Sometimes a sentence can sum it up. “Let the bodies pile high” is among them. This is Prime Minister Boris Johnson without the mask. Revealed is a man so desperate to protect private profit that he would let a deadly virus rampage through the population unfettered. He would do this not once, but twice, taking necessary action only when the NHS faced imminent collapse.
His approach, which has prioritised at every stage the needs of capital over those of human beings, has brought disease and death on an incredible scale. Tragic death, painful death, but perhaps most importantly, preventable death. Bodies piled high, just as Johnson ordained.
It has been Tory infighting, not an overdue attack of conscience, which has brought these grotesque comments to light. Once Johnson’s right-hand man, Dominic ‘Barnard Castle’ Cummings has been ejected from the inner circle. A man scorned, he threatens to lift the lid on Johnson’s government, and especially on the Prime Minister himself. With Cummings due to give evidence before a parliamentary select committee tasked with reviewing the government’s handling of the pandemic, more damning revelations, including potential audio recordings, seem likely.
Among the issues now dogging Johnson is that of alleged corruption. To start with, it seems the £30,000 taxpayer-funded grant available for an incoming Prime Minister to ‘refresh’ their Downing Street flat was insufficiently generous for this millionaire. To fund his lavish refurbishment, it is reported that Johnson took £68,000 from still-undisclosed Tory donors. In other words, he allegedly accepted cash in return for access to the highest echelons of government.
Belatedly, the electoral commission looks set to investigate this issue. But it is not the only allegation that has been made. Johnson also reportedly pledged to ‘fix’ a tax issue for tycoon James Dyson, whose company was manufacturing ventilators to sell to the NHS. But this is not currently under investigation.
Moreover, who can trust the electoral commission to investigate this adequately or to take any serious action? The maximum fine the commission can impose in a case like this is £20,000 – peanuts when you are talking about multimillionaires. This is a commission with a recent record that includes naming Johnson’s Leave campaign the ‘official’ one, granting them access to significant amounts of public money. This was despite the existence of other campaigns which included trade unions representing tens of thousands of workers that also supported exiting the EU (though for very different reasons, of course).
An inquiry led by working-class people – including trade unions, representatives of bereaved families, and health workers – could get to the truth. Of course, what will take place is nothing of the sort. The narrow scope of the Electoral commission’s investigation ignores the fact the Tories are mired in sleaze. Former Prime Minister David Cameron has been revealed as having lobbied ministers at the highest level in order to try and get an ailing financial services company he was involved in loaning money to the NHS. ‘Jobs for the boys’ has been the government’s overarching approach to the multi-million pound coronavirus contracts it has dished out. The dodgy NHS app and months-long testing shambles have been the result.
This is not the soap opera the capitalist media like to present. What is being exposed are the still active faultlines that run deep within the Tory party – an organisation that was facing a potentially historic split over Brexit just two years ago. Cummings represents the hard Brexit wing which elevated Johnson to the position he currently occupies. This is the same faction of the party which is most opposed to lockdowns and other Covid restrictions. This hard Brexit, anti-lockdown, right-populist wing of the party also has support within the Tory press. The Daily Mail has been uncharacteristically vituperative in its attacks on Johnson, for example.
The fact that this wing of the Tories is increasingly turning against Johnson underlines both the depth of the crisis British capitalism is facing and the superficial nature of the current ‘vaccine bounce’. In fact, it is only the meekly supplicant ‘opposition’ of Starmer’s now fully pro-capitalist Labour leadership which has allowed a situation in which the Tories have a substantial lead in the polls in England. Even then, north of the border in Scotland a pro independence landslide is threatening in the upcoming elections. How will this most unabashedly unionist of Tory prime ministers cope with growing demands for independence? His crude approach, and the continued ‘Westminster block’ on a referendum will surely only provoke further anger and potentially mass struggle in the streets?
This is not a strong government. It is one that is currently vulnerable on multiple fronts. Voting intention polls fail to register what will ultimately manifest in British society as we emerge from this pandemic: righteous anger – outrage at more than 150,000 dead, millions grieving, and a capitalist system which puts profit first in all situations.
This is a government which can be forced back and forced out. Mass pressure, even simply of public opinion, has already forced concessions, all-be-it inadequate ones, on issues like Universal Credit, for example. A mass organised movement of the working class, led by the unions and bringing together BLM, feminist and climate activists, could do far more. As Britain begins to emerge from lockdowns and society reopens, it is incumbent upon the leaders of the trade union movement – which represents the many tens of thousands of key workers whose toil has kept society running throughout this pandemic – to mobilise the fightback that’s needed.
Build mass struggle
The record of many of trade union leaders is less than encouraging, however. The response of Unison’s general secretary Christine McAnea to the pitiful 1% pay ‘rise’ offered to NHS workers is a case in point. Faced with a block at the top, workers need to get organised from below, and fight to sweep aside those, like McAnea, who currently stand in the way.
Socialist Alternative argues for Conferences of Resistance to be convened in towns and cities around the country to bring together trade unionists, climate activists, community campaigners and socialists to discuss a way forward.
On the agenda at such events must be the kind of post-Covid society we are fighting for. This pandemic has shown who is really crucial to our society. It’s not bankers, executives or entrepreneurs who cared for the sick, stacked the supermarket shelves, drove the buses or swept the streets. Working class people have kept society running. As we always have done. And the society we need is one in which working-class people are in control – in which the big monopolies which dominate the economy are owned publicly under workers’ management. This would make possible a democratic plan for the economy, organised by working-class people, to protect public health, restore the environment and end the poverty of the majority.
This is the society Socialist Alternative is fighting to build, both in England, Wales and Scotland, and as part of an international socialist organisation – ISA. If you agree, join us.