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We should be fighting the Tories, not each other

DIANE ABBOTT says a vicious government driving down pay, unleashing a public health crisis and waging war on refugees is being let off the hook by a Labour leadership fixated on purges and internal division

THIS government’s policies are severely damaging both the health and prosperity of people in this country. They are probably the most damaging policies inflicted by our own government in the last hundred years. 

Vicious attacks on health and pay are supplemented by increased dog-whistle politics and threatening to undermine peace in Ireland.

It should not need saying, but now is the time for unity to oppose all these and other onslaughts. But it is clear many would prefer division, disunity and even expulsions. 

It is certain that history will not be kind to this government. It is possible that it will also have a harsh judgement on all those who let them do their worst, and pursued policies which can only damage the labour movement and the Labour Party.

The government’s decision to go ahead with what it insists was “freedom day” has already been predictably disastrous. Many of us argued that this was only freedom for the virus, which now has even greater room to circulate and mutate among a partially vaccinated population. 

In contrast, literally millions of the vulnerable and immuno-suppressed will be forced into isolation over the longer term. The previous policy of partial and incomplete lockdown has been replaced with a catastrophic policy of “let it rip,” which amounts to herd immunity by infection.

This policy has been widely denounced by health experts and scientists, including many Sage members as well as others in Independent Sage and in the World Health Organisation. 

All this while both globally and nationally the pandemic is deteriorating rapidly across a broad range of indicators. 

The daily new case load in this country is in the tens of thousands, the daily rate of hospitalisations is in the several hundreds and new Covid-19 fatalities are measured in the dozens. 

Because the growth rates are so high, it seems probable it will not be very long before a new peak of daily cases is recorded over 60,000. Similarly, hospitalisations are set push over 1,000 a day, and unfortunately the death toll will be at 100 or more per day in short order. 

In addition to many serious illnesses and deaths the NHS will again come under extreme pressure. It is not restrictions which are causing the dearth of non-Covid hospital treatments, it is the unchecked spread of virus.

All of this took place as three members of the Cabinet are having to self-isolate and another ought to be. One of them, the Health Secretary, has been double-jabbed and yet contracted the virus. This demonstrates that the government’s vaccine-only policy does not work and cannot work. 

As good as vaccines are, none of them offer 100 per cent protection and many millions remain unvaccinated. The WHO says British government policy is driven by “moral emptiness and epidemiological stupidity.” The WHO is right.

The Tories ought to be very vulnerable on this, as it is literally an immediate matter of life and death. A YouGov poll for The Times showed 55 per cent oppose reopening now with just 31 per cent in support. This is an increase from 50 per cent on a previous poll. It seems likely that this mood will become entrenched as cases, hospitalisations and deaths mount. 

Some of us have long campaigned for a zero-Covid strategy, which has been adopted successfully in other countries. I am proud to say that includes the Morning Star and its editor, who is my co-convenor of the Zero Covid Coalition. A zero-Covid strategy remains the only viable alternative to the ongoing catastrophe here and in other countries.

It is widely understood that government policy has not been aimed at prioritising public health. Instead, the pandemic has been used to lower living standards, through lower pay, with many workers excluded from furlough, fire and rehire and other measures. 

There is now a threat to make ordinary people pay even more after hiking income tax rates for the low paid to increase National Insurance payments. Any public-sector workers taking action against their insulting pay offers deserve full support.

To try getting away with all this the government needs scapegoats. This week the Nationality and Borders Bill came back to the House of Commons. The government is prioritising the continuation of its “culture wars” to get it through these crises.  

Asylum-seekers have an international legal right to claim asylum. But this government asserts we are being “swamped” by the tiny numbers of refugees desperate enough to cross open seas in dinghies. This will affect between 5,000 and 10,000 refugees, some of the most wretched and distressed people on the planet.  

In contrast, unknown millions may have left the country after Brexit, leading to labour shortages in some areas, and the government is struggling to cope with applications for the right to remain from over five million EU citizens. 

It also says it is willing to offer similar status to perhaps 500,000 holders of BNO Hong Kong passports. The refugee numbers are minuscule in comparison. We are being swamped by reactionary propaganda, not by people exercising their legal right to seek asylum.

We also have a legal and moral duty to protect them. But this is an extremist government which has led the country to a double-barrelled public health and economic catastrophe, so naturally it looks all the time for scapegoats.

A similar pattern is evident in relation to policy on Ireland. The government is intent on breaching the Northern Ireland Protocol and undermining the Good Friday Agreement in the process. Both of these are solemn and binding international treaties. 

The latest government statement suggests it will unilaterally breach the Protocol. Farcically, it claims that it hurts British exports to the north of Ireland and in doing so “undermines the parity of esteem” sections of the Good Friday Agreement as they apply the Unionist community!

This is pure hokum, designed to cover for the fact that it is this government which, in abrogating a treaty, is unilaterally challenging the constitutional position of the North without consent. That is in direct breach of the Good Friday Agreement, and we should say so plainly.

In light of all this it is very disheartening to see the Labour Party adopt a policy of proscriptions and summary expulsions. This did not happen even in Blair’s time. Under Neil Kinnock the expelled supporters of the Militant were informed of charges and at least obtained a hearing. 

If expelling people supporting publications most have barely heard of was going to boost our standing in the polls, you can be sure our former leaders would have done it. The expulsions that did take place under Kinnock did not do him or the party much good. 

Voters do not like divided parties. We should be fighting these Tories above all else, not each other.

Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North & Stoke Newington.

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