Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Wherefore art thou, Labour?

It isn't healthy for any democracy not to have a functioning opposition. We are drifting toward a one party state with a petitioner opposition the government can ignore if it so chooses. Meanwhile parliament is making an irrelevance of itself at a time when government failures need to be rapidly identified and addressed. The Labour party, or what's left of it, is not up to this task.

This week, insofar as they have made a noise, it's been bleating about financial support for the self-employed and those in casual employment. All well and good but this is well within their comfort zone, largely conceding the points on Corona containment and mitigation.

In this, we have never needed an effective opposition more than we do now. The government was muddled and slow to react for which there must be an enquiry. Furthermore, the soft-lockdown is clearly not going to be adequate, and though the government is taking measures to increase care capacity the data suggests it's not nearly enough and we need to be ramping up our capabilities now.

Furthermore, as hospitals and clinics start filling up with Corona sufferers, ordinary treatments are going to get bumped. People on cancer medicines be it chemo or gene therapy are going to struggle getting the treatments they need which could add thousands more to the death toll.

Then there's the bigger picture. Various industry individuals and junior ministers have assured us that we can feed the nation. As someone quite well versed in trade issues, I have no faith in any of these reassurances. We need a major mobilisation of logistics and air assets to ensure we can get basic foodstuffs and a rudimentary rationing system ready to roll if the situation deteriorates.

Then there is the matter of trade negotiations with the EU. It is my view that a rushed FTA with minimal customs cooperation is a serious liability both for our strategic position in the mid term but also our critical supply chains. We need a minimum one year pause so that we can look at this when there is the proper bandwidth for a national debate. This is not something that can be allowed to be railroaded through out of the public eye.

Labour seem to have gone for the low hanging fruit - the soft welfare subjects that fall within the remit of a socially focussed NGO/welfare charity, which makes them little more than a pressure group and shows them up as being uninterested in the serious business of statecraft.

As regards to meeting the future challenges of Corona, it is clear we need a renewed and revitalised system of local government capable of acting independently and able to take on the responsibility of containing new outbreak clusters when the lockdown measures are eased. We have seen an impressive and heartwarming response to the call for volunteers. They are going to need training and will need to be deployed effectively and moved around to where they are needed. There is a whole host of questions pertaining to their organisation, welfare, PPE and sustenance. What's the plan?

As to the lockdown itself, there are clear costs and threats to liberty - especially when the curtain twitchers get busy. The police need clear guidelines and a beefed up code of conduct. Enforcement will be difficult when there will be other demands on their time and more pressing urban stresses, not least where there is racial friction and cultural sensitivities to take into account.

This would be a chance for Labour to show that it shares the same concerns as ordinary people but also show that it is capable of governing. Instead we see labour activists bickering among each other over trivialities while largely ineffectual Labour MPs can't wrench themselves out of their comfort zones. Labour has spent the whole time navel gazing, giving Boris Johnson a free pass at a time when basic errors will lead to the needless deaths of thousands. It's time for them to stop dithering and get their act together.

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