Wednesday 20 October 2021

Depoliticising the Covid Crisis

The link between infections, hospitalisations, and deaths are weakening. But not broken. This essential truth of the pandemic Sajid Javid was prepared to accept at Wednesday's press conference. He has determined nearly 50,000 infections, who knows how many long Covid cases, and somewhere between 150-200 people dying every day is a price worth paying so Conservative politicians can go about their business without wearing face masks. And so there are no circuit breaker lockdowns in our future, no mask mandates or social distancing, just a recommendation through gritted teeth that we might think about wearing face coverings, particularly when we're with people they don't know. Because Coronavirus has a track record of good manners and refusing to pass from a host to their families and friends.

We've had many occasions to talk about Tory recklessness. But there comes a point, one well passed by this worst government of modern times, where we have to talk about social murder. The Tories' refusal to push the most elementary precautions that are depressing infections and deaths overseas can only lead to this conclusion. As they stress in every briefing and television appearance, they're "monitoring the numbers" and listening to "the science". If the latter is the case, you've got to ask what kind of chief medical officer is chillaxed about a thousand Covid deaths a week. One, I might suggest, who doesn't take the Hippocratic Oath that seriously.

Sajid Javid was and is the worst possible health secretary appointment at the worst possible time. Worse than Matt Hancock, if you can believe that, and so terrible that Jeremy Hunt has become something of a pin up for the Ian Dunts of this world. His refusal to lift a finger is unconscionable, but not without political purposes. Johnson's Tories have gone from "fuck business" to treating the economy as if it's the be-all and end-all (how well an economy can chug along with mass Covid, absenteeism is something we'll find out soon enough) but this is a thinly-disguised excuse. One sure to spin gullible fools into a tiz thinking the Tories are mistaken, complacent, misinformed, but acting out of honestly-held ideological beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The government's refusal to protect the population is an outcome of championing the class interests the Tories articulate, protect, and prosecute. And while keeping things circulating, like rents to landlords and the buoyant property market, their necropolitics - how they are managing the question of who lives and dies - has the effect of serving Tory politics. The first is individuation and atomisation. We hear a lot about how Johnson's Tories represent a break with neoliberal economics. Perhaps so if the departure point is the state's relation to markets and its role as a guarantor of last resort versus active participant, as per the typical picture of post-war corporatism in West European states. But the picture is more complex when you get into the guts of "Johnsonism". Big capital spending, talk of infrastructure renewal, but the same mean-spirited attacks on the poorest and beggar-thy-neighbour divide-and-ruleism. Neoliberal economics, commonly conceived, are gone but neoliberal governance is alive and well and central to contemporary Tory politics.

This applies to Covid precautions too. Placing virus avoidance on individual shoulders, a positive test and its consequences are either their sole responsibility, or a matter of complete accident. The government had nothing to do with it. It means if someone contracts the disease, they're going to blame the maskless others who coughed and spluttered when they were nearby, or themselves for not taking the precaution of protecting themselves. Blame is entirely depoliticised. Meanwhile the Conservative-supporting core, sat at home and in a better position to manage their exposure, find handy scapegoats to point the finger at. Such is the Tory way: the party and its politicians are endlessly inventive in coming up with ways of dividing people up, all the better to undermine possibilities and potentials for collective action and opposition. And the beauty, from the government's point of view, is how the official opposition in the Commons and in the liberal/Labour-loyal press are completely blind to it. This conscious, deliberate governance strategy scoots right under the radar, and doesn't even figure in any mainstream framing of politics.

The second is an ostentatious, but equally depoliticised display of reduced state capacity. This is consistent with Tory social policy generally. The message Rishi Sunak gave at party conference was don't expect the government to help you, and to underline the point it's taking £1,000/year off the poorest and lowest paid and saddling everyone else with tax increases. Just as inflation ticks upwards too. The Tories washing their hands of responsibility for mandating Coronavirus precautions is part of the same piece. It blends into the mood music of you're on your own, don't expect anything from or place any demands on the state. Responsibility is yours and yours alone, be it health, wellbeing, or how you make your living. Pushing down the popular perception of state responsibility is another conscious effort at restricting the political horizon, making any project of social reform, even relatively meagre ones appear out of bounds. Saying nothing and resisting the right to recommend nothing is as calculated as any overt attack, and aims at shifting politics to the right.

Annoyingly, this has worked so far. From the off the necropolitics of the crisis were as clear as day, and over 18 months on they've worked a treat. The Tories are in the lead, its voter coalition are largely untouched, the opposition haven't contested their framing of the issue, and so it goes on. Their pandemic management has been disastrous, but their political handling, from the point of view of Tory standing, is an unmitigated success. And for this to continue, the Johnsons and Javids, the Goves, Raabs, and Sunaks are very happy for hundreds of other people per week to carry on paying the ultimate price.

Image Credit


WillORNG said...

Isn't this more like privatising, democratising C19? An intensely political policy.

Graham said...

The prime failure of the government is to have let the vaccination rollout stagnate.
In the case of children in England the rollout has hardly started never mind stagnate.

If everybody was fully vaccinated, then hospital admissions and deaths would be a third of what they are now. The reduction in infection would help safeguard those for whom vaccination is less effective, principally those over 80.

Compared to the effects of vaccination “Plan B” is insignificant; working from homes does not apply to most of the workforce and the science over face masks is still inconclusive – it may be that their usefulness is a flag that says the pandemic is not over.

The Tories probably want the debate to be about “Plan B” as it then becomes a matter of timing and diverts attention from their main failure.

Blissex said...

«privatising, democratising C19? An intensely political policy»

Amazingly "The Guardian" published a fairly lucid article about TII and the "Washington Consensus" policy:
«In a report released last December, the cross-party joint committee on national security strategy condemned the government for having “failed seriously to consider how it might scale up testing, isolation and contact-tracing capabilities during a serious disease outbreak” [...] this governing approach, which we call “fatalistic liberalism”, allows it to place the blame on the mix of public behaviour and natural causes. Risk appears to be the consequence of personal choice – people can decide whether to wear a mask or whether to get vaccinated – not the result of policy decisions made at the top»

BCFG said...

"working from homes does not apply to most of the workforce"

How many times does Graham need it explaining to him that working from home affects fucking millions of people! And millions it affects directly!

To repeat for the umpteenth time:

For those who have to go out to work, the roads have less congestion etc etc.

If someone in the house is working from home this reduces their chances of coming into contact with an infected person (thus affecting everyone in the home), if people are working from home it reduces bus and train numbers for those that have to go to work.

Not only does it affect those working directly from home, it also affects those who live with someone working from home. For example, if one person works from home, they can get the tea/dinner/washing on, while they are working. This frees up time for everyone in the house, whether they work from home or not.

Literally everyone is affected by working from home!

Seriously Graham, are you simple or something? or are you chairman of the campaign against home working!

BCFG said...

Incidentally Graham, the main failure of this government isn't the vaccine rollout but their homicidal insistence on putting the 'economy', i.e. profits, before health.

The appointment of Sajid Javid is illustration of this point. Is there anyone in the whole of the UK who could give less of a shit about peoples health than the current health minister?

The guy is fucking monster, just like his colleagues.

Blissex said...

«The prime failure of the government is to have let the vaccination rollout stagnate.»

That is the usual "Washington Consensus" propaganda that Big Pharma are the saviours of humanity and buying one of their products is the only way to fight the epidemic more efficiently than lockdowns.

Conversely the several countries whose (mostly right-wing, but less nasty) governments adopted "Zero COVID"/"TTI" strategies, in part or in full, have had death rates 10-100 times lower than the UK, USA, Italy, etc., and without vaccinations, and without noticeable losses of jobs and businesses, and are taking their time to vaccinate because to let the populations of the "Washington Consensus" countries be the guinea pigs for that.