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Out of this crisis, we need to fight for a new normal 

RICHARD BURGON MP argues that the government will only deliver the change we need if we build the movements that demand it

THIS crisis has not only shone a spotlight on the huge inequalities in our society — it has deepened them.  

Of course, it has been a very good crisis for some. As the Sunday Times rich list revealed last month, British billionaires increased their wealth by £106 billion during the pandemic. That’s £290 million every single day. 

But it’s been a disaster for the majority. 

Tens of thousands of people have needlessly lost their lives. 

We’ve seen a growing corporate takeover of government and the stench of corruption as billions in Covid contracts are handed to those with friends in high places. 

Over £800m alone went in Covid contracts to donors who had given the Tories £8m! 

We’ve seen the crisis used as cover for further outsourcing — with Serco and others put in charge of Test and Trace, which has squandered tens of billions of public money while not delivering the basic local health protections that people need.  

We’ve seen a so-called education recovery fund that gives working-class kids just £1 per day. 

And we’ve seen the crisis used to drive down wages and conditions through “fire and rehire.”

The deep failings of four decades dominated by neoliberalism, marketisation, deregulation and privatisation are clear for all to see in the response to this crisis. 

So out of the despair of the last year, we need this to be the moment when we ditch the free-market model that has failed people and planet. 

I am optimistic we can win the progressive change needed because the public agree with us. Polls show people want a more inclusive and equal society out of this crisis.

And I am optimistic because the Thatcherite ideas rammed down people’s throats for decades are on the ropes. 

It wasn’t long ago that we were told the state should play no role in the economy. After the banking crisis and now this crisis, nobody can seriously argue that. 

And it wasn’t long ago that we were told that you had to lower taxes year after year to grow the economy. 

Whatever one thinks of the detail of the global tax deal recently announced at the G7 conference, it is very different from the rhetoric of the last 40 years.

So change is in the air. But if left to its own devices that change will mean a Tory Party using the state to bail out the billionaires while leaving the rest of society to sink. 

The Tories will try to pay for this crisis on the backs of the vast majority of people. 

Look at how the Tories tried to stop calls to extend free school meals to children from low-income families during school holidays. 

Look at how they are preparing to slash universal credit. 

Look at what they are already doing with sick pay with the callous refusal to raise it to decent levels so that people don’t have to choose between health and putting food on the table. 

This crisis has shown how the government could, if it wanted, tackle these problems overnight.  

Instead it is trying to use this crisis to entrench the interests of the tiny few. 

When our public services are crying out for investment, Britain’s military spending will rise by £24bn over the next four years too. 

Billions more will be wasted on a new generation of nuclear weapons. 

As Tony Benn said: “If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.”

So we on the left need to be winning the argument — in our party, in our unions, in our communities for a progressive way out of this crisis. 

That’s why this Saturday’s People’s Assembly Against Austerity demonstration comes at a crucial time — we need to be demanding the huge public investment that can transform our society.  

The wind is in our sails. When even a centrist US president is announcing the end of trickle-down economics, a massive public investment programme and taxes on the super-rich to pay for this, then that’s the very least Labour should be arguing for.  

Even the Tories have had to adopt the language of “levelling up” and “building back better.” 

Of course, that’s empty rhetoric, but the left can use that space to fight for a better society.  

This is the moment for progressives to seize the agenda and fight for a new normal — a society that serves the many, not the few. 

From a wealth tax on the super-rich, to a Green New Deal that means we don’t deal with the climate crisis as badly as the Covid crisis. 

For a national care service that treats older people with dignity and for a 15 per cent pay raise for undervalued NHS staff. 

For a minimum wage of £10 per hour, a social security system that offers real security, for millions of new council homes, for proper rights at work and for so much more.

We will only win that change if we build the movements — inside Parliament, in the unions and on the streets — that force this government to deliver a new normal. 

So let’s start by ensuring the biggest turnout possible at this weekend’s People’s Assembly demonstration. 

Richard Burgon is Labour MP for Leeds East.

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