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From migrant workers to free broadband, coronavirus has shown that Corbynism is needed

| PA Images

4 min read

The Government was warned about what would happen when we faced a pandemic – the current crisis facing our NHS is the result of decades of putting profit before people.

The Government’s response to the current coronavirus crisis has been woeful. But it is also a thorough indictment of the ideology that it adheres to and which has dominated British politics for more than 40 years. A coherent and determined alternative to that ideology has never been more needed.

At the time of writing we remain on the ‘Italy trajectory’ for cases and deaths. Italy has already surpassed the total number of deaths recorded in China, despite having a population less than one-twentieth of the size. We are already far worse than China, adjusted for population size, in terms of both recorded cases and deaths.  

Under this Government and its predecessors, the NHS has gone from permanent winter to structural weakness in a time of crisis. It is the lack of staff, the lack of protective equipment for them, the shortage of beds and the inadequacy of ventilators has made a crisis situation a catastrophe.  

The argument that ‘no-one could have foreseen this’ is patently false. Scientists and epidemiologists have been talking about the next pandemic for years. In 2015 the government produced its strategic defence and security review, where the threat of pandemics was mentioned, but little done. If reports are accurate, ‘Exercise Cygnus’ in 2016 showed the NHS failing a pandemic simulation exercise, and yet nothing was done to correct that.

It is not ‘broadband communism’ to suggest that almost everyone now needs free, fast broadband access as a basic necessity

There will need to be a reckoning when this crisis finally passes. It must first include a complete change of the way public services are regarded, and funded, as well as the esteem, pay and conditions of those public sector workers.  

It turns out that routinely-disrespected ‘low-skilled workers’ are among the most important workers in our society. They make things work. We don’t actually need hedge fund managers at all.

Of course, this includes migrant workers, who are a key component of our NHS, of public services in general and the whole economy. They are not a burden, we rely on them.

We also see that properly resourced public services are vital, not just the NHS, and social care, but everything from transport, to infrastructure to education. It is not ‘broadband communism’ to suggest that almost everyone now needs free, fast broadband access as a basic necessity to stay connected and inter-connected.

Some commentators suggest that Boris Johnson understands all this and will act on it, and that ‘there is such a thing as society’ is a moment of Damascene conversion. This is wilfully naïve. The Institute for Fiscal Studies tells us that austerity will be with us for a very long time to come.

In reality, a comprehensive and radical alternative will be even more urgently required once the immediate public health crisis is resolved. The damage to people’s lives, to the economy and to public services will endure much longer. Many in government will argue that the spending for the coronavirus (and subsequently the impact of a no deal Brexit) are one-offs, and that they require a renewed belt-tightening to pay for them.

Corbynism rejects this approach. Not least because the legacy of this crisis has not only revealed the damage already suffered by public services, housing, transport and so on, but it will also provide the backdrop to the continuing climate crisis.

Viewed in this light, there is no basis for business as usual politics. We are not going to return to sunlit uplands without vigorous state intervention across society and the economy. A renewed, reinvigorated version of Corbynism will be required, which puts people before profits is required. Sleep-walking from one crisis to the next cannot be an option.  

Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and shadow home secretary.

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