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Editorial Lifting the lockdown: we are clearly not ready for June 21

IS THERE any body of women and men less open to reason and rational thought than the people who sit on the government benches in the House of Commons?

Traditionally the Tory Party in Parliament comprises a solid phalanx of knights of the shires drawn from the landowning and stockbroking strata, leavened by a more recent intake of City whizz kids to give a more contemporary gloss to the other ranks of lawyers, estate agents and provincial manufacturers.

One Tory hopeful — undergoing his apprenticeship blooding in a solidly proletarian London constituency — innocently enquired into the purpose of local graffiti which described him as a “merchant banker.”

But not all Tory MPs are that detached from the subversive uses to which our common language is put and we should guard against writing off these people as bourgeois blockheads. Whether capable, competent or clueless, Tory MPs see the unconstrained accumulation of capital as their highest priority.

If the decisive centre of ruling class power is not necessarily found in the Houses of Parliament nevertheless this is where the compromises that make British capitalism tick over take place thus this resistance of Tory MPs to rational thought is important.

The issue on which public policy turns this week is the absolute contradiction between the views of a substantial if not decisive section of these MPs that Britain’s Covid crisis lockdown must end on June 21 and the almost unanimous contrary view of anyone who knows anything about infection, disease, epidemiology or human behaviour.

The salient and most serious opinion among the professionals is that the vaccination programme needs to be further down the road to maximum immunity and that a decision about the timing and extent of any measures to relax social interaction should be taken only on the basis of the insights into the potency of the Delta variant that the numbers provide.

The two morally dubious political factors which intrude into this debate are the fear on the part of the government that its reputation for competence will be further compromised by uncertainty and that the credibility of Boris Johnson will be pushed closer to breaking point. They fret that the progress in vaccinating the bulk of the British population will not be enough to maintain confidence.

Delta is the new category which classifies the coronavirus currently creating most concern. If indeed this variant became epidemic in India then the Prime Minister’s decision to keep India on the red list for a further fortnight adds yet another blot on his record.

The concerns expressed today by the health and education unions — that people like health professionals and patients or teachers and students are especially at risk in crowded workplaces — must be taken into account.

Beyond this, our government needs to act on the basis that the health and wellbeing of the British people is the highest priority.

Confidence in government is critically dependent on it taking decisions on the basis of scientific and medical advice rather than the narrowly commercial and essentially venal considerations which seem to animate its MPs.

The speed with which this virus spreads and its ability to mutate means that in a globalised economy, collective action at an international level is vital. Until everyone is safe no-one is safe. Until all countries have vaccinated their people then no border is a barrier to new variants.

The African Union has warned that states are hoarding vaccines. Labour must demand that the British government give its backing to the call from the World Health Organisation for a new pandemic treaty that makes the suppression of the virus throughout the world a collective responsibility.


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