By Thomas G. Clark (Another Angry Voice)
Whenever they’re confronted with the reality of how badly the Tory government have handled the coronavirus crisisl, the Tory tribalist response is to resort to distraction tactics.
One of their absolute favourite distractions is to conjure up the imaginary scenario of Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister, as if it would self-evidently be so much worse.
The best response they can come up with to distract from the observable reality that tens of thousands are dead because the Tories let the contagion spread like wildfire, is sneering at a purely imaginary scenario!
Of course things would have played out differently with Corbyn in charge, but in what ways would it actually be different?
It’s possible to create two alternate fantasy scenarios, Labour winning in 2017, in which case they would have had over two years to undo some of the Tory vandalism of the NHS and social care system, or Labour winning in 2019, in which case they’d have been thrown straight into coronavirus chaos, literally within weeks of coming to power.
Let’s assume the latter to make it as challenging as possible.
Corbyn simply wouldn’t have been messing about, spewing deranged fantasies about being the “Superman of Capitalism”, bragging about shaking hands with coronavirus patients, or referring to emergency ventilator procurement as “operation last gasp”.
Like him or loathe him, Corbyn takes his politics very seriously, and he’s quite evidently never going to imagine himself as some kind of divine saviour of capitalism who would wilfully sacrifice people’s lives on the altar of “market forces”.
Listening to the science
Johnson embedded his top hatchet man in the supposedly-independent scientific advisory group, but despite this deliberate politicisation of the crisis, the advice given to Corbyn would probably have been more or less similar: Act early to save lives, but lockdown measures will have economic repercussions.
It’s beyond doubt that Corbyn would have taken the humanitarian approach of acting early, rather than deliberately letting things spread out of control in the vain hope that “business as usual” could be continued throughout the massacre.
Johnson eventually reversed course when it became clear that letting the virus spread like wildfire had been a catastrophic error, and that containing the mess was going to cost the economy way more than the standard Test, Trace, Isolate protocol he had been trying to evade in the first place.
Corbyn would have shut down earlier, and probably harder too, but obviously nobody in that scenario would have known how the Johnson wildfire contamination scenario would have played out. So because the the death toll would have been a lot lower, somewhat counter-intuitively there would have been an awful lot more debate around whether the measures were actually necessary, or a terrible economy-wrecking over-reaction.
Corbyn spent his last few Prime Minister’s Questions asking about proper protective gear for NHS staff, so it’s quite clear he would have taken the issue a lot more seriously than Johnson.
It would have been literally impossible for Corbyn to have rectified the Tories’ decade of NHS vandalism within a matter of weeks, let alone their catastrophic lack of pandemic planning, but it’s fair to assume that Labour wouldn’t have been anything like as lackadaisical about the safety of NHS staff, and the procurement of proper protective gear.
The combination of a quicker lockdown and more concern for workers’ safety would surely have resulted in far fewer NHS and care workers losing their lives to the virus.
The Tories shambled together a load of piecemeal measures, let millions of salaried workers fall through the gaps, and essentially told all self-employed people to ‘piss off until June’. The motivation for initiating this convoluted mess was their vehement ideological objection to a temporary Basic Income, just in case it worked out well, and became too popular to scrap.
Corbyn and McDonnell had expressed interest in running Basic Income trials, meaning emergency Basic Income payments for all, for the duration of the crisis would have been much more likely than anything like the chaotic Swiss cheese of arbitrary and unfair nonsense the Tories have come up with.
The Tories have structured their business bailouts as a vast handout to the financial sector.
The banks provide the business loans, which are underwritten by the government. If the business fails the bank gets to strip their assets, conveniently assigning the paper value of their pickings at the absolute bottom of the market, then the government covers 80% of their remaining losses. If the business survives, the bank cashes in anyway in the form of interest repayments on the loan.
You’d have to be politically brain dead to think that socialists like Corbyn and McDonnell would have structured business support measures so that private banks ended up as the primary beneficiaries, by putting up hundreds of billions in public cash to underwrite their loans and eliminate the risk.
It’s far more likely that a Labour government would have offered direct loans, and that they would have joined countries like Denmark and France in banning tax-dodgers from getting their hands on any of it.
If businesses have paid into the pot in the good times, the government will help them out. If they dodged their responsibilities, then they can go and ask for handouts from the British Cayman Islands, Panama, Guernsey or wherever they’re supposedly based, and good luck to them with that!
Unfortunately we can only imagine a sensible situation like this, because the Tories are holding the public purse strings.
In March the Bank of England announced £200 billion worth of Quantitative Easing (QE) money creation to be poured into the financial markets in a way that they know benefits the mega-rich by preventing deflation in the value of assets mainly held by the rich.
Labour’s manifesto proposed to do QE differently. Instead of using the newly created cash to prop up financial markets, they proposed cutting out the city spiv middle men entirely and investing newly created money directly into economically beneficial stuff like infrastructure projects, public services, education, research and development …
It’s highly likely a Labour government would have insisted any new QE cash go directly into the coronavirus emergency response, rather than just having the Bank of England throw the equivalent of £6,000+ per working adult in the UK at the money men, and just hope for the best, as has just happened.
The Tory Health Secretary Matt Hancock has used the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to accelerate his programme of NHS privatisation, handing out vast no-bid contracts to the likes of Deloitte, KPMG, Serco, Sodexo, Mitie, Boots, Palantir, and the extraordinarily dodgy Tory-linked data firm Faculty.
You’d have to be suffering some bizarre form of politically illiteracy to imagine leftists like Corbyn and McDonnell using a national crisis as an excuse to carve open the NHS for even more privatisation by lavishing no-bid contracts on a bunch of profiteering private corporations.
Internal party politics
One major difference that can’t be overlooked is that Boris Johnson ruthlessly purged his rivals from the Tory ranks within weeks of becoming Tory leader, while Corbyn spent his five years as Labour leader continually trying to appease the neoliberal wreckers in the Labour ranks (his insistence on trying to compromise with people who were absolutely intent on destroying him was always his biggest weakness by far).
Despite the absolutely horrifying death toll there’s very little dissent from the Tory ranks because the Tory MPs know Johnson will set Cummings on them if they ever dare step out of line.
Corbyn’s efforts to combat the pandemic would obviously have been continually undermined by the right-wing Labour wreckers briefing against him to their neoliberal mates at the BBC and in the corporate media.
Even though the death toll would have been much lower, and the economic rescue measures much better, the vast majority of the mainstream media would have been in full-on attack mode from the very beginning of the crisis.
Lockdown measures portrayed as “encroaching communism”, support for workers and tax-paying businesses derided as “socialist profligacy”, and a constant refrain of “this is what happens under Labour” in an attempt to blame the incumbent government for the global crisis, just like they did when they blamed Gordon Brown for the global bankers’ insolvency crisis in 2008.
The Corporate media hack pack certainly wouldn’t be cheerily and uncritically churnalising misleadingly rosy government press releases into feel-good news items, nor would they have been viciously dogpiling anyone who dared question the government agenda. They’d be relentlessly doom-mongering and actively cheerleading the criticism themselves.
For example, if Corbyn had used the crisis as a reason to renationalise the railways in precisely the same way the Tories just did, the mainstream media hack pack would have been screeching in outrage about the “Marxist agenda”, and whining about how they didn’t even bother to hold a parliamentary vote before they did it.
You’d have to be wilfully naive to pretend that the behaviour of the corporate media hack pack wouldn’t be completely different under an avowedly leftist government.
Lamentable missed opportunity
Any reasonable level of familiarity with Labour’s 2017 and 2019 manifestos informs us that Labour’s coronavirus policies would have been far better from an economic perspective, and the slightest familiarity with Corbyn’s political agenda tells us that he would obviously have put saving lives ahead of trying to keep capitalist “business as usual” going for as long as possible, in order to cast himself as the “Superman of Capitalism” like Johnson did.
The Tories have delivered an absolute humanitarian disaster to the soothing corporate media mood music of “the government is doing its best”, “don’t criticise”, “don’t ask questions”, “don’t look at how they’ve done things so much better abroad”, “Bumbling Boris is poorly, Bumbling Boris is better”, “oh look a baby” …
Labour would have delivered a much lower death toll, and much better and more coherent economic rescue measures for workers and tax-paying businesses, but against corporate media mood music of relentless criticism and doom-mongering.
This relentless chorus of doom from the corporate hack pack would have severely undermined the government messages like “stay at home” by this point, meaning we’d probably be witnessing ludicrous mass protests against lockdown, like we’re seeing in the United States, led by Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the obnoxious Weatherspoons guy, Iain Duncan Smith, and the rest of the publicity hungry hard-right rabble rousers, all decrying rational containment measures as “the terrifying encroachment of communism on our British way of life”.
As a distraction tactic from their own party’s catastrophic mishandling of this foreseeable crisis, the Tory tribalists’ keep insisting that we imagine an alternative reality with Labour in charge, but anyone with any sense can see that many things would have been better without a lazy, callous, dishonest, incompetent, and quite frankly deranged oaf of a man running the show, but that other things, like a lack of internal party discipline, unrelentingly negative corporate media catastrophising, and significantly more far-right agitation would surely have been significantly worse.
The value of a thought experiment like this obviously depends entirely on the political literacy and general state of awareness of the imaginer.
The unthinking Tory tribalist is just going to go “hurdy hur hur, Joromby Cobrin is rubbish, lol”, but anyone informed enough to actually think it through will understand the lamentable missed opportunity to have Britain’s emergency response run by politicians who actually give a damn about ordinary people, as well as the radically different set of challenges they would have faced.
Related: Jacinda Ardern’s progressive leadership has been a shining beacon of light in these uncertain times
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