Stop listening to the government and establishment media. It’s time for ordinary people to take control.

Boris Johnson speaking outside Downing Street
Emily Apple

The Conservative government and its allies in the establishment media have made it clear that they don’t care about the lives of ordinary people.

The UK has the highest coronavirus (Covid 19) death rate in Europe and the second-highest total number of deaths in the world; the reproduction rate (R number) hasn’t consistently been reducing and horrendous daily death figures are still being announced. From refusing to lockdown while the virus could still be contained, to inadequate PPE, testing problems, and now an app run by a company that can’t be trusted with data, everything about the government’s response is shambolic.

Now, the media and the government are going to war with teaching unions; a war started by the Daily Mail. Teachers are being blamed for government failures and for wanting to keep staff, pupils and their families safe.

When the government fails to protect us, it’s down to all of us to take action. There are several ways we can resist what is happening and build alternatives to state power.

Herd immunity

Back in March, the government was criticised for promoting the idea of herd immunity. It later dropped this discredited idea. But now it seems herd immunity is back on the table.

All through the lockdown, part of the government’s message was ‘stay home to protect the NHS’. But this messaging was also about building capacity in the NHS. During the lockdown, this happened. Nightingale hospitals were built across England but they weren’t used. As of 4 May, three of the new hospitals hadn’t taken any patients at all. The original Nightingale at London’s hospital was put into hibernation in case of a second wave, having only treated just 54 patients.

With that capacity in place, Johnson now seems happy to lift elements of the lockdown despite the data not backing his actions and independent scientists labelling his actions “potentially dangerous”. The government may no longer be calling it herd immunity, but it’s hard to see it in any other way.

Let’s not fool ourselves, working-class lives were always expendable

Johnson is putting working-class people’s lives at risk by encouraging manufacturing and construction workers back to work. Meanwhile, data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that people from deprived areas are dying at twice the rate of those in affluent areas. Research from UCL Institute for Global Health showed that people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are “two to three times more likely to die from coronavirus”.

This is unbelievably tragic, but it shouldn’t be surprising. After all, this is the party that’s backed a programme of austerity that the Institute for Public Policy Research found led to 130,000 preventable deaths; a party that, according to the UN, implemented austerity measures that ‘deliberately’ pushed thousands of people into poverty:

UK standards of well-being have descended precipitately in a remarkably short period of time, as a result of deliberate policy choices made when many other options were available.

Increasingly like its attitude to coronavirus, a political choice was made to implement measures that fell:

disproportionately upon the poor, women, racial and ethnic minorities, children, single parents, and people with disabilities.

This time they’re slapping us in the face with it

The story of how the Tories bailed out the bankers by punishing ordinary people is a familiar one. But it took time. The austerity project was driven over years; some services were eroded in a piecemeal fashion; groups were targeted at different times.

But this time it’s different because it’s slapping us in the face. We’re not facing a gradual decline but a sudden one imposed over weeks. The impact of coronavirus policy is like austerity on speed. Working-class and BAME communities are paying the highest possible price while the rich get back their nannies and cleaners; construction workers, in an industry known for blacklisting those who raise health and safety issues, can go back to work, while the rich can play golf and drive to the beach.

The class division in ending the lockdown couldn’t be clearer.

Changing the narrative

Meanwhile, as I’ve previously written for The Canary, the government and establishment media are trying to change the narrative, and in the process are gaslighting every single one of us. Despite a catalogue of government failures, blame is being placed on individuals. Whether it’s those forced onto crowded public transport in order to get to work or those following government advice and enjoying the sun in beauty spots.

Having seen the virus rampage through our care homes, Matt Hancock now wants us to believe that there was a “protective ring” placed around them. During Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on 10 May, he stressed the importance of the R number and that keeping that number down was crucial to the relaxing of measures. But when it later became clear that the R rate appeared to be increasing, deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries underplayed this previously vital statistic.

This is rewriting history. And it’s happening on almost a daily basis.

Now the gaslighting has taken yet another turn. We’re supposed to believe that we’re too afraid to leave our homes, that the government’s earlier messaging was too successful. In order to get us back to work, the government is trying to convince us that we’re irrationally scared. But that anxiety is rational. We may be anxious about going out – but with good reason. With the death rate and the R-number of the virus still high, not enough has changed.

And when lifting restrictions result in the tragically almost inevitable second peak, individuals will be blamed rather than a shambolic government that’s handled the pandemic with devastating consequences. After all, it’s obvious – we weren’t alert enough.

What can we do?

Under normal circumstances, we’d be taking to the street. We’d have the usual channels of mass resistance open to us. But unless we have the world’s first socially distanced uprising, these options are closed.

The government has failed us and is putting thousands of our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, at risk. So we need to take matters into our own hands. We need to make our own decisions based on facts – not government spin or an establishment media that appears happy to risk lives to preserve the wealth of the elite.

In doing so we also need to recognise privilege. It’s easy for someone like me to advocate not going back to work when I work from home. But if my family was relying on food banks, then I know that decision could be different.

So unlike the establishment media, it’s important not to blame individuals and the decisions they need to make. But where possible, if work isn’t essential, refuse to do it. If the government tries to force kids back to school on 1 June and you live somewhere that is obeying the government directive, support teachers and don’t send your children back. Find out about rent strikes, and support and join the campaign. If you’re not already a member, join a union. Join the growing voices demanding the government implement a Universal Basic Income to ensure no-one is left behind.

Mutual Aid

Finally, get involved in your local mutual aid group. Find out ways you can support people and reach out for support if you need it. As Tom Anderson reported in The Canary, mutual aid groups are setting up alternative structures across the country because:

it became clear in February and early March that the state’s coronavirus strategy was totally inadequate for taking care of the wellbeing of working class people

Moreover, these groups are establishing a new way of doing things that hope:

to come out of the pandemic having been able to help some people, but also having made some deeper links in the local community and feeling more prepared to keep fighting for a better world with those around us, and to have made the struggle more intersectional and inclusive as a result.

The phrase “the new normal” is bandied around a lot. For the government, it looks like its new normal will be business as usual with a bit of social distancing thrown in for good measure. We need to reject this and model the new normal that we want to see across our communities.

The government has failed. The establishment media has failed. It’s time for the people to take charge, set the agenda, and show we can and will do things differently.

Featured image via Guardian News/YouTube

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