The Labour Party has a new leader and a new shadow cabinet, but what do we really need from them right now? Can we realistically expect that they will be a force for good as Britain deals with the Covid 19 outbreak?
The Financial Times has been providing us with regularly updated figures that indicate the progression of the pandemic around the world. Take a look at the latest graphical representation. China has gone past its peak and the disease is now on a decline. Spain, France and Italy are seeing the number of deaths beginning to level off. But look at the UK and US. Remembering that this graph has a logarithmic scale – the steep incline of daily deaths here is terrifying. Our Government is getting this all wrong but can we rely on our Opposition Party to help us get this right?
The Covid 19 pandemic has highlighted just how much our current political and economic systems fails to care for the people. The Queen said yesterday that we are all in this together, but some of us are much more in it than others. Think about those key workers who still need to go to work and are keeping vital services running. Most of them are paid less than £10 and hour and many of them have been undervalued for years.
NHS and care staff are still not being provided with adequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to help them avoid contracting the disease and spreading it. The number of people being tested for Covid-19 is still far too low and health and social care workers should be prioritised for testing.
Or NHS is hampered by the fact that before this crisis we had lost 17,000 beds from our hospitals. We had also lost 10,000 doctors and 40,000 nurses since 2010. We are now paying £2,400,000 per day for private hospitals to provide 8,000 beds for Covid 19 patients.
We have had to take train operating companies back into publicc ownership because in this time of national emergency the private companies would not work in the public interest.
Government instruction has been that if you can work from home you should. Workers in businesses such as cafes and restaurants who have had to close are being guaranteed 80% of their wages by Government. The same applies to the people who have been self-employed for over a year but they have to wait until June to get their support.
Many people who can’t work from home but who are not essential workers are still going to work, travelling and mixing with others because they can’t afford not to. Our Government needs to extend its Furlough scheme to them.
Inequality is magnified by Covid 19 in so many ways. Staying home with your family in a four bedroom house with a garden is entirely different to staying home on your own in a one bedroom flat.
Our Government has known for years that this pandemic was likely. But instead they have prioritised privatising public services, destroying the NHS, furthering the austerity programme and setting us up for a major disaster when a pandemic hit. It is now excruciatingly obvious that we need to completely overhaul the system on which our country operates.
So what is Keir Starmer going to do about all this now he has taken over as Opposition leader? Will he stand up and fight to make sure that our Government takes the actions we are all needing it to take? Will he, when the dust has settled from the pandemic, fight for a radical overhaul of our current system so this can’t happen again?
Keir Starmer was yesterday promising to tackle anti-semitism in the party. He declared he would: “Tear this poison out by its roots.” I don’t think he said anything about taking action to get the curve showing the number of Covid 19 deaths levelling off.
But we do need to look at the problem of anti-semitism in the Labour Party. It has certainly been a factor in voter’s minds at the last General Election. Greg Philo and Mike Berry looked into the issue in their book Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, The Party and Public Belief at great length. They have shown that in the minds of the public the number of Labour members who have been accused of anti-semitism is greatly exaggerated with many people guessing at 35-45%, and not the true figure of 0.1%. The real problem is not so much the antisemitism that exists but the unrealistic ideas about how bad the problem is in the minds of the public.
But what is antisemitism anyway? We need to be clear about that before we go any further. Is it simply racial discrimination towards the Jewish people? The IHRA definition of antisemitism that the Labour Party has adopted says that anyone claiming Israel has no right to exist is antisemitic as well as outright discrimination.
Anyone who has read books by Illan Pappe or listened to a talk given by Miko Peled will know that the State of Israel was created by a process of ethnic cleansing and genocide and that Palestinians currently live in an apartheid system. If you haven’t read the books you seriously should. Palestine belonged to the Palestinians for thousands of years before the Jewish people settled there. I deplore any form of discrimination myself but I cannot honestly agree that the State of Israel has a right to exist. The Jewish people have the right to self determination but not if it involves the killing and suffering that Israelis have inflicted on Palestinians.
Many people have been thrown out of the Labour Party for saying what I have just said, Chris Williamson MP being one such person. The Party is desperate to show the public it is taking action on antisemitism. But criticism of the actions of Israel cannot be seen as discrimination by anyone who has a shred of humanity. The number of people who have been accused of antisemitism in Labour would indicate that the members are generally less antisemitic than the UK general population.
But to go back to thinking about Covid 19. The virus has hit the people of Gaza. The Gaza strip is 141 sq miles and has a population of 1.85 m Palestinians, it is the third most densely populated area of the world. In comparison East Sussex has an area of 692 square miles and a population of 539,800. But, due to the Israeli air and sea bloccade around Gaza the people living there are not free to come and go or, to import and export goods as they wish. The UN declared that they believe Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020 but with the Israelis blocking food and medical aid to the region and the people packed in so tightly Covid-19 may mean we see Gaza become uninhabitable much sooner than that.
It seems Keir Starmer’s determination to rid Labour of antisemitism is misplaced and inappropriate at this time. We need him to start fighting for a better Government response to the Covid-19 pandemic instead.
Here in the UK we need a strong opposition demanding immediate action from our Goverment. We then need a strong opposition who will push for a radical overhaul of the system that we live in.
Keir Starmer opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s radical vision all the way. In 2016 he resigned as Shadow Minister of State for Immigration in protest at Corbyn’s leadership. He backed Owen Smith in his leadership challenge to Corbyn despite the obviously huge support Corbyn was getting from members.
He has already sacked key Corbyn supporters, Ian Lavery; Barry Gardiner; Richard Burgon and Jon Trickett from the shadow cabinet. It is hard to see how when he talked about;” Tearing out this poison [of antisemitism] by its roots” he was going to do much about the unrealistic ideas that voters have of antisemitism in the Party.
By appointing Lisa Nandy and Rachel Reeves into the shadow cabinet it is clear he intends to push the party over to the right and away from the socialist principles that we need right now more than ever.
Starmer is not a radical thinker, he has nearly always voted in line with the Party and everything about him screeches that he is establishment. The many people who are now just recently made out of work are probably horrified by Rachel Reeves statement that: “Labour does not want to represent people who are out of work.”
What can the Labour Party offer the people who are living this nightmarish situation right now? He may be placating some of those who said they believed 35-45% of Labour members have been accused of antisemitism. But he won’t placate them for long when they see loved ones dying and their nurses left working without PPE.
The people need to recognise the power they have. With the abscence of a credible opposition party the people need to take to demanding change from the Government. We can’t protest or organise demonstrations but we can write to our MP, to councillors, contact media organisations and get our friends and families on board.
It is all we have right now, but it must not be underestimated. Getting angry has to be the most appropriate response to what is happening right now and you don’t need a political party to allow you to do that. There are many campaign groups to support as well.
The claims people are making now about it not being the right time for politics or needing to all work together are simply dangerous. Now is the time to act, to not do so would be to give up on humanity.
Clap at your door for the NHS workers each Thursday evening but spend the other evenings fighting on their behalf so we all survive this and come out of the crisis that much stronger.