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In troubled times, the government must be closely held to account

THE US tradition of choosing wildly unsuitable presidential running mates means that, according to the morbid joke, in the event of misfortune striking down the incumbent, the secret service has orders to shoot the vice-president.

Let us hope that such a contingency does not arise in our present circumstances. 

Our Prime Minister is receiving the best care possible and the desire for him to swiftly recover, take up again his many government and domestic responsibilities, and allow the business of government to continue with clear direction and timely action is shared by all.

This hope arises not from the fear that the newly elevated Dominic Raab might be an particularly unsafe pair of hands in the present emergency.

This has already been established in that the Cabinet which includes him failed to take the necessary and timely action to limit movement and reduce the transmission rate of infection.

It is not so much what this government is failing to do — although this will be judged in the accounting — but what this and previous Tory governments have done to leave the NHS in a state ill-equipped to meet this pandemic.

It is taking superhuman efforts by health workers — too often without adequate equipment and protection for working in such hazardous conditions — to defeat the coronavirus epidemic.

Raab is Foreign Secretary. He may not be absolutely sure in which country Lima is situated and he may be a bit hazy about the economic importance of our continental trade, but he must know that both China and South Korea have adopted measures which have successfully reduced the rate of infection and the proportion of deaths.

Ministers speak about the necessity to flatten the curve and reduce the contagion enough to enable a hastily reinforced NHS to equip itself to meet peak demand, but the truth is that the government has failed to anticipate problems early enough and has proved unwilling or too incompetent to take the necessary measures.

Such failures are not just measured in the moment, but by the clear evidence that years of NHS underfunding combined with the privatisation of myriad NHS functions has weakened its capacity to meet the emergency.

We have both a new man as the head of the government and a new man as the leader of the opposition.

While the government is keen to diffuse responsibility for its manifest failures, Sir Keir Starmer should stay well clear of any manoeuvres that might entangle Labour in a quasi-national government set-up or any less formal mechanism which so obviously serves Tory aims.

The interests of the British people are best served by a vigilant opposition in Parliament and an active labour movement presence in the workplace and communities.

The institutions and procedures of the British Parliament are suffused with archaic mechanisms which have evolved to obscure the naked clash of class interests. 

The job of Labour in Parliament is not to serve as Her Majesty’s loyal opposition but to serve the interests of the working people of these islands and our nations.

Facile comparisons are drawn between earlier national governments. The first of these took a right-wing pro-imperial rump of Labour into an alliance with the Tories and Liberals with the main task of managing the post-first world war crisis and the economic depression in the interest of capitalist stabilisation.

The second world war cross-party government only acquired legitimacy as the expression of a nation united against fascism.

Working-class interests today and the needs of the nation as a whole are best served by Labour acting as a fierce invigilator of the government.

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