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Editorial: A combat-ready stance pays dividends during this crisis

KEIR STARMER’S approval rating is up 3 per cent. In a welcome rise, this puts him one point ahead of Boris Johnson.

This positive feedback on a clearly observable uptick in public visibility is a pointer to what Labour needs at this point in the political trajectory of the coronavirus crisis.

The Labour leadership, and the party as a whole, will take account of the distinct change of mood that is increasingly evident among working people as confidence has grown with the extension of the furlough scheme.

But vigilance is needed. Contradictory process are at work at every level of the political system.

As the government’s carefully considered and creatively confusing messaging gets across, more people are going back to work and, predictably, a big proportion of these are workers in the most vulnerable of workplace settings in which social distancing and adequate prophylactic measures are most hard to implement, not least in the increasingly crowded public transport network.

Those in our ruling elite who want production to resume irrespective of the human collateral damage have been careful in articulating such sentiments outside of privileged circles, instead preferring to speak of the “national interest.”

The open advocacy of a headlong rush to a deadly “new normal” work regime is today the property of bat-squeak voices like that of the turncoat right-wing ex-Labour MP Ian Austin, who describes union opposition to an unprotected return to work as a betrayal.

Tomorrow it will move from the columns of the openly reactionary press to the mainstream media of respectable bourgeois opinion and then to become government policy.

Unless, that is, we make the political costs for the government of this transition too great to bear.

Today’s news agenda reflects a new mood among working people and welcome voices from Parliament.

Angry Deliveroo drivers, a demand in Scotland for increased payments for the poorest families, a Unite campaign for hospitality workers, teachers’ unions united against a precipitate return to school, TSSA demanding compensation for stricken transport workers and MPs desiring a limit on state aid to tax avoiders in the corporate sector are signs of this.

There is more, much more of this in the pipeline as the steady accumulation of social pressures and economic necessity drives working people out of social isolation and into the fraught world of forced labour.

Another subterranean current of thinking has surfaced in the voice of a Chicago economist arguing in the Financial Times — the daily organ of big business and the banks — that a big section of the commercial middle class is also destined for the scrapheap, to allow “more natural market mechanisms” to come into play.

“Public money should not be used to freeze the current cohort (of small businesses) in place” is the argument made to a receptive readership.

Government ministers, who have a sharper instinct for that which is electorally dangerous than Chicago economists, will go easy on this, but when push comes to shove, as it will, who will stand up for the small entrepreneur, the pub landlord, the high street hairdresser and the cafe owner?

When the labour movement as a whole — every branch of it, trade unions, socialists and communists, co-operators and councillors, MPs and party leaders — makes a stand for workers, it also stands up for every other section of the people that is disadvantaged by government policies which serve big business and the banks.

Our guiding principle is that there is no “national interest” separate from the interests of working people as a whole.

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