis and why should working-class people foot the bill? Factories used for producing non-essential goods, including tech and defence must, where possible, be repurposed for public use in order to produce ventilators, PPE and other equipment.

According to local media reports in Chengdu, China, the maker of the new J-20 stealth fighter jet, Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, has already repurposed part of its factory to design a mask production line. It is also reported that more than 2,500 companies in China have reportedly started making masks, among them 700 technology companies. Similar works could be carried out here. But what should not be replicated is the anti-democratic and anti-worker approach of the Chines regime. Instead workers’ committees must be established in order to oversee the repurposing of factories and to coordinate the running of production in a way that avoids the inefficiencies of the capitalist market.

Social care in crisis

Since 2010, central government funding for local councils has been cut by more than 50%, stripping public services to the bone. With poverty on the increase due to a decade of stagnating wages, spiralling costs of living, and increased casualisation of working conditions (with close to 1million people on zero hour contracts), more and more people have come to depend on an ever-dwindling pool of services. This, along with increased privatisation, has left social care in ruins, with many people cared for in the community, including by families and friends – often with infrequent access to health workers and district nurses. The demands of social-distancing and the protection of the vulnerable makes such arrangements – which will already have been putting a strain on millions of families – not only impossible but potentially dangerous.

In order to address this, local councils need to conduct emergency audits of social care capacity to understand what is required. The Tories’ slowness and prevarication in dealing with this crisis has left many workers extremely angry. Public pressure and threatened economic collapse has already forced the Tories release to release very significant sums of money to prevent a total collapse. Similar pressure could be applied – especially if this question were boldly taken up by the Labour movement – for local councils to demand the funds needed for safe social care provision. This could be used to aid a rapid expansion of residential and home help services to relieve pressure on acute hospitals.

The Covid-19 pandemic is just one of the many reasons why we need to break with the chaos of the ‘free market’, and build a rationally planned economy based on cooperation, rather than competition, and human need, not financial profit for big business. Join Socialist Alternative in the fight for the socialist transformation of society.

Corbyn resignation: Mobilise to stop the right-wing offensive

No sooner had Labour’s disastrous election results been announced than the Blairite jackals began to howl for Jeremy Corbyn’s blood. Dame Margaret Hodge sounded the starting gun at 4am on Friday morning: “Corbyn talking about a period of ‘reflection. I’ve reflected. You failed. Please stand down.”

Phil Wilson, who lost Tony Blair’s former stronghold in Sedgefield, said: “I think he should consider his position, given this is the second election he has lost for the Labour party.” Labour grandee, Lord David Blunkett, went further and laid the blame at the feet of the radical manifesto and called for a return to days of “sensible offers” where “you get a lot of it done, not all of it, and where you let people down on occasions”.

The Blairite grouping Labour First is now even running a petition calling for Corbyn’s resignation “with immediate effect”. Self-described leftists like Paul Mason have also called for the same.

The Labour right are moving quickly to impress their interpretation of the election onto the future of the Labour Party, but this must be vigorously resisted. A return to the political “centre” (in reality the “right”), would lead Labour into the same abyss as their sister parties around the world, who offered no alternative to austerity politics and paid the ultimate price for it.

Corbyn should have resisted calls for his resignation. Unfortunately, however, he has already agreed to step down as leader within an appropriate time frame. But if his remaining time is used wisely, there is still much that can be done to continue and develop the leftward trajectory of the party.

Transform Labour into a fighting organisation

Rather than sinking into the doldrums, Labour members need to rise to the challenge now ahead. Labour lost the election, yes. This will undoubtedly make opposing the Tories in parliament harder. But history is rarely made through parliament alone. It is on the streets and in the workplaces that Labour can carve a new way forward and this, in turn, will put them on a far firmer parliamentary footing.

The Labour Party needs to be transformed into a fighting organisation, a party of struggle. In order to become such an organisation not only must the Blairite election narrative be challenged, but the purveyors of these lies must finally be confronted and defeated — one and the same tasks, in reality.

The hate campaign which the Blairites waged against their own leader, in the run up to and in the midst of one of the most important election campaigns in recent history, smearing him as an anti-Semite, an extremist, and a threat to national security, had a big impact on the course of events. Their unswerving commitment to overturning the Brexit referendum under the pretence of “protecting workers rights”, when it was clear that upholding the referendum was a decisive issue across much of the country, should also be laid open to scrutiny.

In 2017, when the position of the party was to uphold the Brexit referendum, Corbyn’s Labour made the biggest gains since 1945. When Corbyn, a lifelong critic of the capitalist EU since entering parliament in 1983, had been forced into this recent fudged position on the Brexit, largely as a result of pressure from the right and soft-left, Labour suffered damaging losses.

Part of transforming Labour into an organisation of struggle will therefore mean introducing basic democratic accountability of elected representatives. Mandatory reselection has an important role to play in this as it allows members the opportunity to choose their representatives before they stand for election. The right to recall MPs is clearly also now essential in order to reign-in MPs who choose to deviate from democratically arrived at decisions taken by the membership.

There is plenty of blame to go around, not least the vacillations and compromises made by Momentum and John McDonnell, but the Blairites must now be made to bear the bulk of the responsibility for yet another Tory government.

Attempts at compromise with the right wing have demonstrably failed, time and again. If a campaign to remove them is not spearheaded from above, members must take the initiative.

Movement building

But what is also needed is a shift in emphasis away from parliamentary politics and toward building movements on the streets and in the workplaces. This is how it should have been from the start. Corbyn is from a campaigning background and this is the terrain where he is most capable.

One of the differences between the 2017 and the 2019 Labour election campaigns was the relative lack of mass public engagement in the latter, with too many rallies taking place away from public view. This was a missed opportunity to speak over the head of the Tory press.

Canvassing is an essential part of winning elections. But mass rallies, protests and demonstrations are decisive for socialists. To find an example of this approach, look no further than the campaign in Seattle to get Kshama Sawant elected. As a member of Socialist Alternative (our sister organisation in the US), we led a movement-building campaign that defeated a council candidate who was directly bankrolled by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — the richest man in the world.

The Tory press will never provide a favourable environment for socialists, which is why we must do everything possible to speak over their heads. Television and radio coverage are useful platforms for addressing workers, not for addressing journalists.

Movement building is also a powerful weapon in winning the argument about “how” a socialist manifesto is implemented — a question which was frequently posed on the doorstep. Indeed, a £10 minimum wage, kicking the corporations out of the NHS, curtailing the ability of the arms industry to sell to governments with a track record of human rights abuses, the nationalisation of mail, rail, water and energy — none of this would be possible simply by electing a Corbyn-led government alone. It is not possible to simply legislate away the precedence of big business (not least because the Blairites would not stand for it).

No, building mass movements is absolutely essential because they provide a base of support which the capitalists must recognise in negotiations. In such instances, they are not just negotiating with politicians but also with the labour movement, which is uniquely placed to shut down the economy altogether.

Successful mass movements demonstrate in a living way how gains can be achieved. One of the reasons why the Labour Party failed to convince the public that their plans were viable was because they focused too much on the prize rather than the method.

Going forward

The tasks are big, but they are necessary.

If the Blairites’ interpretation of the election is allowed to predominate, it will lead to a catastrophic rightward shift in the party, irrespective of the political qualities of any one leadership candidate going forward.

Labour may have lost the election, but movements around climate change and precarious workers show that a fresh and combative element is now coming into play. It is no coincidence that Labour’s voter base was overwhelmingly youthful. This is music of the future.

Corbyn, and future Labour leaders, must, above all, commit to building these and other movements.

The Tories’ election is a house of cards. When it becomes clear that they will never get Brexit done and all they have to offer workers is more austerity, everything will come tumbling down. Socialists must be ready to seize the opportunities that will arise in the coming period.

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