Tory game plans
by Frieda Park
Behind the incompetence and bluster the Tories have game plans in relation to Brexit and coronavirus and they are having some success.
They have put state aid rules at the centre of the final phase of the Brexit negotiations. Of itself this is interesting. Neo-liberalism as a means of running capitalism has shown itself to be totally unfit during the coronavirus pandemic. Johnson/Cummings are not alone in toying with more state intervention, not just to address the current crisis, but as a more permanent feature of capitalism. Of course this does not mean that they will stick to their guns; quite the reverse, we are likely to see significant compromise with state aid powers being watered down.
The Tory strategy seems to have nonplussed many on the left, which is in danger of ceding ideological ground to the Tories who may pose as “national champions” on the side of British people and industry while the left concentrates on trying to pick holes in their motivation. Attacks on how the Tories intend to use the powers are taking priority over the principle. It would of course be no surprise if they used the powers to bung their mates some cash, prop up Britain’s parasitic economy or buy votes in working class constituencies. But far better for us to clearly welcome any retention of state aid powers and to challenge the Tories not to give ground to the EU on this. We should set out a left alternative for how state aid should be used to benefit the British economy and people. The core of the Lexit argument, after all, was that the key benefit of leaving the EU would be to have sovereign control over economic and industrial policy.
The Tories have also been condemned for snatching economic powers back from the devolved administrations to create a UK single market. It is assumed uncritically that devolved administrations will use these powers in a more progressive way than any central government. This is again to confuse politics with principle. There is absolutely no guarantee that, for example, Scotland whose current government wishes to align itself with the EU, will use devolved powers for good purposes. What is there to prevent a race to the bottom of competing nations and regions cutting taxes and offering incentives to attract business? Although it eventually backed down, postponing the introduction of the new tax, the SNP proposed in its last manifesto to halve and then abolish airport taxes. It was said that this would bring jobs to Scotland, but where would they have come from? Airports and communities in the north of England no doubt. The antithesis of a planned economy working in the interests of all.
Then there is the hoo-ha about the Tories proposing to break international law by reneging on treaty obligations. Now that trade deal negotiations are going badly, entirely predictably, the government is seeking to use the threat of breaking the commitments in the EU Withdrawal Agreement to gain leverage. They may have planned this all along as a piece of brinksmanship or it may have been incompetence in not spotting the implications of the Withdrawal Agreement for the integrity of the UK single market or a bit of both. The move has invoked a storm of outrage among the liberal media and other European governments and resignations by top law officers. However, it would be more impressive if they applied these standards to the many other breaches of international law that happen daily. In effect there is one international law for rich countries and another for poor countries. To give but a few examples of illegal actions by the rich and powerful devastating poorer countries and their peoples:
- The 2003 invasion of Iraq
- US sanctions - against Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and China, which extend US law to cover third countries and companies trading with those countries
- Israel's continued flouting of UN resolutions, its illegal occupation of neighbouring lands, building settlements on Palestinian land and more.
- The denial of asylum seekers right to safety
Where is the outrage for the hundreds of thousands of people killed by regime change wars, deprived of food and medicines by imperial powers seeking to dominate the world in their interests? However blatant a breach of international law threatened by the Tories, no one is going to die, be made homeless, live out their lives in a refugee camp, go hungry or be deprived of health care or education. However, it will upset the relationships between western powers and their interests, a much more heinous crime in the eyes of the establishment.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic the government had to deny that it was pursuing a herd immunity strategy as, at that point, people were generally outraged at the loss of life it would entail. Yet that is now exactly where we are, with businesses, leisure and education opened up and people mixing freely with the pretence that facemasks and patchy distancing and sanitising measures will mitigate the risks of passing on the virus. They will not; the evidence is there for us all to see in the rising number of Covid infections, hospitalisations and deaths. A patchwork of local restrictions has replaced a coherent national response again minimising the seriousness of the situation. Whether individuals understand and follow these half-baked rules or not – the problem is that business and profit have been put before controlling the virus. Where we are heading now is where the different central and devolved governments wanted us to be at the start – older and vulnerable people isolated and others freely mixing. But that will not stop people suffering and dying as young people too can have serious effects from Covid and it will be passed on.
There is plenty of incompetence in how the strategy has been pursued – the chaos of students starting university without forethought about testing and support for the thousands forced to isolate for example. But overall there is a plan which is being effected across the UK and by all the governments of the UK. It is business as usual and herd immunity. The UK government and the devolved administrations might look as though they have lost control – they have certainly lost control of the virus - but they are achieving their central objective of keeping the economy going while the population is plunged into uncertainty and once again people are suffering and dying unnecessarily.
The Tory strategy seems to have nonplussed many on the left, which is in danger of ceding ideological ground to the Tories who may pose as 'national champions' on the side of British people and industry while the left concentrates on trying to pick holes in their motivation.