On 4 April, a new Labour Party leader will replace Jeremy Corbyn. But far from leaving quietly, Corbyn has remained a true leader to the very end.
On 31 March, Corbyn wrote to Boris Johnson about his coronavirus response. He called for much greater support for workers, especially those on the frontline. Some critics have called the government’s response so far a “national scandal”, with NHS workers in particular seriously concerned about the lack of protective equipment (PPE).
Protect those “risking their lives to save lives”
Corbyn called for the government to “immediately” provide “full PPE… for health and social care workers”, saying of NHS staff:
These dedicated public servants are risking their lives to save lives. They deserve the best protection possible.
He also stressed:
Care workers are scandalously poorly paid. Now is the moment to recognise their true value to our society and provide them with the protection they need.
Testing and tracing for coronavirus has to be expanded immediately. The World Health Organisation told us to “test, test, test”. I have seen reports that up to a quarter of NHS staff are having to self-isolate. They must be urgently tested so that those who do not have the virus can return to work. The lack of testing and tracing for social care workers is risking their health and that of those they care for, who are the most vulnerable to the virus.
Stronger action necessary
Corbyn also expressed serious concern “about the capacity and resilience of the social care system”, saying:
Given the staff shortages that existed even before the coronavirus pandemic, it is essential that we encourage former or recently retired care workers to return to the profession.
We have concerns about the resources available for social care and the provisions within the emergency legislation to reduce care standards. Please can you set out what extra resources have been provided to each local council for social care since the coronavirus crisis began?
He then called for the closure of “non-essential construction, factories, warehouse facilities and other large-scale workplaces”. And he highlighted that many employers were “failing to implement social distancing”, calling for “a multi-agency approach to enforce it”. He also asked the government to “act decisively to suspend lay-offs”, while questioning “substantial gaps” in support for self-employed people and people struggling with housing costs. He stressed:
We need a strengthened safety net for workers who have been laid off. Benefits in the UK are low compared to those of other European states. Key benefits should be immediately and substantially increased, including Carer’s Allowance and Child Benefit. Statutory sick pay must be raised without delay, especially given the Health Secretary’s admission that he could not survive on it.
Finally, he called for greater global coordination of efforts to fight coronavirus.
Stop this from happening again
Corbyn concluded that “the coronavirus crisis is highlighting the extent of our dependence on each other”, adding crucially that:
we can no longer tolerate the inequality and insecurity that has left all of us weaker than we should have been in the face of this pandemic.
The response to this crisis has highlighted that it was always possible for the government to inject money into the economy to protect lives. It just chose not to, choosing instead to call people like Corbyn ‘radical‘ for demanding such action.
The legacy Corbyn leaves is one where we should never be afraid to question the establishment again. He empowered Labour members who knew that change was possible. But many on the party’s parliamentary right did their best to undermine him; and as film director Ken Loach recently said, members’ “strength was not mobilised” sufficiently to stop this sabotage. Now, Labour centrist Keir Starmer is the favourite to succeed Corbyn as leader; and there’s already talk of a likely purge of left-wingers if he wins. But the left has most certainly not lost the argument.
So far in the coronavirus crisis, Starmer has faced accusations of failing to push for meaningful support for workers. Corbyn, meanwhile, has been a true leader to the very end. If Starmer succeeds him, he’ll have massive shoes to fill.
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