Saturday, 31 October 2020

On Tory Incompetence and Stupidity

Another national lockdown is due to begin 00:00 hours Thursday morning and stretch to 2nd December. Seems very sensible. While a fortnight too late, just like last time, I suppose better late than never. But that's before looking at the detail. Unlike March and April, the new rules are significantly less restrictive. But does less restrictive mean less effective?

At Johnson's press conference, he said pubs and restaurants are to close though takeaway services are allowed to continue. Non-essential retail will close, and no more mixing of households. International travel is banned and domestic travel is discouraged, with exemptions for work. It's okay to go out and exercise and head into places of worship for prayers. And then there are the huge gaping holes in the scheme. Construction and manufacturing shall remain open, and ditto for schools, colleges, universities and courts. If the aim is to quickly drive the R number down so Boris Johnson can save Christmas, on these terms it's doomed to failure. The first lockdown, as late as it was, did depress infection because it was comprehensive. This half-arsed effort continues to expose millions of people by keeping the schools open and insisting in-person teaching be delivered in further and higher education.

Incompetence was certainly on display at the Prime Minister's presentation, but these pitiful measures fall short not because of cluelessness, but thanks to interests. That teachers and academic staff tend not to vote for the Tories is not lost on Number 10, but more pressing for the government is a two-fold class problematic. Keeping pupils in schools is essential for maintaining a "work ready" population. The welcome extension of the furlough scheme, originally due for the axe tonight, doesn't mean suspending the DWP's sanctions regime. For Johnson and friends, the schools staying open mean the usual sticks of their punitive social security scheme carries on operating. And for universities? It's as grubby as landlords and speculators. Rather than use monies shovelled to Serco or to the banks instead of keeping universities going in the absence of rental and ancillery services income, the Tories would rather bail out key sections of their property-owning base. And if students and academic staff die or are maimed by long Covid, ho hum.

The press conference ran nearly two hours late. According to one hack stenographer it was because Johnson was prepping furiously for this afternoon's announcement. Definitely nothing to do with persistent rumours dishy Rishi had threatened to throw his job if another comprehensive lockdown was imposed. Still, why has the government procrastinated and unnecessarily condemned thousands to an early death again? When (apparent) incompetence is persistent and ingrained, you've got to start looking to something endemic. Too many accidents don't lend themselves to accidental explanations. As with higher education, the Tories are caught in the headlights of competing priorities. They have to balance the health of their favoured sectors of capital with the wellbeing of class relations in general, but in their first and last instance this is achieved by the preservation of the Conservative Party itself. Core to this project, as we saw in the government's shabby treatment of Manchester and, this last week, the holiday hunger farce is preserving the coherence of governmental authority. This is their most precious commodity, and depends on avoiding too many U-turns lest it disintegrate. The problem the government had in setting their face against another national lockdown (and trying to make political capital out of Keir Starmer's sensible support for one), was when the necessity of the R numbers bit. Their precious authority compromised Labour's call was publicly proved the right one.

Again, why? Rising infections were an inevitability, the projections were there for all to see. Why try flying in the face of epidemiological realities? Stupidity? Parties (and for that matter, capital) do make mistakes, and as with incomptence stupidity, when it's ingrained, persistent, and collective must have a root too. And in Johnson's case, it's the short termism of running a campaigning government. As May lived from crisis to crisis, and Dave and Osborne from headline to headline, Johnson carries on this ignoble tradition. Everything is framed by owning the libs and exciting the base. Strategy gives way for reacting to today's skirmish, and promises made are not investments for the future but holding operations to kick the can of current difficulties down the road. It's not a matter of intellectual deficiency but the inevitable consequence of managing a public health crisis like the waging of a culture war.

Regrettably, the outcome of this is an incoherent public health strategy, needless infections and tens of thousands more deaths than would otherwise be the case. Demonstrating the psychopathy of Tory short-termism is entirely fitting for Halloween.

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8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The usual incompetence, but the pattern is much the same across Europe with diverse approaches - economically Europe is on its knees.

Have to say though, it's a lockdown, Jim, but not as we know it, and never was - not even the first time when the Brits were moaning, nothing like France or Italy where it was illegal to go out and in Italy for the past three weeks mask-wearing has been compulsory at all times outside except eating.

And still, it is spreading - mostly, quite obviously, cos the kids and students are germ farms. There - I'm not an epidemiologist, but it's pretty fucking obvious. Everything is fucked until there's a vaccine.

Dipper said...

Yes it is incompetent but the source of incompetence doesn't lie (completely) in the Tory government, but in the public sector mindset on display.

Tories are spitting feathers here. This is the incompetence inherent in large state bureaucracies on full display and it is Tories paying the bill. The notion that had Labour been fun charge things would have been better is utterly fanciful.

The debate on Wednesday is going to be interesting. By that time the many, many holes in the SAGE case will have been exposed. Why is it sensible to project worse cases on the basis of the virus spreading six times faster than it is in France? Why are we looking at cases reliant on a spread of R when all the values of R are above the current?

It is easy to say Johnson had no choice but to follow SAGE. But ultimately he is responsible for appointing his advisors. Why are the many, many academic voices who disagree with SAGE not allowed at the table?

Karl Greenall said...

From what we know of Johnson's advisors, it is clear that "Big Government Thinking" is in short supply in our current situation. For evidence, look at the privatised shambles that is supposedly Test and Trace.
The re-imposition of lockdown is due to repeated failures to follow advice from SAGE, not the opposite.
Finally, the real clash is between common sense, and crackpot libertarianism of the sort found on the Tory backbenches, that Johnson also subscribes to.

George Carty said...

Anonymous, isn't the entire Western world on its knees (except for the Antipodean nations, saved by their geographic isolation) because it doesn't have the stomach to adopt the Chinese approach to fighting Covid, the only one that can actually work against such a contagious virus once it becomes endemic?

Wuhan's lockdown only reduced R from 3.9 to 1.3, which of course isn't enough to bring the virus under control. What it actually took to defeat the virus in China was a campaign of rounding up anyone who had suspicious symptoms (a fever or a cough) into centralized quarantine facilities (usually requisitioned hotels) until they could be tested, along with any contacts of these people. I think such an approach would be almost impossible in any Western country (in the USA it would probably lead to a full-blown civil war).

Dipper is arse-backwards when it comes to explaining government incompetence, at least where the UK and US are concerned. In those English-speaking countries the real problem is that the state's power has been eviscerated as more and more of its functionality has been outsourced to pseudo-private firms (the pseudo- is of course because they do not operate under genuine market competition as true capitalist firms do).

Anonymous said...

You answer your questions Dipper in the last paragraph. Ultimately, it is the politicians who lead the troops. The buck stops with them, and the UK government has the worst record in Europe - they had weeks of notice of the disaster that hit Italy (Italy - hardly famous for its organisation) yet managed to do significantly worse.

I do think there are questions to ask the civil service, specifically over track and trace - who made the decision to move from established local tracing to centralised private companies, but I suspect this also lands at the feet of the Tories having impoverished a system long enough for the officials to be presented with a fait d'accompli driven by Ministerial dictat.

David Ruben said...

The other "academic voices" weren't experts in infectious disease, nor healthcare management. Sure taking no action is" beneficial in the long term and 30 years down the line society would be economically flourishing... But the history books will tell of the brave generation who sacrificed after deciding to implement only mild social distancing measures restricted the pandemic deaths by half to just 250,000 (Imperial College analysis in March that modelled 500k deaths if took no action at all and, 250k for the measures already then on place and 20k of immediate hard lock down undertaken the week prior). The history books as well as relating the "sacrifice" if the 250k who got covid will also note the wider sacrifice of those with other health conditions who died for lack of hospital beds (no survival if get appendicitis if no surgeons or open theatres now full of patients on ventilators).
Above extreme alternative to taking no action but Barrington declaration was also naiive in wishing to get on and treat normal non-covid health issues and impact on society.
The "way out" needs be somewhere in between - if need to do a lockdown then do sooner rather than later when numbers increased, and do it tightly so that lasts a short as possible (China took 8 weeks to go from 10 deaths a day, up, and then back down to just 10/day, in UK we were only just getting there after 6 months), and lastly have a meaningful exit to lock down that allows lufe/society to restart but without allowing an epontential pandemic to escalate again needing further lock downs.

Joseph said...

I should not do, but I find it astonishing that we have a Prime Minister who reportedly never trouble to read a document. If you had a solicitor acting for you, or a doctor, who never bothered to read anything, they would be unable to act in your interests and would, I trust, be out on their ear and guilty of gross professional negligence if they did purport to act for you. Johnson is simply incompetent in the literal sense - if this reported attitude is true, he is not fit for office - not as an MP, let alone Prime Minister.

I would think much the same if we had a Labour Prime Minister who lacked this basic competence.

Anonymous said...

World beating test and trace is in the hands of "efficient" private sector companies and they've made a complete shambles of it.
The beaurocraic public sector would have made a far better job couldn't be any worse.
Johnson should have taken the experts advice and lockdown earlier. That is the governments responsibility