Why is the Labour Party so enthusiastic about Covid-19 lockdowns when they are so destructive to our poorest communities?

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Rather than questioning Tory lockdowns, Sir Keir Starmer’s party, and the wider British left, have only ever called for them to be harder, faster and longer despite the havoc they wreak on those they claim to represent.

Whenever Home Secretary Priti Patel is wheeled out to lead the daily government briefing we know we have done something wrong and something rotten is about to be rolled out. So from this week, thanks to our collective bad behaviour, £800 fines will be issued to those attending house parties of 15 or more people. This is the latest punishment the government has added to its stick and stick approach to enforcing the lockdown.

All this at a time when the working class are having literally the worst times of our lives. There is no ‘good lockdown’ for working class people who are more likely to be redundant or on furlough, living in cramped, crowded conditions, and whose children are struggling and falling behind at school. Another threat to frighten people with is not the answer.

In my other role as academic researcher and sociologist I have been interested in the historical context of impinging civil and human rights in times of crisis. I came across an academic article from 2013 in the journal ‘Emerging Infectious disease’. The author,  Eugenia Tognotti, looks back to the plague of the 1400s and outlines the use of quarantine and other measures for controlling epidemic diseases. She notes they have always been controversial because such strategies raise political, ethical, and socioeconomic issues requiring careful balance between public interest and individual rights.

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Quarantine (from the Italian “quaranta,” meaning 40) was adopted as an obligatory means of separating persons, animals, and goods that may have been exposed to a contagious disease. ‘Quarantine’ laws since the 1400s have been well documented and, in some countries, have been used to suspend personal liberty and even provided the opportunity to stop political opposition. For example, the increasing use of quarantine and isolation conflicted with citizens’ rights and contributed to the growing sentiments of frustration fostered by the French Revolution of 1789.

In England, liberal reformers contested both quarantine and compulsory vaccination against smallpox. Social and political tensions created an explosive mixture, culminating in popular rebellions and uprisings, a phenomenon that affected numerous European countries. I fear in the 2020s that ‘quarantina’ will be used by politicians worldwide to create an authoritarian consensus between once opposing political parties to rule together and share power indefinitely.

Our current problems are not new, but what I do find unusual and worrying is the lack of any opposing voice. Over the last year, the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent measures to control it, have infringed seriously on our human and civil rights particularly within those communities that were already under state scrutiny because of their colour, their community, and their class.

In the last year we have had testimony from those communities and also hard evidence from the data collected on unemployment figures, health outcomes, and also what is happening to working class children’s education from organisations such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Resolution Foundation. Even the Government is acknowledging the stark inequalities that Covid has exposed. We know that working class communities rely heavily on public services. Even before the pandemic these had been diminished by austerity, but post-Covid they have disappeared completely.

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For working class families the local schools have always acted as much more than places of learning, they are community hubs where gossip is swapped at the school gate, where friendships are made, where people regularly see each other and note one another’s well-being. Schools offer a warm meal daily, and childcare that working class parents desperately need.

The lockdowns have crashed into these communities like a tsunami – and it will not be until the tidal wave has gone that we will see the full extent of the damage it has caused. I am therefore puzzled by those on the political left and centre left evangelical support for keeping people locked down. They are standing aside and almost cheering as civil rights are being burned in front of them. The Labour Party, and Labour councils all over the country have enforced lockdowns with an almost religious zeal. Not a week goes by without the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, calling for stricter lockdown measures. Of course we need to keep people safe and we need to ensure the NHS does not get overwhelmed, but I have seen a complete lack of understanding as to why the poorest communities have struggled to cope in lockdown.

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My puzzlement extends to the wider left, who again are constantly calling for more and more authoritarian lockdown measures and curbs on people’s rights. The police have been given increased powers to stop, question, fine, and arrest the British public and yet there has been complete silence from the Labour Party and the British left. Policing has become so much more visible in our towns and cities, and of course those most likely to be stopped, questioned and searched are younger working class people, especially black and other minority groups. I would have thought this fact alone would cause some sections of the left to raise an eyebrow but it seems they are unconcerned about the growing authoritarianism being imposed during the pandemic. We will have to fight hard to reclaim these rights once this disease has abated. 

So why are the Labour Party and the wider left showing no concern and no compassion over the consequences of the lockdown measures or the restriction on civil rights especially on the poorest communities? There have been noises about universal credit, and free school meals from the Labour benches – but no action, no solidarity and absolutely no understanding of why working class people in the UK may struggle with lockdown.

My argument is that the Labour Party and the wider left over the last 40 years have ditched their concerns for the working class and in fact have become a party for the middle class and by the middle class. In November 2020 former MP for Ashfield, the constituency where I grew up in Nottinghamshire, Gloria De Piero, warned her party that they had all but lost the working class vote. Her 8,820 majority at the 2015 general election fell to just 441 in 2017. Then in 2019, her former office manager, Lee Anderson, defected to the Conservatives and took the seat with a 5,733 majority. 

A 2017 survey found that 77 percent of Labour Party members fell within the ABC1 social classes. Where is the left, where is the Labour party? Who is speaking up for and understanding the real pain that is in our working class communities? The anguish and the struggles that working class families are undertaking in trying to stay safe and alive have been forgotten. 

I do not say this lightly but I believe our class system is so entrenched and toxic that the middle class – the politicians and the media that report from Westminster – think of the British working class as children who need to be cajoled, fooled and punished into taking their medicine. The Labour Party and the British left can never achieve power or a coherent movement without the working class – and they can never do this while they treat them with such obvious contempt.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

UK’s Labour Party calls for inquiry into PM adviser’s lockdown trip

May 23, 2020 / 4:17 PM / Updated 3 hours agoUK's Labour Party calls for inquiry into PM adviser's lockdown trip

FILE PHOTO: Dominic Cummings, special advisor for Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives in Downing Street, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 2, 2020. REUTERS//File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s opposition Labour Party on Saturday called for an urgent inquiry into claims that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior adviser broke lockdown rules with a 400 km journey to ensure childcare for his 4-year-old son.

Labour wrote to the country’s most senior civil servant, Mark Sedwill, asking for an urgent investigation.

“The British people have made important and painful sacrifices to support the national effort, including being away from family in times of need,” Rachel Reeves, Labour’s cabinet office minister in waiting, wrote in the letter.

“It is therefore vital that the government can reassure the public that its most senior figures have been adhering to the same rules as everyone else,” she wrote.

New father Johnson holds cabinet meeting amid questions over UK’s coronavirus response

April 30, 2020 / 7:21 AM / Updated 2 hours agoNew father Johnson holds cabinet meeting amid questions over UK's coronavirus responseMichael Holden, Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) – A day after his fiancee gave birth, Prime Minister Boris Johnson leads a meeting of his top ministers on Thursday to discuss how to ease Britain’s lockdown amid a backdrop of rising deaths and questions over the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks outside 10 Downing Street after recovering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, April 27, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley

New figures on Wednesday showed that Britain now has the second highest official COVD-19 death toll with more than 26,000 deaths, a statistic which puts pressure on the government over its response to the outbreak and fuelled caution in raising restrictions on movement in case that led to a second spike.

The government will also face questions if it fails to meet a target Heath Minister Matt Hancock set of carrying out 100,000 daily tests for the virus by the end of April, with testing seen as key to ending the lockdown.

Johnson returned to work on Monday having recovered after being infected with the virus, which left him gravely ill in intensive care at the peak of the outbreak. On Wednesday, his attention was elsewhere after his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, gave birth to the couple’s son.

He will delay any paternity leave to head the cabinet meeting on Thursday and later is expected to front a daily media conference for the first time since he fell ill.

Johnson cautioned on Monday that it would be risky to relax the stringent economic and social restrictions imposed six weeks ago but with rising unemployment and many companies crippled, the government is coming under pressure to outline an exit strategy.

“I don’t think you’re going to hear specific detail, I think that would be premature frankly,” justice minister Robert Buckland told BBC TV when asked if Johnson would provide some detail of plans to ease the lockdown.

“The British people would expect us to be cautious.”

The opposition Labour Party has accused the government of being slow to react to the crisis, by delaying the imposition of the lockdown and then failing to ramp up the provision of protective equipment to frontline staff and the number of tests.

Some 52,429 tests were carried out on Wednesday, according to the latest figures and Buckland indicated that the government would miss its target.

“Even if it isn’t met, we are well on our way to ramping this up,” he said.

UK’s Johnson ‘raring to go’ but faces mountain of problems

April 26, 2020 / 7:35 AM / in 2 hoursUK's Johnson 'raring to go' but faces mountain of problems

FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference on the ongoing situation with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London, Britain March 22, 2020. Ian Vogler/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will come under immediate pressure to set out a plan to ease the coronavirus lockdown when he returns to work on Monday after a three-week interruption due to a bad case of COVID-19.

Johnson, who spent a week in hospital in early April including three nights in intensive care, is “raring to go” as he prepares to return from his country residence to his Downing Street office in London, a source there said on Sunday.

In his absence, the government has faced growing criticism over complaints from staff in hospitals and care homes that they have received insufficient supplies of protective kit, and over levels of coronavirus testing that are well below its target.

The number of deaths related to COVID-19 in hospitals across the United Kingdom has risen above 20,000, the latest data showed on Saturday, with the overall figure likely to be significantly higher once deaths in care homes and hospices are tallied.

But with signs of economic calamity and public frustration at strict social distancing measures piling up, the government is facing growing calls to start explaining how it intends to ease the lockdown.

So far, ministers have refused to give any indication on their thinking to the public, arguing that for now everyone needed to remain focused on the core message which was to stay at home except for essential travel.

On his desk, Johnson will find a letter from opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer arguing that their stance was no longer tenable and the government should treat the public as grown-ups.

“The UK government is behind the curve on this. I fear we are falling behind the rest of the world. Simply acting as if this discussion is not happening is not credible,” Starmer wrote in the letter, which was circulated to journalists.

“The British public have made great sacrifices to make the lockdown work. They deserve to be part of an adult conversation about what comes next. If we want to take people with us and secure their consent, this is necessary now.”