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“Pandemic planning became a casualty of the austerity years.”

“We missed the boat on testing and PPE… We just watched. A pandemic was always at the top of our national risk register – always – but when it came we just watched. We could have been Germany but instead we were doomed by our incompetence, our hubris and our austerity.”

These quotes come from the horse’s mouth: scientists, academics, doctors, emergency planners, public officials and politicians have all attacked the Tories’ handling of the coronavirus crisis.

A 5,000-word article in the Sunday Times (ST) revealed how the Tories surrendered society’s safety to the interests of big business – through austerity and privatisation. These are, ultimately, a wealth transfusion mechanism – sucking from workers’ pay, public services, health and safety, etc, and swelling the bank accounts of big business.

The ST article reveals Boris Johnson’s absence from five Cobra meetings and a general lack of urgency towards the crisis. A Financial Times editorial also excoriated the PM for his failure to act more effectively over ventilator production.

A 3 February speech confirms Johnson’s conscious general approach of do-nothing ‘herd immunity’: “We are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation.” He went on: “Humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange.” In other words, a plan to take advantage of the world crisis situation in the interest of the British capitalist class – come what may for the working class.

The ST article was a major news talking point over the weekend, with speculation it reflected a growing lack of confidence in Johnson by sections of the capitalist class, at least by Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Sunday Times. The ‘all in it together’ line of the government was always a lie – with working-class people on the frontline, denied access to testing and PPE, and bearing all the effects of austerity on our living standards. They have been eroded just as the stocks of PPE and pandemic planning were.

The Tories, who came into this crisis already divided, are fracturing over how to deal with it. Ultimately, they are there to act in the interests of the capitalist class, but their system is in crisis, and they are incapable of agreeing on the best way to do so. Hence the debate over an exit strategy from the lockdown.

Whatever their differences over a path forward, they all agree on the need to attack working-class living standards in order to benefit the capitalist class. As the Socialist Party’s workers’ charter says, trade unions and workplace committees should play a central role in deciding when and how a return to work takes place.

But where is the Labour Party, the official opposition, in all of this? The need to fight for a workers’ party that is independent of any big business interests is becoming clearer than ever in this crisis.

Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Socialist Party national organiser