In a liberal democracy, it’s hard to imagine a more dangerous prospect than neoliberals running a country during a global pandemic. Over the course of the last year, my belief that the answer to major local, regional, national and international problems is anarchism, has been bolstered. Cooperation, mutual aid, and a sense of community have all become essential in dealing with Covid 19. They point towards possibilities for anarchism. Statists too, will be drawing positive conclusions about their own version of socialism. They will point to what can be achieved by a properly funded National Health Service. What of the Thatcherites though, running the (shit) show?
They are faced with a pandemic that can only be stopped by people not congregating in workplaces and spaces where money is exchanged. They are evangelical in their promotion of the free market, equating it with freedom itself, despite it resulting in wage slavery for the masses. Do they stop to think their ideology might be flawed and contradictory at all? Do they wonder if things could be done in a different way?
The actions of the UK government have shown up the splits and contradictions within conservatism and the Conservative Party. It is commonplace to suggest that the Labour Party really represents such distinct factions of socialism and social democracy, that it really should be several parties. The theory goes that a future Labour Party will campaign for proportional representation and then split into different groupings, along such lines. It is clear that this could also apply to the Tories.
Boris Johnson talks a good talk about one nation conservatism. He mentions the phrase regularly, presumably because it is a uniting idea, designed to show that government exists to help everyone. Much of his cabinet, though, and the prominent backbenchers that gained him his leadership are of a different hue. The pressures on Johnson from the neoliberals is immense. Not a day goes by without one or more of them arguing against lockdown, usually in the name of freedom. Johnson’s attempts to satisfy all sections of conservatism result in him satisfying no one.
He is needy and superficial and has swung between the neoliberal opening up of the economy and arguably one nation lockdown measures, in his efforts to be popular. For much of the pandemic we have seen Johnson try to balance these with the tier system of lockdown and a piecemeal furlough scheme. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is said to be a clear neoliberal voice in the cabinet. His Eat Out to Help Out, was designed to kickstart the economy but what it clearly did was help out the virus, which has shown a great deal more intelligence than our national politicians, since hitting the world stage a year or so ago. It further bamboozled the baffled Boris, when he insisted on keeping schools open, to please his neoliberal chums. The virus mutated into a form that spread among young people more easily and was more potent.
The official figures have now passed 100,000 deaths in the UK. That’s the size of my home city of Lincoln. We can all remember when the death tally was shocking at 30 a day across the UK. For most of January it has been over 1,000 per day. More than a quarter of the total deaths have occurred this month alone. We need to be clear about why. It is not acceptable for Johnson to say he is responsible for the pandemic and then simply say that he and his government have done their best.
He has consistently moved too late and done too little when the pandemic has been rising. Meanwhile the opposite is true when it has been on the wane. Already he is talking about the possibilities of opening up the economy in mid-February. The lockdown last summer was 12 weeks long. While the figures for the number of people in hospital are showing signs of improvement, it is likely that the daily death tally will still be in the hundreds by mid-February.
The Chancellor is set to deliver his Budget on March 3rd. In other circumstances it would be the all guns blazing post-Brexit Budget. Had things panned out differently, it could have been that plus the all the guns blazing post-Covid Budget. It’s hard to see it being either, no matter how they dress it up. Rising unemployment, levels of public spending that Jeremy Corbyn would have found a little excessive, prospects of a double-dip recession, massive numbers of people requiring benefits: these are the scene-setters, with no hint at when things can get back to normal, or what normal will become.
Thatcherism is deadly. Adherents will want the Chancellor to commit to getting everyone working again and the market deciding who gets to live and who will die. If you don’t want to turn up to your workplace, get a job where you can work at home. If you think supermarket delivery drivers deserve greater pay, think again. It’s not like they’re hedge fund managers, keeping the economy ticking over, is it? These warped views held by some of the most warped people in society are the views of people at the top of the decision making process. What they do next will decide who lives and dies.
Johnson will be under political pressure to open up the economy. He will be under pressure from the scientists to protect life. Ironically, that will also protect the economy in the long term but the neoliberals can’t see through their religious zeal to accept that. They are obsessed, angry and powerful. Johnson will try to please everyone and fail, yet again. The last thing anyone needs during a global pandemic is ideological impulses that simply make matters worse. It should be the death of Thatcherism; instead, it’s followers are shouting the loudest and having a huge, negative influence on public policy.