MANCHESTER Mayor Andy Burnham has given voice to the frustrations felt by local government leaders throughout the country at the lack of trust and collegiate spirit displayed by ministers in the current consultations about how to respond to the latest uptick in Covid-19 infections, the rising numbers of hospital admissions and the alarming rise in the numbers of patients in intensive care.
Add to the government’s wilful refusal to fully consult over its plans, a confidence-sapping tendency to make late-night announcements about new measures and local government leaders, most vociferously Labour local leaders but in muted terms also Conservatives and we have a serious rupture in what should be a vital co-operation.
Conservative contempt for local government is no new phenomena. Even before Margaret Thatcher imposed the Poll Tax, firstly on the Scots and then on the whole of the country, the Tory approach to local government has been to load extra responsibilities without adequate funding.
Austerity economics as practised by successive Tory governments has led to massive underfunding of local services and a cuts regime that has pared local services to the bone.
Dither and indecision is the trade mark of Boris Johnson’s ministry in the face of the coronavirus crisis. In its initial stages the government’s approach was marked by an anti-science infatuation with crackpot “herd immunity” theories, delay and confusion that together produced an instant impression of incompetence.
Little since has done much to correct this impression and the steady distancing of its scientific and medical advisers from the tone and direction of government pronouncements has been matched, on the part of the public, by a measured maturity in taking, of their own volition, precisely the precautions that scientific opinion suggests.
The government is attempting to calibrate its imposition of new restrictive measures on movement, assembly and commerce according to the level of infection.
Such a structured approach would have much greater credibility if there was accurate data but the collapse of confidence in the accuracy of such information as does exist is compounded by the disappearance of a big tranche of contact data as well as by the patchy and privatised nature of the testing regime.
Even a cursory glance at the demographics of Covid-19 infection brings home the not so startling truth that the coronavirus is the biggest threat in areas where the working class is by far the biggest proportion of the local population.
Of course, by any reasonable definition the working class constitutes the overwhelming proportion of the population anyway but only a recent arrival from space (or perhaps the alumni of Eton and Harrow) would fail to notice that income level and employment status are closely related to both the risk of exposure to the virus and the likely consequence of getting infected and that our collective response must take this into account.
A crisis of this magnitude has inevitably put a big strain on the bonds of social solidarity and the spirit of collective self discipline that marked the nation’s first response to the coronavirus. The government’s approach has, by a big measure, strengthened a sense that we are not all in this together.
Compliance with any new restrictions will be weakened if the people affected lose their jobs with income support, if businesses are left unsupported, if the burdens fall unequally.
Labour is right to condemn the “smash-and-grab” raid on struggling businesses and the TUC is right to emphasise that the government must support jobs in local lockdown areas.
We have here are just the bare bones of a labour movement campaign to tackle the main issues which affect working people in this new stage in the crisis.
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