Where Paul Mason goes wrong

By Farcaster – http://heymancenter.org/files/events/milanovic.pdf, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49781915

Paul Mason’s 2018 article What kind of capitalism is it possible for the left to build? while dated in its optimistic presumption that left governments were on the cards in the UK, USA, France and Spain in short order, is, as he puts it “brutally honest” in its rejection of any notion that the working class in the richer countries has any obligations towards, or prospects of an alliance with, the working classes and oppressed of the developing world.

As he puts it in his conclusion,

“Is this strategy designed to allow the populations of the developed world to capture more of the growth projected over the next 5-15 years, if necessary at the cost of China, India and Brazil having to find new ways to break out of the middle income trap? Would it, in other words, flatten out and reverse the trends captured in Branko Milanovic’s famous “elephant graph” over the next two decades?

For me the answer is yes. This is a programme to save democracy, democratic institutions and values in the developed world by reversing the 30-year policy of enriching the bottom 60% and the top 1% of the world’s population.

It is a programme to deliver growth and prosperity in Wigan, Newport and Kirkcaldy – if necessary at the price of not delivering them to Shenzhen, Bombay and Dubai.

Lets examine this more closely. Delivering growth and prosperity to “Wigan, Newport and Kirkaldy” – if necessary at the price of not delivering them to Shenzen, Bombay (sic – its been called Mumbai for years) and Dubai” might be more simply summarised as “Britain First”, despite Mason’s insistence that he is against “ethno-nationalism”.

Letting Shenzen and Mumbai go hang alongside Dubai means that he is not solely concerned with the “Global South elite” – a term that appears in his Tweets quite a lot as a way to imply that the Global South is so much more full of elites than the Global North – but with the labouring masses of the entire Global South; the overwhelming majority of humanity. For Mason, if they stay poor as the price of “prosperity to Wigan”, so be it. But, in reality, the “bottom 60%” are far from being “enriched”. They are barely getting by. Under the impact of Covid and now the Ukraine war, they are being impoverished very quickly.

Presumably Mason thinks that’s ok because they’re used to it, and should find “other ways” to get better off; and its their problem to do it, nothing to do with us. These are, after all, far away countries of which we know little.

In this sentence is the abandonment of any basic solidarity between working people in the wealthy countries and those who are far worse of than we are – probably because they are far worse of than we are.

The “elephant graph is misleading in some respects in that, while it notes increases in wealth, it does not take into account the starting points for those increases, and gives the impression that the working class in the developed/advanced/imperialist countries (delete according to ideological preference, but we all know who we’re talking about) are relatively hard done by compared with those in the Global South. This graphic from Visual Capitalist (!) shows what the actual distribution of global wealth is – and points to rather different conclusions from Mason’s.

The full article from Visual Capitalist can be seen here.

The “logic” of Mason’s position is that working class people in the Global North, most of whom are in the 32.8% above earning between $10,000 and $100,000 a year and hold 11.1% of the world’s wealth, should be fighting simultaneously with the top 11% – those earning over $100,000 a year holding 85% of the world’s wealth – and the bottom 55% – those earning less than $10,000 a year owning just 1.3% of the world’s wealth.

In his failure to recognise the necessity of an alliance between workers in the Global North with those in the Global South – the majority of humanity – Mason’s position can’t help but collapse into the “ethno-nationalism” he claims to be seeking to avoid.

The logic of “ethno-nationalism” is for workers in the wealthier countries to bloc with the top 11% – who are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Global North – against the Global South. “Send them back!” Build that wall!” This is most extremely expressed by Fascists. But Fascists, in emphasising white racial solidarity as their motivating drive, create division and run the risk of civil war in multi ethnic Global North countries. So, at the moment, this is usually expressed more “inclusively” in terms of “national unity” or “Western Values” or “democracy in our continent” (Keir Starmer, my emphasis).

And, looking at this more closely, Mason avoids a key point. Part of the Global South has found another way forward, but not one that Mason likes.

If you look at the link to the elephant graph in the quote above, it has a very revealing caption. The sharp differentiation between the working class in the developed countries and the top 1% is very clear. The growth in income and well being in the Global South is helpfully qualified to point out that most of this has happened in China.

And so it has. From an average per capita income of around $300 a year in 1980 to over $10,000 a year now. This has been described in a Labour Foreign Policy Group document that is primarily hostile to China as “perhaps the most significant contribution to human wellbeing in world history”.

You might think that such a development might merit a positive engagement from someone who describes himself as a Socialist; given that the elimination of extreme poverty in China and the lifting up of 850 million people to relatively decent living standards has taken place under the government of a Communist Party with 90 million members in a country that sees itself as building “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

But not a bit of it. Mason counterposes this to “prosperity in Wigan etc”. His “30 year policy” remark implies that the growth and development in China – which is of a different order and different scale to any part of the Global South still labouring under the Washington consensus – is part of the same process that has led to extreme income differentiation in the Global North, not, as it is, part of a challenge to it.

He therefore gets his alliances all wrong. While he posits the possibility of taking on both the bottom 60% and the top 1%, the logic of his position is a Global North class bloc against the Global South in general, and those countries within it that see themselves as Socialist in particular.

His title spells this out. “What kind of capitalism is it possible for the left to build?” This is the Left in the developed countries. Ourselves alone. Which he presumes can take on our own ruling classes – not only without global allies but actively repudiating them – while leaving the 1% he is supposedly targeting in control of their own system; hoping that – under challenge -they will stay within the bounds of “democratic institutions”; despite all our historical experience of what they do whenever their interests are threatened.

This is both wrong and impossible.

And the proof of this pudding has already been in the eating. Since he wrote his article in 2018, the vehicles for such a prospect have been seriously smashed up by the ruling class. No one now expects the Sanders current in the US, the sort of left Social Democracy represented by Corbynism in the UK, or La France Insoumise to get into government. At all. The scale of defeat varies, but the bottom line is that no variant of left social democracy is going to be let anywhere near government in any country in the Global North that has any heft; so Mason’s nostrums are a dead letter before they start. In the UK, the Starmer project flirts overtly with and encourages exactly the sort of ethno-nationalism Mason claims he opposes.

We live in the best democracies money can buy. The “democratic institutions” in our countries are the facade through which the rule of the 1% is mediated. This operates on a whole series of sophisticated levels which, under the impact of economic and political crises are becoming more evident. The attacks on “democracy, democratic institutions and values in the developed world” – from naked gerrymandering to voter suppression to racist notions that citizenship in wealthy countries is a privilege that carries a price tag of political loyalty- are all home grown. These “democratic institutions” are not a natural part of Global North society but a space to organise won in struggle that is now under increasing attack with – paradoxically – the slogans of a Cold War between “Democracy” and “authoritarianism” as part of the cover for it.

The Speech that Keir Starmer did not Make.

With Boris Johnson visiting Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to get more oil pumped, just a day after the execution of 81 prisoners by the Bin Salman regime, this is the speech that Keir Starmer could have made but did not.

While he made a general point…“going cap in hand from dictator to dictator is not an energy strategy”, he stopped well short of calling for Johnson’s trip to be called off,and steered well away from any demand for a shift in policy on Yemen remarking instead, “Obviously there’s a real energy crisis in terms of the cost at the moment, so anything that brings the cost down now is a step in the right direction, whatever it is.” (my emphasis).

In this dark hour, our thoughts, our solidarity, and our resolve are with the people of Yemen.

They have been cast into a war, not through fault of their own. But because Mohamed Bin Salman knows that no people will choose to live under his bandit rule unless forced to at the barrel of a gun.

The consequences of Bin Salman’s war have been horrendous and tragic for the Yemeni people but also for the Saudi people, who have been plunged into chaos by a violent elite who have stolen their wealth, stolen their chance of democracy, and stolen their future.

And we must prepare ourselves for difficulties here. We will see economic pain, as we free ourselves from dependence on Saudi Oil, and clean our institutions from money stolen from the Arab peoples.

But the British public have always been willing to make sacrifice to defend democracy on our continent. And we will again.

Saudi Arabia’s neighbours and every other democracy that lives in the shadow of autocratic power are watching their worst nightmare unfold.

All those who believe in democracy over dictatorship, the rule of law over the reign of terror, in freedom over the jackboot of tyranny, must unite and take a stand and ensure Bin Salman fails.

We must make a clean break with the failed approach to handling Bin Salman, which after the intervention into Yemen started in 2015 – has been complicit in more than 20,000 bombing raids on Houthi territory, indiscriminately bombing civilians and hospitals, schools and other infrastructure, killed over 377,000 people, with one child under five dying every nine minutes, displaced millions more, led directly to a cholera epidemic with over a million people infected and much of the country on the brink of famine, with the United Nations describing Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and turned a blind eye to the arrests of anyone who publicly opposes him, symbolised by the murder of Jamal Kashoggi – and has fed his belief that the benefits of aggression outweigh the cost. We must finally show him he is wrong.

That means doing all we can to help Yemen defend herself -urgently withdrawing the military support that we and our NATO allies provide Bin Salman, and the hardest possible sanctions must be taken against his regime. It must be isolated. Its finances frozen. It’s ability to function crippled. We should even withdraw the after sales services provided by BAE systems for the missiles and aircraft they have so lucratively sold.

And there are changes we must make here in the UK. For too long our country has been a safe-haven for the money that Bin Salman and his fellow bandits stole from the people of the Arabian peninsula. It must end now.

And this must be a turning point in our history, we must look back and say what this terrible day was actually when Bin Salman doomed himself to defeat.

He seeks division, so we must stay united. He hopes for inaction, so we must take a stand. He believes that we are too corrupted to do the right thing, so we must prove him wrong.

I believe we can. But only if we stand together.

Very few words have had to be changed from Starmer’s televised speech at the beginning of the Ukraine invasion – mostly personal names and places. If he were genuinely concerned at projecting “a liberal international order in defence of human rights” we should expect to hear a speech like this directed at UK and US allies and calling for an end to UK complicity in their war crimes.

But we don’t.

Could it be the direct involvement of RAF pilots training Saudi Airmen, or the Royal Navy personnel seconded to the Saudi fleet, and all that money made by UK built munitions that have blown up Yemeni civilians in large numbers, that explains the reticence?

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.