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Real opposition means an elimination strategy

JOAN TWELVES explains why Zero Covid must be a priority at Labour Party Conference

THE sun is out and the parks, beaches and countryside are packed as lockdown is relaxed.

Shielding — and its related statutory sick pay — ends today and Johnson and Sunak are urging people back to the office, regardless of the safety of their workplace, because even though the Easter school holidays are just starting, stressed, overworked mums and dads have had enough “days off.”

At the same time, the third wave is surging across Europe. Whether half-vaccinating half the population will protect us from variants and mutations is yet to be seen.

As someone getting my second jab tomorrow, I really, really want to hope so — but it is not a truism to say that none of us are safe until we are all safe.

Covid-19 has dominated all our lives for the past year and it’s not going away. 150,000 Brits have died to date and hundreds of thousands are facing grief, loss and long-term illness.

Unless there is a change of strategy, tens of thousands more will die.

We cannot and must not accept “living with the virus” any longer. Government advisers admit that such a strategy is likely to involve a further 30,000 to 80,000 deaths. Instead of seeking to contain the virus, we need to work to eliminate it.

The Tories have a lot to answer for. A decade of austerity and privatisation left the NHS and social care underprepared. The outsourced Test and Trace system does not work, despite costing billions.

A year into the pandemic, sick pay is still abysmally low — the lowest in Europe — and excludes many of the lowest paid or most precarious workers, thus making self-isolation impossible for many.

Far too many employers are being allowed to get away with insisting workers come into unsafe workplaces, including many that should have been entirely shut down as inessential.

Demands for adequate PPE, for proper ventilation and for social distancing for workers have all been ignored. Pitifully weak health and safety legislation, long labelled as “red tape” by the Tories and right-wing media, is not enforced.

Local authorities are desperately trying to support those in their communities most at risk but are grappling with the millstone of deeper and deeper cuts to their funding. And the blight of overcrowded and all too often unsanitary housing — especially in the deregulated private sector — means the virus hits the poorest communities disproportionately.

Most of the Covid deaths in Britain could have been prevented if the Tory government had been challenged to adopt a different approach; instead its deadly strategy has been backed by the Labour leadership, which has repeatedly refused to champion the Zero Covid approach successfully adopted in other countries and supported by many left MPs.

As a result Labour is seen as complicit with the Tories’ incompetence and corruption. How else can the Tories’ poll lead and Labour’s ever-sinking popularity be explained?

The success of the NHS-led vaccine programme may be giving a temporary boost to Boris Johnson, but those thousands who have lost family members and friends, who have worked night and day in the most fraught and stressful of circumstances, whose kids have lost their hopes of a future, who have lost jobs, businesses, livelihoods and dreams, they won’t forget. Or forgive either government or opposition for their leadership failures.

Faced not only with the challenge of articulating an alternative strategy to living with the virus, but also with the gross inequalities of race, gender and class exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic and with the certain knowledge that without change we are faced with years of recession, austerity and unemployment, there is a policy vacuum at the heart of Labour.

The 2019 manifesto has been rejected and nothing of substance put in its place.

Labour’s conference in September may seem a long time away, but Momentum is organising a policy primary now to determine which motions to conference it should back. It would be unconscionable if this year of all years Labour did not discuss the Covid pandemic.

It has to be the number one priority. And it has to be a discussion based not on just criticising the Tories for doing too little too late or lining their chums’ pockets, but on a real alternative approach based on social solidarity. Anything else is endorsing social murder.

Momentum is asking its members to pick eight of 31 motions to back. Many of the most urgent issues which have arisen during the pandemic are not reflected in the motions — either those directly relating to it such as NHS pay and safe workplaces, but also Black Lives Matter, violence against women and girls, civil liberties and the right to protest.

But others are important and seek to move us on — such as those calling for building back fairer, with either universal basic services or incomes, changes to our corrupt and undemocratic political system and a green new deal.

They complement the Zero Covid motion which not only calls for a change of strategy now and in the event of future similar pandemics but also links that to how ecological destruction will undoubtedly result in more lethal and uncontrollable pandemics, which is why a green recovery plan has to go hand in hand with a Zero Covid approach.

Vote Number 1 — Covid-19 Pandemic — in the Momentum policy primary — voting ends at midnight March 31.

Go to peoplesmomentum.com/policy-primary to vote.

Joan Twelves is a Zero Covid UK steering committee member.

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