Sunday Blog 13: May 3 2020: Has The Government Learned A Lesson?: What About Labour?

The Government

Although it is steadfast in its insistence that it does the right things at the right time, it is now clear that ministers and the scientific advisers they listen to, accept that they got it wrong at the beginning of the crisis and have been playing frantic catch-up ever since. The initial plan to abandon testing and containment and go to what has become known as herd immunity, was based on off the shelf modelling around a flu pandemic which ignored raw data coming from the epidemic front lines. Covid 19 is very not seasonal flu.

When the realisation dawned it was already too late. Although the expansion of the NHS to cope with overwhelming numbers has indeed been a triumph, the failures in almost every other area, especially testing infrastructure and PPE supply, have been obvious.

The price has been a death toll way ahead of the worst fears, at least within the parameters of trying to limit the spread. We are about to become the highest death toll in Europe, perhaps even the second highest in the world. We are accepting daily fatalities in hundreds, comforted only by the fact they are slowly falling. Clearly not everything done was right nor was it timely.

Proof of that is the far more enlightened and comprehensive plan, subject to clear cut and logical conditions, for the gradual easing of the current lock down. The overriding priority is to prevent a second wave. Had these ideas been acted upon at the end of February or the beginning of March, after proper pandemic preparation based on front line data, the first wave would have been a good deal less devastating and the economic shock a lot more short term.


Labour supporters may be forgiven if they feel disappointment that the election of a new leader and the appointment of a talented shadow cabinet has not produced a bounce in the polls. The more so because Keir Starmer’s performance in both the media and parliament has been impressive. But this is a time of national emergency when the ruling party is constantly active across all media, national unity limits criticism and the general public has no time at all for adversarial party politics.

As the medical emergency eases, economics will come once again to the fore. People will learn to live with the fear of catching the c-virus, as during the war they learned to live under falling bombs. Take reasonable precautions and trust your luck. But money and how to earn it will become the bigger worry and the soul destroying experience of unemployment among those who never thought it would happen to them, will create a different political dynamic.

That should be Labour’s moment. However the problem will be that the Boris/Cummings government is economically far to the left of anything Labour has even dreamt of for decades. It would be so easy if an austerity style Tory government sough to pay for the huge cost of the eye watering cost of hibernating the economy to preserve the basis of revival, with another few years of cuts and a fetish about balancing ‘the books’. But no.

It will be a government hell bent on investing its way out of the problem by borrowing and printing whatever it takes, hundreds of billions upon hundreds of billions, in order to grow the economy on a scale generally associated with Asia rather than Europe or the US. And one which styles itself ‘the People’s Government’ and which sees a society dominated by the priorities and needs ordinary workers and public servants, who are currently risking their lives in the front line of the pandemic. If it does not turn its back entirely on the hedge fund managers, lawyers and bankers, they will most certainly no longer be the first in line. Nor will inflation of fixed assets be the mainstay of growth.

So Labour will have to show great maturity and much self discipline. It will have to show it can do all of it but do it better. That is easier said than done. But done it will have to be if Labour is ever again to form a majority government.

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