Monday 27 April 2020

Defining the Politics of Covid-19

At the weekend, Andrew Rawnsley drew much mockery for asking whether Boris Johnson's spell with Covid-19 will make him more honest. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with Tory custom and practice knows the answer to that one. And yet when Johnson did appear before the cameras this morning since his recovery, there was something of a change. Not a turn to honesty, but rather an embrace of consensus.

Johnson said Coronavirus was the country's biggest challenge since the war. And it was a war in which the UK was making progress. There were fewer hospital admissions, fewer in intensive care, and stabilising infections and fatalities were all signs of "passing through the peak." He thanked the nation's community spirit and collective resolve, and this had brought the country to the brink of meeting first objective: the NHS not being overwhelmed as seen elsewhere. Likening the virus to a mugger, Johnson said we've begun to wrestle it to the floor following the initial surprise. This then is a moment of opportunity and of maximum risk.

Talking up his government's woeful record, he said some might look at our "apparent success" and wonder whether now is the time to start going easy on the quarantine. He understood the impatience and anxiety of businesses and those worried about their jobs. Johnson said he knew about the long-term effects of the emergency, but is also fully aware of the risk of a second infection spike. Therefore we must beware of relaxing things too early as this risks reversing the gains so far made. Our efforts have shielded the NHS, without which it would have been much worse.

Therefore the government's five tests for lifting the lockdown still have to be met. These are falling deaths, the NHS protected, a steep decline in the rate of infection, meeting the perennial supply challenges, and avoiding a second peak. Once these have been achieved we can move over into the second period of managing the country while it lives with the disease. This process then means difficult decisions, and nothing can be spelled out about time scales and when choices will be made. But teasing consensus, Johnson said his government and the evidence behind its decision-making would be "transparent" and he's looking to build broad agreement across industry and party lines.

In all, it was a very good speech from Johnson. For punters fed up of the too much politics of the recent past, seeing parties and politicians collaborate around shared goals has a certain appeal. And from the standpoint of the Tories, going hard on cooperation helps erase the recollection of their initial complacency. Considering the press pack have the memories of goldfish when it comes to the misdeeds of mainstream, and particularly Tory politicians, this gives Johnson leeway to define the parameters of permissible politics over the coming period. By appearing gracious, open, and inviting the opposition in, criticism that does reference their multiple failings and the dilapidated inheritance bequeathed Johnson by Dave and Theresa May is ruled out of bounds. That's for the inquiry afterwards, and those banging on about it now are cranks, weirdos, and extremists. Indeed, since day one Keir Starmer has anticipated and signed up to these parameters, reinforced over the weekend by polling.

Johnson then is looking to define the political consensus and therefore the politics of Coronavirus, and will do so to reap maximum advantage. Hence why his speech was a mission accomplished moment in more ways than one. This means Labour has a difficult environment to work in, and I'm not sure capitulating entirely to Johnson's terms is the best way of being any kind of opposition, whether "constructive" or not.


Anonymous said...

There needs to be an independent enquiry and a comparative analysis. It is important also that the concerns that many people are expressing are acknowledged - clearly there needs to be a reality check- NHS and support systems, social care and care homes, slow response, WHO advice/ guidelines etc. This is not only my view. My now Tory neighbour- voter (used to be UKIP) wants to know why she had to buy her own face mask- she works on a checkout at a local supermarket. Anyway I think I am stating the obvious?

Dipper said...

Johnson doing a good job here.

Personally I think the lockdown has been too harsh. Sweden seems to have achieved the same level of control without laying waste to much of society. I'd like to see a faster progressive opening up of shops, businesses. But I don't sit where Johnson sits, I don't have to carry the can if this goes wrong, so I'm happy for him to continue to follow the best advice available which he clearly is doing.

Very hard for Labour. Many 'critics' just look like frustrating egomaniacs playing at Hindsight Harry. Seriously not a good job and convincing no-one. Better to stay close on this and wait for opportunities elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

What the labour party should concentrate on is not the day to day management of the crisis, but the root causes of the UK's poor response.

Decades of underfunding of the health service have left it ill prepared for a pandemic.

Totally inadequate funding and provision of social care have contributed to the current disaster.

The run down of UK manufacturing and lack of industrial strategy leave the country trying to import vital PPE and medical equipment from the rest of the world.

The UK is highly centralised, in a crisis with panic at the top the rest of the country waits for orders which don't come. In a more decentralised country getting local maufactures to make PPE for local hospitals would be easier.

The Beveridge report was published in 1942. Time for the Starmer report.

Dipper said...

@ Anonymous

To repeat, tax receipts as a percentage of GDP are the highest they have been for decades. If there is a failure in provision that is a consequence of our reliance on cheap labour due to FOM in the EU. Which also massively pushed our population up giving us a very high population density contributing to our current predicament. And a reminder that when Labour left office just about every penny of the NHS budget was borrowed (ie govt deficit equalled the NHS budget)

Every country is having problems with PPE. As you and so many others appear to know exactly what we should have done but didn't, perhaps you could note down here the future disasters we should be preparing for, how much money we should spend and what we should spend it on.

A centralised NHS? Who's idea was that? Certainly not my wing of the Tory party which would quite like to see a German system of national health insurance and more private provision. Remind me how the Germans are doing with Covid.

Anonymous said...

"Remind me how the Germans are doing with Covid"

Germany spends more as a percentage of GDP on Healthcare than the UK. Germany started with more ICU beds per head and more testing capacity. The UK should bring health spending up to the same precentage of GDP as Germany.

"Every country is having problems with PPE"

China is not having problems with PPE because most of the manufacturing capacity is in China. They stop exports until their own requirements are met. An industrial strategy is required in the UK. An understanding of what items are strategic is required. Plans to rapidly start UK maufactirung of some items are required. Shadaw factories, stockpiles of important raw materials (melt blown polypropylene for example). It's all been done before.

" tax receipts as a percentage of GDP are the highest they have been for decades"

There isn't enough private sector activity in the UK. UK manufacturing has been devestated by Thatcherite Tory governments and Blairite Labour governments. The theory was that the free market would make use of the resources liberated from inefficient manufacturing. Instead we have people on bicycles delivering fast food. This is a market failure intervention is required. With manufacturing gone a big part of the private sector is gone to be replaced by imports. Government spending has to fill the gap, subsidising housing, topping up lowly paid jobs e.t.c. A green new deal designed to create high paying jobs is required.

"A centralised NHS?"

The NHS is more decentralised than the Government. Some NHS Trusts have reached out to local manufactures to get supplies of PPE. Local Government has been hollowed out under the Tories so are not much help. In the best armies a lot of lower ranks carry a field marshalls baton in the knapsack. When orders stop coming down from the top you need the people on the ground to do the right things automatically. This is about training, pay and treating people like people and not mushrooms. This is not something you learn on the playing fields of Eton.

Dipper said...

@ Anonymous

- Germany - yes they spent more. And still they don;t have enough PPE. Absolutely no-one in Labour or any other party mentioned stocking for a pandemic before it happened.

- re manufacturing yes I'd agree get more in this country. And so would most of the Johnson conservative Party.

- decentralised NHS. So the NHS trusts are responsible for the lack of PPE at the front line? If we are going to start blaming people, and I don't think we should, but yes I'd put some of it there.

Overall it isn't possible to criticise the performance during the pandemic unless something absolutely obvious and undisputed is present. It's a new disease, and its guess work. No-one knows what the bst solution is.