NATO spends 18 times as much on “defence” as Russia does.

This morning, the newspapers were hyping up the possibility of a Russian attack on NATO territory, and commentators at the weekend arguing for a No Fly Zone were pushing the idea that Ukraine could just be the beginning. This has its counterpart on the Left, where people argue that the Russian invasion is “just imperial expansion”.

People lose their heads in wars – sometimes deliberately – so its worth checking the reality and coming down to earth.

  • We should never lose sight of the fact that a direct clash between NATO and Russia set up by a No Fly Zone would push us over the edge of mutual nuclear annihilation. Hundreds of millions would die. That vast number – too likely to be treated as a statistic that does not engage with our emotions and move us – nevertheless contains an almost infinite multitude of individual tragedies. You would die. So would I. So would everyone you know and love.
  • NATO spends more than 18 times as much on its military as Russia does. That makes makes a direct Russian attack on NATO absurd. In fact, NATO arms spending is more than half of the global total. Projected increases in “defence” spending will make this proportion even greater. The “defence experts” projecting fantasies of Russian incursions into the Baltic States or Poland know this; but have either lost all grasp of reality, or don’t want their readers to have one.
The non NATO countries listed here are the others in the top 20 military spenders table.

Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand are also bound to the US by non NATO military alliances. Add their 6.3% to NATO’s 55.8% and you get 62.1% of global military spending made by countries in US led military alliances. In addition, some of the other countries in the top 20 military spenders also tend to align with the US even without a treaty obligation to do so, like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Even in Europe, three NATO allies each spend about the same amount on their military as Russia does.

As the Brookings Institute candidly puts it, “America’s alliances in Asia and Europe have formed the backbone of what has become known as the “liberal international order.” Over the past 70 years, this order has helped protect American interests and values.”

That has also involved starting most of the world’s wars in that period.

An Invitation to Armageddon

CND poster from late 60s

Nuclear war is not “unthinkable”. Military planners spend a lot of time thinking about and planning for it. We are now closer to it than at any time this century.

President Zelensky of Ukraine is making continual calls for NATO to try to impose a “No Fly Zone” over Ukraine. War reporters elicit similar appeals from people on the ground, giving it a moral charge that builds pressure for it. It is possible that this is being done on the delusion that the consequences are so severe that it can’t happen; that no one in their right mind would sanction it. But the logic of war is escalation. And the people running it are not always in their right mind. Rehearsing something, even as a fantasy, can be preparation for doing it.

In case there is any doubt about what a No Fly Zone would mean, Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, General Philip Breedlove has spelt it out “If you put a no-fly zone in the eastern part of Ukraine … and we’re going to fly coalition or NATO aircraft into that no-fly zone, then we have to take out all the weapons that can fire into our no-fly zone and cause harm to our aircraft. So that means bombing enemy radars and missile systems on the other side of the border [i.e. Russia].That is tantamount to war.” General Breedlove is, we should note, in favour of doing this. And he is not alone, if media pundits on US talk shows are anything to go by.

If an action is “tantamount to war” between NATO and the Russian Federation, we should all be clear that a nuclear exchange becomes more likely than not and understand why.

Russia does not have a “no first use” policy for its nuclear weapons, and carried out drills for them just before the invasion, with an explicit warning to NATO not to get involved.

US nuclear war policy is, and always has been, based on a devastating first strike. The first iteration of this was their Strategic Integrated Operations Plan of 1960, in which a conventional war with the USSR would trigger the US smashing every city in Eastern Europe, Russia and China with 3,400 nuclear warheads; killing 600 million people (200 million of them collateral damage in Western Europe, Japan, India and other places close enough to the targets to be impacted) in a matter of hours. That would have been one person in 5 of the total global population at the time. There is no reason to believe that subsequent reiterations of this plan are any less restrained.

Having the two powers with the world’s greatest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, primed and ready, in an open conflict and incredibly nervous that the other is going to strike them first, means that we would be a nerve shredding hair trigger away from mutually assured destruction. No exchange of these missiles would be cautious or incremental, or slow. It would be all or nothing and very fast. All and nothing.

Whatever anyone’s view of this war, the reasons for it, or the way it could best and most swiftly be brought to an end; recognition that anyone calling for a No Fly Zone is inviting us to Armageddon should be seared into all of us and resolutely opposed.

Bad Moon Rising for Climate Movement

As the presenter of Inside Music on Radio 3 last Saturday pointed out, there is a tension between the apocalyptic words of Credence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising and the upbeat, positive music; what my son would call a “banger”. Pessimism of the lyrics, optimism of the rhythm, as Gramsci didn’t say.

This could almost be a metaphor or theme tune for the Climate Movement. The analysis and the prospects are dire, but the movement concentrates all the life and hope that humanity has.

Pessimism of the lyrics, optimism of the rhythm, as Gramsci didn’t say.

Bad Moon Rising

I see the bad moon a-rising
I see trouble on the way
I see earthquakes and lightning
I see bad times today

Don’t go around tonight
Well, it’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise

I hear hurricanes a-blowing
I know the end is coming soon
I fear rivers overflowing
I hear the voice of rage and ruin

Don’t go around tonight
Well, it’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise

All right

Hope you got your things together
Hope you are quite prepared to die
Looks like we’re in for nasty weather
One eye is taken for an eye

Well, don’t go around tonight
Well, it’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise

Don’t come around tonight
Well, it’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise.

Now listen to it and try not to dance and smile, right from the off. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUQiUFZ5RDw

How lockdowns worked. Why Graham Brady is dead wrong.

The original of this graph here is interactive and you can check the figures for each date by dragging your curser across the lines.

In Monday’s debate on the bonfire of Covid safeguards that has restored Boris Johnson’s mojo with his right wing back benchers, Graham Brady MP, chairman (sic) of the 1922 Committee and one of those well fed, smartly suited Conservative MPs, insulated by being comfortably off from the consequences of their policies, and secure in their delusions, announced, with that air of authority they always have when standing on thin ice, that “lockdowns don’t work.” This is an attempt to rule out the possibility of safeguards being restored when they are needed on the basis that all we need to “live with it” is to pretend that it isn’t there and lead with our chins and “British pluck”.

When Johnson held his press conference, the SAGE speakers were quite clear why this is a completely insane course. Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, without overtly challenging the government’s vainglorious framework quietly undermined the bluff on which it is based; that

  • the pandemic isn’t over.
  • if left to be endemic there will be future waves, especially during winters
  • new variants will evolve and, because the virus is evolving in a multitude of directions, some of these new variants are likely to be more lethal than Omicron, not less.

Johnson stood between them looking as sick as a chip. As well he might. But, in the context of a well worn tabloid narrative that we are only being held back from the good life by “gloomy scientists”, Brady’s assertion against lockdowns, which is common currency on the hard right, should not be left unchallenged by facts.

As the virus spreads through social contact, cutting that down reduces its capacity to do so. Lockdowns cut down social contact and the more strictly they are applied the fewer social contacts there will be. Applied for long enough, the virus starts to die out from lack of new people to infect. That’s why the countries that have applied active Covid suppression have had so few deaths compared with countries that have faffed about, like the UK.

With a record like this, proclaiming “a moment of pride” is extraordinarily brass necked.

With an approximate lag of around two weeks between the rate of infections beginning to decline as safeguards take hold and the rate of deaths beginning to follow, the impact of lockdowns can be seen from the figures in the graph above.

First Wave

Lockdown came into effect 26th March 2020. Deaths were 103 that day. Deaths peaked two weeks later at just over 920 on April 13th. So the impact of the first lockdown was felt exactly at the time it would have been expected to. There was then a very rapid decline in daily deaths.

Safeguards began to be removed on 10 May at a point that – had the downward trajectory continued at a steady rate – domestic infections would have been all but over by mid to late June. As it was, deaths were running at a very low 10 -13 or so through August and early September. Attempts to reopen schools before the summer holiday were successfully resisted by the education unions, but, once schools were back and with the summer “eat out to help out” scheme getting people out and mixing in large numbers, the rebound began in mid September.

Second Wave

As cases and deaths began to rise in September, the government gave limited guidance to meeting only in groups of six and work from home, but it wasn’t until 31 October that a second lockdown was announced and November 5th before it came into force.

This was a much laxer lockdown than the first. Schools were kept open; so 8 million students and educators were travelling in and out of schools every weekday and mixing in “bubbles” that could sometimes number in the hundreds. This inevitably weakened the impact of the lockdown, so it took longer for cases and deaths to decline.

On Nov 5th, deaths were running at 309 a day. Two weeks later, on November 19th, deaths were up to just over 420 a day but kept rising to around 460 a day until Dec 1st, at which point they began to decline again. So, the laxer second lockdown took almost twice as long to get deaths falling as the stricter first one.

But, no sooner had this began than the government axed the safeguards, on the logic that being “past the peak” is the same as “done and dusted”.

Within two weeks of that, carrying over the momentum from the lockdown, but with the more infectious Alpha variant rapidly spreading, deaths had gone slowly back down to a low point of 415 on December 11th, but began to rise very sharply from then on; with the government seemingly more concerned with having a normal Xmas than stopping the spread.

With deaths at 610 a day by January 3rd, the PM nevertheless insisted that children should go back to school the following day. Faced with a revolt from teachers, students and parents, this was reversed within 24 hours and on 6th January, with deaths at 685 a day, the third lockdown was announced.

Two weeks and three days later, we reached the peak on January 23rd, with 1248 deaths, after which, they declined very rapidly in the same way as they had done under the impact of the first lockdown.

So, the pattern is very clear and completely contradicts Brady’s assertions.

From early December 2020, the vaccination drive began. This would significantly blunt the impact of future waves, but was unable on its own to eliminate them.

Deaths declined to 32 a day by April 6th and stayed mostly in single figures through May and June, beginning to climb again in late June. This was earlier than in 2020 because the hospitality industry and a limited amount of tourism were back in business, so cases rose through the August, whereas they had remained static in 2019.

The lethality of the Omicron peak has been significantly below those of the first two waves – 266 on January 6th, and slowly subsiding to 144 a day by Feb 21st. The government is gambling that the impact of relatively high vaccination rates will combine with the antibodies generated by the very widespread Omicron infections to create the Holy Grail of “herd immunity” that they have been searching for since the beginning of the pandemic. This is whistling in the wind because

  • having some antibodies does not confer immunity, as the vaccine effect declines with time and new variants tend to evade at least some of their efficacy and, as that also applies to the effect of having caught the virus once, there are increasing numbers of people who have been reinfected
  • even in its mildest form, this virus is ten times as infectious as flu and people need to be fully vaccinated not to be cut down in swathes by it.
  • new variants, as stressed by SAGE, are not guaranteed to be milder than Omicron, so removing free testing, self isolation with symptoms and ONS monitoring from Easter, and hoping for the best instead of preparing for the worst, means that such a variant could be in and amongst us before anyone has noticed.

In such circumstances further safeguards will be forced on the government if it is to avoid the Health Service being overwhelmed.

But Brady’s statement is a warning that, if the libertarian zealots get their way, we will instead “press on regardless of casualties” like Hague at the Somme.

Join the fight back. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/dont-end-self-isolation-for-people-with-covid-19-tickets-267420801817

Intimations of mortality 2. Holocene Court.

The big Sainsbury supermarket on Edgware Road has a film about its colossal redevelopment running in the entrance space. They are currently putting in the foundations for a massive new store, with several tower blocks above it, on what used to be the car park.

This is a new model. Instead of presuming that customers will drive to the store from some distance away and load up their cars in a big shop, I guess the calculation is that if you have several thousand people living right above the store, they will just have to pop downstairs in the lift whenever they need anything. Presumably they will also make a fortune in rent or sales, while keeping the Freehold.

Once phase 1 is complete and the new store opened, the current shop will be demolished to make way for even more tower blocks and what looks like one of those corporate “green spaces” in the middle, that could be a nice park for the kids to play in (sheltered from the road) or might just be a dead zone with the sort of barrier vegetation that encourages people to post their beer bottles in it.

I guess we’ll see. But, perhaps not. The final date for completion is 2032. I found myself wondering if I would see it finished. Partly because I’d be 78 by then, so might not get that far, and partly because the rate climate breakdown is accelerating and the cold war hotting up, we might not make it that far.

Just up the road, a newly developing block of flats is named “Holocene Court”. The Holocene is the name of the peculiarly stable climactic period that allowed human civilisation to develop. The impact of human activity on the climate and rock strata formation – with global construction activity now shifting more materials than water erosion – means that we are now in the “Anthropocene”; an era defined by our capacity to build and sow the seeds of our own destruction all at once. Self immolation through self apotheosis.

If you could see the things I see, when I’m delivering leaflets.

The note attached to No 7 in a nearby road. “Do not leave parcels with No 6” can’t help but make you wonder what’s happened there.

Outside another nearby flat, the doormat reads; “The neighbours have better stuff”.

On one side of another front door a faded Jesus poster, looking a lot like Conchita Wurst; on the other a sign asking for visitors to “disinfect before delivery”. Faith and science in balance.

And at the local shops

A teenage schoolgirl arguing on her mobile in Boots keeps exclaiming “Suck my left foot!” New one on me.

A metallic orange SUV – looking as though it is made out of cheap, brittle plastic; so really expensive and kinda cheap at the same time – turns into Church Lane. Its number plate reads “MR 1 4 FUN”. Hmmm.

An acceptable level of risk?

An argument often heard is that “learning to live with Covid” is like living with the risk of dying from alcohol or road accidents. As with the line that “its just like flu“, there is no comparison between the level of risk involved.

For 2020, for which full figures area available, that looks like this.

Covid deaths running at 8 times the rate of alcohol related deaths and 49 times the rate of deaths from road accidents.

The impact of removing safeguards in January, even though many people are continuing to work from home where and when they can and take sensible precautions, has been to plateau the daily death rate at around 250 a day. This is a very high level to be behaving as though there is an acceptable level of risk, even if we assume that new variants will not emerge, setting off further waves.

Alcohol deaths in UK 2020

Road accident deaths in UK 2020

Covid deaths in UK 2020

17 million dead mink can’t be wrong.

Last Friday Dr John Campbell’s covid vlog had the title China and zero covid. This is odd, because the vlog hardly dealt with China at all. This is interesting because it illustrates a broader problem in coverage of this issue; that attitudes are often expressed without them then being buttressed by facts. This stands out on Campbell’s vlog because he usually presents it as a simple explanatory space with no particular axe to grind, and he has built up quite a big following here and in the US on that basis.

His style is usually to go through a summary of official stats or reports, slowly enough for people to follow and calmly enough for people not to be put off, while circling key statistics and ticking them – usually in a very reassuring way. He seems to embody an old fashioned deference to authoritative medical knowledge. One of the men (got to be men) in white coats taking the time to explain.

Occasionally a darker view slips into sight. Wikipedia notes that he has put forward one unsound treatment and – possibly inadvertently – given credence to another. A long interview with David Davies MP gave an extended platform to Davies’s view that if only we all took vitamin D supplements all would be well. While vitamin D is helpful with immunity in general – and taking them wouldn’t hurt – this is in the same territory as the assertion by the South African Ministry of Health in the early days of the AIDS epidemic there that this was primarily a disease of poverty that could be cured by better living conditions and better diets. True up to a point, but insufficient on its own and, when counterposed to retrovirals rather damaging. In a post as the Omicron variant was picking up, Campbell noted that rapid and widespread mild infection would be a good thing because it would develop immunity on a bigger scale. Which, of course, presumes that all these infections would be mild, that those for whom it was not could be ignored, and that developing antibodies means immunity from reinfection. Which it clearly does not.

His “China” post started with an uncharacteristically huffy rhetorical question – put in tones that mixed bewilderment with a kind of condescending exasperation. Why is China persisting with its Zero Covid approach in the face of Omicron which, in his view, was bound to overwhelm it. He made no attempt to answer this and, to be fair, seemed genuinely puzzled.

If he wants an answer, there is a clue in the statistics he gave – and the complete lack any China figures in the rest of his vlog. He cited dozens of cases in several cities. I’d invite him to compare that with the number of cases in the UK right now. If we had dozens of cases in several cities the government here would be trumpeting how “world beating” we are all over the airwaves (and it would be hard to argue with it).

All the graphs then cited in his vlog – showing the Omicron wave passing its peak – exclude China data – because, instead of the wild roller coaster peaks and troughs with hundreds of thousands of cases and thousands of deaths that are now reassuringly slightly less bad than they were, China’s line would be a barely discernable flat one running straight along the bottom. To put this another way, China persists with Zero Covid because of the several million people who died of it last year just two died in China. Thats 2. Not really too hard to understand once you look at the figures.

Later on Campbell similarly huffed at New Zealand and Western Austraila for keeping their borders closed – on the bais that “they have to open up” at some point and would then be hit by Omicron all at once. This would only be true if they failed to quarantine people coming in.

The emotional clincher in his introduction was the expression of disgust at Hong Kong killing 2,000 hamsters to prevent inter species transmission after a positive test. Because hamsters are cuddly pets in a different category to the uncountable number of lab rats killed developing the vaccines. Campbell’s moral indignation at this might carry more weight if he had made a comparable fuss when Denmark slaughtered 17 MILLION mink on the same grounds earlier in the pandemic. I may be wrong, but I don’t recall him doing so.

Double standards illuminate blind spots quite dramatically.

“Leading the world in living with the virus”?

Sajid Javid’s bluster is the exact opposite of reality. The UK is 25th in the world in death rates. 182 other countries have done better in keeping their people safe – the first duty of government they used to say – and only 24 have done worse. So, perhaps, leading the world in dying with the virus might be a better way to put it.

Diane Abbot’s article in Labour Outlook pointed out that, when compared with the death rates in countries with an active covid suppression strategy, the UK has done spectacularly badly.

  • The UK has had a death rate of 2,274 per million.
  • Australia’s death rate is 112 per million.
  • New Zealand, just 10.6.
  • China, a minds bogglingly small 3.47.

In the press here, this is used as evidence that these countries have been quite mad in not letting their people die in numbers comparable to ours, with headlines like “China’s Zero Covid Tyranny” in the Daily Telegraph.

The single minded ferocity of this line is explained by a simple calculation that they really don’t want people to do, or think through.

If you multiply the per million death rate for these countries by 65, for the 65 million people who live in the UK, you get some very startling figures for how many people would have died had we adopted their policies and had a comparable death rate.

  • A comparable death rate to Australia would have meant that 7,280 people would have died here.
  • A comparable death rate to New Zealand would have meant 687 deaths.
  • A comparable death rate to China would have kept deaths to just 226 during the whole pandemic so far.

That looks like this.

So, who has got this right, and who has got it wrong?

This policy, that we have to “live with the virus” means an acceptance that we will continue to die from it in large numbers. It invites us all to participate in a gigantic piece of disavowal: to look straight at the reality that this virus is ten times as deadly and infectious as the flu and continuing to evolve, and pretend that it isn’t.

The Labour and trade union movement – despite the line of the leadership (Wes Streeting’s surreal “plan to live well with Covid”) should resist going along with delusions of a “return to normalcy.” There are always elephants in the room, but with this policy, there will be viruses too.

Its not like flu! Or “Infect them all! God will recognise His own!”

Figures for England and Wales from ONS

This is why the comments from Sajid Javid and others that “We need to learn to live with” the virus because “sadly, people die of flu as well” are so light minded and not comparing like with like.

Javid says that “in a bad flu year you can sadly lose about 20,000 lives but we don’t shut down our entire country and put in place lots of restrictions to deal with it.” In a good flu year, however, you can lose a few hundred, as we can see here.

The worst years for flu are far less lethal than any year we have had so far with Covid.

Given that it is

  • more transmissible
  • more lethal
  • evolving rapidly

there is no reason to believe that the casualty rates “for many, many years, perhaps forever,” will be lower than they have been in recent months, during which the UK has, in Sajid Javid world, been “leading the way in showing the world how you can live with Covid”. Every one of the average of 359 people who have died every day in the last week lies in their graves as a rebuke to this vainglorious cynicism.

The notion of “endemic”, ie ever present, disease that the government presents is that it will be faded into the background, not too serious, predictable and fairly regular. The wild roller coaster of the successive waves we have seen, and will continue to see, is nothing like that. His remark that we will have to continue to employ “measures”, however “sensible, appropriate and proportionate” is a backhanded admission of that.

His comment yesterday in scrapping the Plan B safeguards that We cannot eradicate this virus” (my emphasis) is an abject admission of failure. The ruling class in the West can no longer even claim to lead humanity.

They can’t eliminate it, because they are not willing to. China keeps managing to do it. Only 2 people died of Covid there last year and they have no intention of following the pressure from the US to abandon their zero Covid policy. If they did, between 3 and 4 million people would die. No doubt Javid would consider that a small price to pay.

The effect of letting the genie back out of the bottle as soon as possible will be seen soon enough. It will slow the downward trajectory in cases, hospitalisations and lead to more people dying than need to. Keir Starmer has called for the data on which this is based to be released. This is beside the point, as the overall data is available. More widely, the pretence that acting as though we are back to normal means that we are back to normal is simply deluded. Labour should break its complicity with this approach, which bakes in permanent crisis from here on.

Operation Dead Meat.

Boris Johnson’s game plan is quite clear. Brass it out. Throw as many underlings under the bus as possible. Try to appease his Party’s right wing – who are the force behind trying to defenestrate him now with a series of increasingly wild policy pronouncements.

The Morning after the night before.
  • Go to war with Radio 4. As if the BBC weren’t right wing enough, with their long succession of lead political commentators who either were or might as well have been Conservative activists (Nick Robinson was in FCS in the 80s at the time they demonstrated in support of Nicaraguan terrorists and sported Hang Nelson Mandela T shirts; Laura Kuenssberg has often seemed to act as a straight conduit for the latest line from Tory central office). Perhaps the success of GB News is what they have in mind. A channel with very little appeal outside the Alt Right bubble.
  • Deploy the Royal Navy in the Channel against refugees seeking safety. This is either bluff – sounds decisive, means nothing – or murderous. What are they going to do? Heroically open fire on dinghies full of desperate people? Or ram them? Leave people to drown or save their lives?
  • Lift Covid safety measures early. Having learned nothing from every other time they’ve done this in the pandemic. Latest government measures have all had this finely tuned “not quite just in time” quality. Cutting the isolation period down to five days from seven means that a third of the people concerned could still be infectious. But, what the hell, it gets more people back to work. Being “past the peak” is not the same thing as being in a sufficiently safe space to open up. Just as “endemic” does not mean that an epidemic is any less lethal – its just means you’ve given up on trying to control it. Current safety measures – however half baked – have case numbers and hospitalisations going down. Deaths are a lagging indicator and still going up (38% up from the previous week on Sunday). Letting them go early means that they will have less effect, which means that the rate of decline will slow and more people will die. A small price to pay for the PM’s political career.
  • Push a Red Scare. The bizarre allegation’s from MI5 that Christine Lee has been conducting “illegal” attempts to “influence” legislators in the interests of the Chinese Communist Party – coming from the team that brought us the Zinoviev Letter, Spycatcher and Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq – without specifying what she did that was “illegal” nor charging her with anything. In fact, Priti Patel has admitted that Lee’s behaviour is currently below the criminal threshold to be prosecuted. In other words, what she is supposed to have done was not, in fact, illegal, as claimed by MI5. How it differs from lobbying by other countries, some of them supposed to be allies, has not been defined. Nor why this sort of thing is illegitimate in this case, but not in theirs. All part of developing a Cold War politics of paranoia. Yvette Cooper has, of course, gone along with the government’s approach. Priti Patel has warned that we can expect more of these announcements and floated a change in the law. I doubt any of this will target attempts to “advance the interests” of the United States which are part of the warp and weft of the UK establishment – from the Trilateral Commission to the 5 Eyes Intelligence alliance – which makes the UK security services a local auxiliary of those of the USA – to the Henry Jackson Society and Uncle Sam Cobbly and all. This appears to be an attempt to make it impossible for anyone in politics, academia or the media to suggest that maybe China gets some things right, without being accused of being an agent or a spy; thereby closing down the range of debate and setting up anyone raising awkward facts to be howled down by enraged mobs rather than acknowledge them. The decline of once unchallengeable US dominance really sets us up for a delirious period of irrational politics.

It also beggars belief that, at precisely this point, Keir Starmer and Wes Streeting think that the thing to do is to ride to Johnson’s rescue on Covid.

Streeting – in an article on Labour List – put forward “Labour’s Plan to live well with Covid”. Yes. he really did write that. A real contender for the backdrop for Party Conference, or billboards at the next election. Possibly more memorable than Starmer’s latest “This, That and The other”. The irony of this is that Streeting is putting this forward as part of a plan to show that Labour aims to win the next election on its own merits, not simply be the lucky beneficiary of the Tories falling apart. Clearly, the statesmanlike thing is to show how fit we are for government by being as much like them as possible.

At the same time Starmer’s speech to the Fabian Society echoed the government line. “We need to learn to live with Covid. He went on “I don’t want a government ever again to have to place tough restrictions on our lives, our livelihoods and our liberties.” Ever again. From here. Regardless of what happens? Close your eyes and it could be the Covid Recovery Group speaking. Restrictions (which might also be called safeguards) only have to be put in place when the virus is left to run riot). An active Covid suppression policy saves lives and allows economic recovery. Let the virus evolve into a new variant – as it will – and we’ll once again have picked up the card marked “Return to Hospital. Do not pass Go. Do not collect an economic recovery”.

To be fair to Streeting, his proposals actually spell out that constant safeguards (restrictions) are the price of accepting that “the virus is here to stay”. Some of this proposes a sensible wholesale roll out of a serious testing and tracing system, ventilation systems in schools, support for worldwide vaccination, proper sick pay for those having to isolate – which concedes that people will have to – and but also requires a permanent volunteer “jabs army” to relieve pressure on Health Service workers – instead of recruiting workers that will have to be paid (?!). All of this concedes that pressure will be constant from here, as will waves of jabs.

By contrast, a serious position that rejects complicity with the government and sets a course towards active Covid suppression has now been adopted by the Socialist Health Association, and this should be discussed up and down the Party and through the unions too to push a change of course and defy this fatal fatalism.

Coronavirus Pandemic

We note that:

1. The Tory Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to one of the highest per capita death tolls in the world, as well as causing thousands to suffer with long term health problems.

2. Its incompetence, corruption, repeated failure to take timely decisions, reliance on just vaccines and herd immunity, on top of its ideological neo-liberalism mean that it has utterly failed to protect the health and well-being of the people of the UK.

3. In October 2021, Parliament’s Health & Social Care and Science & Technology Committees’ joint report on the lessons learnt from the UK’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic described it as one of “the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”; and the Public Accounts Committee report on the government’s flagship test-and-trace system said that it had failed to achieve “its main objective” to cut infection levels and help Britain return to normal despite beinghanded an “eye-watering” £37bn in taxpayers’ cash.

4. The Government continues to delay its promised independent public enquiry.

We recognise that:

1. Vaccination, while essential, can be only one tool in the struggle to control Covid-19.

2. Those countries which have aimed at maximum suppression of the virus have the lowest death tolls and are suffering the least negative economic consequences.

3. There is no reliable evidence that it is possible to live safely with this virus as it mutates, and more dangerous variants emerge.


We call on the SHA and Labour Party at all levels to:

1. Reject the Tories’ ‘living with the virus’ approach, and instead support a comprehensive strategy to keep community transmission of the virus as close to zero as possible and ultimately to eliminate it entirely from particular geographic areas, based on tried and tested public health principles, including: An effective public sector local and fully-funded Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support (FFTIS) operation run by the NHS and local authorities, providing comprehensive financial, psychological, social and health care support and practical assistance to all required to self-isolate or shield. Continuing personal protection and mitigation measures including social distancing, handwashing, mask-wearing and good ventilation. An obligation for workplaces, educational places, hospitality, venues and other indoor public spaces to adhere to and publicly display Covid protection standards (especially for ventilation).Vaccine passes where appropriate. The right to work and study from home where possible and no requirement to attend the workplace unless strictly necessary.

2. Actively support campaigns and international efforts to tackle the pandemic on a global level through facilitating speedy vaccine deployment and production in all parts of the world In order to effectively campaign for this essential life-saving elimination strategy, we resolve to support Independent SAGE, to affiliate to the Zero Covid UK campaign, and to work with those campaigns.