The opposition that was needed months ago is still needed, and only grows more urgent by the day. For ‘if we do not stand to change this now, then history will not absolve us’.
On Monday, the government announced a new tiered local lockdown system, where regions with less than 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people are in the nationwide baseline of Tier 1 (“Medium”), those with more than 100 are in Tier 2 (“High”), and those with “significantly higher rates of transmission” are in Tier 3 (“Very High”). This tiered system is being used to undercut the economies’ of working-class areas, whilst demonising workers and students, without addressing the real causes of the pandemic.
Several areas, including Greater Manchester (who have refused to enact Tier 3), Birmingham and Nottingham, have been placed in the Tier 2 level, meaning that indoor household mixing in these areas has been banned but people can still meet outdoors in groups of six with hospitality venues remaining open. The only area so far that has been placed in the Tier 3 level is the Liverpool City Region, home to 6 local authorities and 1.5 million people, with cross household socialising banned in all settings except for public parks, and the closure of all pubs, bars, gyms, leisure centres, betting shops, gaming centres and casinos. Restaurants and pubs that serve food will remain open.
With coronavirus cases rising across the country, a strong centralised response is necessary to curb the rate of infection. However, the response as it stands will not be able to do this adequately. It intends to tackle the hospitality sector without addressing the real causes of the latest spike. These are clear: the return of children and students to schools and universities, the continued insistence placed on workers to travel into places of work where their roles could be performed from home, and the eugenicist policy of allowing the infection to spread within care homes. According to Public Health England, the spread of infection in these sites accounted for 82% of multiple outbreaks in the 4 weeks prior to the 8th of October, while hospitality settings made up only 4% of these outbreaks. By their own statistics, the policies now being lauded will prove entirely redundant.
To look at the exemplary case of Liverpool: whilst the rate of infection is incredibly high, the decision to close down its hospitality sector is disproportionate. Take the Liverpool region, where cases currently sit at 600 per 100,000, in comparison to other major cities such as Manchester and Newcastle, where infections per 100,000 are 400-500. And yet this is being framed as significantly, qualitatively different – what the government has called “significantly higher rates of transmission”. This alone brings their data classification into question, yet again. Solely targeting hospitality suggests that the blame for the spread of infection is being placed firmly at the feet of “irresponsible individuals”, particularly with the closing of pubs and betting shops presenting a stereotypical tabloid view of the economic class of these individuals. By testing out the harshest version of these restrictions in Liverpool, the government’s response invokes memories of the “managed decline” of the city that was enacted under the Thatcher government in the 1980s, with a furlough scheme that will only cover 2/3rds of displaced workers wages, which will only incentivise local hospitality venues to either let staff go or close their doors when they are paying a third of staff wages while not accumulating profit.
We see this making way for the future – or lack thereof. Liverpool’s local economy relies heavily on hospitality as a popular University City and tourist location. If this bubble bursts we might well see it falling into the scenes of dereliction we thought confined to the 80s, with major job losses and businesses going under allowing local real estate to be bought up on the cheap and monopolised. In addition to this, the “substantial” finance package that has been offered to help the entire Liverpool city region through this is a mere £14 million for help supporting the vulnerable and testing, with an additional £14 million to help with compliance and enforcement. Across a region of 1.5 million people, this comes to £19 per person. The Pandemic is everywhere becoming an excuse to make possible the oppressive conditions capitalism believes it needs for its resurgence.
Keir Starmer continues with his policy of controlled “opposition”, refusing to criticise any specific elements of the policy while making vague statements about how Boris Johnson is “behind the curve” and expressing doubt over whether the policy would be “enough” to get the virus under control. Liverpool’s Labour Mayor Joe Anderson and the Merseyside Metropolitan Mayor Steve Rotheram both say that they were “left in no doubt” that the Tier 3 lockdown would go ahead with or without their approval, and although they claim they are holding out to ensure better financial support, they have already signed the agreement to enforce the restrictions as laid out by the government. They have made no mention of schools, offices or care homes. It is unclear whether they are merely holding the Labour party line or if they are trying to not get on the wrong side of the government, but so far enacting government cuts in the hope of fairer treatment has never been known to be a successful strategy for Labour councils. This is in contrast to the Greater Manchester region, where Metro Mayor Andy Burnham and his Night Time Economy Advisor Sacha Lord have seemingly avoided Tier 3 lockdown by pursuing legal action. However this only leaves Burnham, hardly a radical, in the same situation as before with nothing proactive being done to tackle the actual causes of the spread of the virus. It is clear that no matter what shape their response takes, the Labour Party has no answers.
And amongst this typical placidity and complicity of the Labour Party, we return to care homes, where the government’s brutality is laid bare. The eugenicist policies of this government, most acutely perpetuated in their response to the virus, are continuing. Infections rates are back to where they were in March, and deaths are rapidly increasing; we know who these impact the most. The handling of this virus is ableist, racist, eugenicist and at odds with the very lives of working class people across Britain. As our comrades at Prolekult have highlighted in Camps of Dependence, the opposition that was needed months ago is still needed, and only grows more urgent by the day. For ‘if we do not stand to change this now, then history will not absolve us’.