Intimations of Mortality

We seem to have a new sort of spider web this year. A sort of formless gauzy mist that drifts across corners and appears overnight. No tightly defined geometric structures. As though the spiders know that God is dead and isn’t checking on the quality of their work.

After the brains, two slugs the size of battlecrusiers ooze inexorably from one hedgerow on the path outside our flat to the happier hunting grounds under the other.

We have a strange intrusive ticking, that sounds both mechanical and urgent, coming from inaccessible places in our water pipes at times. It feels like a countdown.

The intense playful and urgent quality of the playing in this year’s Proms exudes a sense that live music cannot be taken for granted forever; that each performance is precious and has to be fully savoured. Live music in more ways than one.

The government has decided to “live with” the virus. Which means that they are content that people should continue to die from it. Forever and ever. Amen.

Traffic, thank you hats and Mussolini on a lamp post.

At the bottom of Buck Lane, as the steep slope inclines ever steeper, one of the many motoring dickheads who express their social distancing frustrations by driving too fast and revving their engines, making a lot of noise and not caring who hears it, explodes up the hill in a cacophony of straining motor without a backward look, leaving a dense blueish cloud of exhaust behind for a heavily built and wheezing mother to laboriously wheel her heavily laden push chair through. The small child in front in the seat sits bolt upright and looks offended; as well he might.

Down by the shops, the traffic has built up in recent weeks, and a driver honks his horn in frustration at the car in front, which has stopped, waiting for another driver to vacate a parking space and causing an instant tail back. The horn, meant to be used in emergencies not as a sign of minor irritation, is loud and nerve jangling, obliterating all other sounds while it blasts and putting everyone else almost as on edge as the driver. Sharing is caring. A hefty sort of guy walking in front of me stares across at the driver, whose window is open, makes eye contact and calls “calm down”. In doing that, he is speaking for many of us, but gets the inevitable reaction of someone who is already angry and has just made a status gesture in front of his family – all gathered around and overheated in his car – and can’t afford to take a rebuke without losing face; so he escalates, leans out of his window all red faced and shouts back, honking his horn again. This is repeated ritualistically – and slightly comically now we are used to it -as the traffic queue slowly edges forward again, roughly at walking pace; so the argument keeps pace all the way down to the station.

In some ways I’m sorry for drivers. On the way down to the shops I get to walk through the Park. Nothing like walking to get your thoughts in order. And this time of year we have the wildflowers that the council has put in to encourage the bees. Right now there is an exhilarating flash of scarlet poppies. Its like an Impressionist painting but better, because its what would have inspired an impressionist painting. Manet live. Or, like stodgy old Wordsworth, your heart can’t help but “leap up”. People driving past miss all that. How much do you lose with the freedom of the not so open road? Invest in a shopping trolley and you get a walk in the Park, time to think and a bit of exercise too.

In the deep shade of a spreading Oak tree, the Roe Green Park Moot is meeting. A dozen or so elderly Gujerati guys – who now seem to be in permanent session -sitting in a circle, several on little camp stools brought for the occasion, two propping up black iron bicycles like props from a Satyajit Ray film, several of them talking at once and waving their hands. Further on, the open air exercise class is back. Mostly legs in the air like they are practicing for the synchronised swimming at the Olympics.

A little bit of implied violence from the sort of people who think that a high level of COVID infections is the same thing as being “free”. All the council posters urging people to have vaccines and take care have had pots of paint thrown at them.

By contrast, down in Grays at the weekend, someone has crocheted a thank you hat for the NHS to put on top of the post box outside the library.

As the NHS comes under pressure from the rise in cases, it is perhaps appropriate that some of these figures show they have been pushed a bit beyond their limits.

On the way up Cromwell road, just opposite Mumford and Sons (the former fish and chip shop and Covid victim now being gutted, windows black and gaping like a corpse whose eyes have been eaten by crows) two youths walking past me. The smaller, meaner looking one tweaks the chest of the taller – who looks a bit like a browner version of Sideshow Bob – saying “I’ll flick your nipples if you keep chatting shit”. On the way back down in search of chips – having developed a habit of smiling at passers by during the pandemic as a sort of mutual affirmation (we’re still here then) – I pass a couple sweating their way up the hill and smile at them. A few steps on and behind my back I hear the bloke mutter “Fucking smiling! Ooo’s e fink he’s fucking smiling at?” and I realise that I’d almost forgotten that old reflex of keeping safe by keeping neutral. Like the safety advice on the New York Subway. “Avoid eye contact with anyone over three years old”. The motto of every Council in South Essex should probably be Qui tibi vultus (oo, you lookin at?)

One of the butchers in Orsett Road is now Halal and offers “real goat”. Makes you wonder what the unreal goat is and who sells it.

When I hang out my laundry on the whirly drier in the backyard, the sight of my trousers hanging upside down to dry is reminiscent of Mussolini suspended from that lamp post by the Partisans after they shot him in Mezzagra in 1945.

Out of the window

  • a young guy on an electric scooter swishes past; like the ghost of a future that we might already be too late to build. You can’t help noting that the police in London have confiscated 500 of these in the last couple of months – pending the Highway Code updating itself to cope with them – while the gas guzzlers that poison our air and are helping overheat our planet rev happily along with complete impunity.
  • a sound of hooves and a glass carriage pulled by two horses with huge pink plumes driven by men in top hats and full of tiny Asian girls in fluffy pink dresses appropriate for princesses but looking a bit bored and apprehensive trots by up past the castle flats; their parents driving behind in a nervous convoy, leaning forward over their steering wheels.

Impact of School Reopening on Viral Infection Rates. Week 1.

The wholesale reopening of schools on March 8th has already had an impact on the rate of viral transmission.

The National Education Union has a site that measures the rate of infection per 100,000 people in the areas around every school in the country. I have looked at the figures for the areas around three Primary schools with which I have a personal connection – the one I went to, one I taught in, and the one my children went to. I will be updating these on a weekly basis, every Thursday.

The impact of schools reopening can be seen clearly. No other significant measures have been taken to ease lockdown at this point, so this passes the “fair test” criteria for identifying the impact of a single variable (1).

You can check out what is happening in schools near you by going on the NEU covid map site. I would be surprised if the pattern were any different anywhere else.

In Islington, the infection rate is still declining, but the rate of decline is leveling off.

In Brent, the rate of infection has leveled off almost completely, from a previously sharp decline.

In Thurrock, there has been a very small increase, from a rate of decline that was previously similar to Brent’s.

This is quite a disturbing immediate impact. My presumption is that, other things being equal, these trends will continue between now and the Easter break.

The tragedy of this is that keeping schools shut until after the easter break could have got infections down to a point at which and effective Teast and Trace system would have been in a position to eliminate domestic infections.

  1. Level 3 in Key Stage 2 Science.

Schools + Big Bang = Bad Move!

By late Monday afternoon we will know just how lucky Boris Johnson feels.

We will also know whether Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty – reported to be deeply concerned about a rush to open schools wholesale on March 8th – is going to play the role of a Fauci, by refusing to be window dressing for a move he knows will cost lives, or that of a Birx, grimacing through whatever “form of words” Downing Street comes up with to massage its intent.

The government – not for the first time – is sending contradictory signals. The Education Unions, all of them, are not. They describe the prospect of schools being open to all students from March 8th as “reckless”. (1)

While the government is saying that it will only publish the Scientific advice after the event – an indication that they are not at all sure that it supports a big bang – what we do know appears not to.

As a result of the lockdown, infections are coming down quite fast. Halving every 15 days. With the infections on 18 Feb running at just over 12,000 – other things being equal – they would still be at just under 6,000 a day on March 8th; well above where they were in September last year the last time this was tried (1,295 on September 1st). And we should all recall what happened then. This time round, we are looking at a daily infection rate five times worse than then with a virus that is considered up to 70% more contagious.

Not likely to go better than September is it?

At the current rate of decline, the projection is that infection rates would take until the Easter holidays to be down to 1000 a day. Add the two weeks off for Easter with all other restrictions in place and we could be down to 250 a day by mid April. That is a level at which the virus could be hounded to domestic extinction with a proper test and trade system, run through the Health Service and Local Authorities not SERCO.

The government, instead, wants to rely on vaccines and a lot of hope – and probably some contradictory forms of words as the big bang blows up in our faces. Caution with freedom. Recklessness with responsibility. What more can you expect from us? The buck stops with you. If they do go for this, it will be seen as a green light by the take it on the chin brigade, who want the economy re-opened regardless of the casualties. In the words of Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle Price “The moment you open schools up then there no excuse for not opening up the rest of the economy”.

While there has been a real but marginal impact of vaccinations on infections among the over 80s, this has no bearing at all on schools. No children will be vaccinated. No vaccine has been licensed for the under 16s. Very few teachers or TAs will have had even one injection. At the moment, the age groups which has had the slowest trajectory of decline in infections are young adults (18-24) and primary school age children (5-12). “Researchers say that this may be because a significant proportion of primary pupils have still been in classrooms during lockdown”. (2) The current level of attendance in Primary is around 20-25%. Bump this back up to the pre pandemic norm of 95% and how hard is it to predict whats going to happen?

The impact of a partial reopening – on the lines being tried in Scotland from Monday – is likely to be damaging enough, with primary schools becoming a permanent viral reservoir. Their experience must be watched closely to see what happens, though it must be noted that Scotland has an infection rate that is lower than that in England (1:180 compared to 1:115) and the two weeks between Monday and March 8th is a short period to provide anything definitive about how quickly the virus rebounds. However, opening all schools for all students and all educators is bound to slow down the rate of infection decline significantly and, in the worst case, may even reverse it.

The Education unions, parents, independent SAGE and others are arguing for damage limitation. That if there is to be a partial widening of access to schools from March 8th, this should be on a limited basis and the results studied before considering wholesale reopening. That appears to be the plan in Wales, with Early Years and Infants back next week but a projected fuller opening for the rest of Primary and some Secondary year groups contingent on a continuing improvement in infection reduction. A government concerned with public health would listen to them. Labour should back them – and call for the Zero Covid strategy that is within our grasp, but the Tories fail to sieze

1 https://neu.org.uk/press-releases/joint-statement-wider-opening-schools-england

2 https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/feb/19/whitty-at-odds-with-johnson-over-big-bang-reopening-of-schools-in-england

March 8th. A “Big Bang” for the Virus.

What a difference a week makes. From March 8th being the earliest possible time to reopen some schools, slowly, slowly, carefully, carefully, it seems to moved through being one of those target dates that become a matter of Ministerial virility to hit, all the way to being a “big bang” day on which all schools open at once. So, eight and a half million students and three quarters of a million educators all going in and out of workplaces every working day with “bubbles” 20 times the size allowed outside, then going home again. Rather a lot of vectors of transmission there. This is like watching a fly trying to get through a window. No matter how many times it bangs its head on the glass, it keeps trying to do the same thing. History repeating itself as tragic farce.

The media – doing their usual job of framing a discussion as though there isn’t one – have gone into overdrive hyping it up in that hopeful way that makes any criticism come across a curmudgeonly, likely to make children unhappy and ruin their lives and – in the case of the Daily Mail – targeting the NEU with a We Reveal Evil Teachers Plotting to Keep Children Safe story; as if demanding safe conditions to teach and learn in were an outrageous abuse by people who don’t know their place. The spirit they would prefer to see being that of the wounded trooper in the 11th Hussars at the end of Tony Richardson’s 1969 film Charge of the Light Brigade, who looks up from the carnage around him as Lord Cardigan rides slowly back up the valley and calls out in a cheery cockney way “Go again Sir?”

The line from the government is that the roll out of the vaccines – a fabulous job by the NHS, thankfully not outsourced to SERCO – will bring the level of infections down to a point that opening up again from March 8th is something they can get away with without overwhelming the Health Service. At the same time they are flying kites with “Great Barrington Declaration” written all over them – arguing that vaccinating the most vulnerable (once) makes it an acceptable risk to go for ” a big wave” of infections among everyone else. Back to “herd immunity”. Here are the problems with this.

If you look at the graph that shows infections in the UK, the pattern is very clear Fig 1.

Fig 1.

During the first lockdown, schools were closed to all but a very few pupils and we were only dealing with the original variant of the virus, which had not yet evolved so that it could spread more quickly. The peak for infections is quite low when you compare it to where we got to over the winter. The point at which infections began to rise again was as soon as the lockdown was lifted in mid summer. This was initially not very apparent because the numbers were low, and its slow growth helped by schools being shut for the summer holidays (despite “Eat out to help out”). Then we had September. Schools reopening evidently had a significant effect on transmission of the virus. Look at the date. Look at the rising curve. The failure to circuit break when absolute numbers were still low enough, then the half hearted lockdown in November followed by the attempt to open up for Xmas shopping can be tracked exactly on this graph. As can the rapid drop resulting from the current lockdown.

It is possible to argue – so people do it – that the rise in infections is down to an increased level of testing, but this is only true in what might be called a limited and specific way. The pattern of deaths follows the same curves; the slowdowns during lockdowns and the increases when they open up. Fig 2. the minimal downturn in November can partly be attributed to the government’s mulish insistence on keeping schools open. The current, much sharper, downturn is at least partly because schools are currently running with between 20-25% of students in. It would be sharper still if those numbers were down to the 3-10% that was the case in the Spring.

Fig 2

The notion that the sharp fall is attributable to the vaccine roll out is not based on facts. The government and media can be a bit allergic to these if they are inconvenient, but the ONS data on infection by age group shows that the rate of infection has dropped most sharply among the school age cohorts and barely at all among the over 70s; who are the age group that have primarily received their first jab. See the graphs here. https://twitter.com/chrisgiles_/status/1360219174476406788?s=27

So, the contribution of vaccinations to reducing infections has so far been marginal at best. Further, at the current rate of 2.5 million vaccinations a week, it will take until summer to give everyone over 16 one jab – and this will be even slower because everyone who has already had one will have to have their follow up within 12 weeks. So, a wide and rapid reopening on the hope that the vaccines alone will do the job is on a bit of a wing and a prayer.

It should also be stressed that no vaccine is currently liscenced for use on anyone aged under 16. So, children will have no vaccine protection at all. The call from Labour for all teachers to have one jab this week to provide some protection – ignored by the government (who presumably either think that it can be defeated with “British Pluck” or that teachers should be prepared to pay the final sacrifice in an undaunted way) also misses the point that you need TWO jabs to be fully vaccinated. The vaccines also – while offering significant protection against serious illness and death do not in themselves prevent infection and transmission.

Opening schools up wholesale on March 8th – even with all the safety measures that Heads and educators have struggled to put into place – is therefore another attempt at a triumph of the will over scientific reality (of a similar sort to the way they are trying to bluff their way through on climate breakdown) and will have comparable effects. It is likely to become the beginning of a super spreader event across the whole of society.

This continual in and out, stop and start has given the virus time to evolve. As it has evolved the variants that are more infectious are the ones that will survive best. Some of these, like the South African variant, have also become more deadly and resistant to the vaccines. It stands to reason that as the mass vaccinations are carried through, the only variants that survive will be those that resist them.

The decisive question therefore is why, given that this is common knowledge, the government does not adopt a strategy to eliminate the virus – as advocated by the Zero Covid coalition. Using the vaccines as an aid, but not relying solely on them. A key demand is that raised by the education unions throughout – for full disclosure of the scientific advice from SAGE.

Reading the comments made by the 50 strong Tory backbench – and profoundly misnamed – “Covid Recovery Group”, that although wholesale reopening of schools will make it impossible to keep the R rate below 1 that this is “worth it” – it is possible to conclude that this is just bluff and ignorance. The calls for “the scientists” to be taken out of political decision making – so that MPs like them don’t have to be troubled by awkward facts when they have to strike a posture – echoing the long muscular sporty traditions of the Public Schools so many of them went to, with their deep suspicion of intellectuals (dubiously continental and probably effete) and the boys comics they read when they were growing up – full of evil villains with big, sneaky brains and weedy little bodies. This – however – is simply a matter of style. These are not stupid people. But they are remarkably unconcerned about deaths among the sorts of people most likely to die – ethnic minorities, front line workers, the unproductive elderly, those with “underlying conditions” making them not fully work fit, and the worst off in general, who have made the “poor lifestyle choice” of living in overcrowded accommodation – if their lives are an obstacle to letting the economy rip and profits made. “Herd immunity to protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad” as Dominic Cummings put it. Daily Telegraph business editor Jeremy Warner put it like this last March. “Not to put too fine a point on it, from an entirely disinterested economic perspective, the COVID-19 might be mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling (sic) elderly dependents”.

Find out more and join the resistance here.

Vaccines are not a magic bullet. Zero Covid coalition zoom meeting. (https://clicks.eventbrite.com/f/a/ZpkyZfNaozDdfG7GeA_Tlg~~/AAQxAQA~/RgRiCMm8P0RKaHR0cHM6Ly9wcm90ZWN0LWV1Lm1pbWVjYXN0LmNvbS9zLzNrRVRDWEw4RWlOQkRadmM5bVpYaT9kb21haW49dGlueXVybC5jb21XA3NwY0IKYCE8lidgZgTiv1IXcGF1bGF0a2luNTRAaG90bWFpbC5jb21YBAAAAAA~)

London Lockdown Lowdown

The skinny goblin Santa still suspended from his rope off that house in Kingsbury Road is looking increasingly like a hostage waiting in vain for a rescue from being trapped out of season.

One of my neighbours down the hill comes out of her house negotiating a shopping list over her shoulder with an elderly relative, gets to her car and calls to the toddlers strapped in the back seat- in a voice half way between forced jollity and grim determination – “Right. Who wants to go to ASDA?” – as though the tone would make it sound like Disneyland. From the back seats…silence.

Sadly, one of my downstairs neighbours – Mum, Dad, daughter, are moving. All COVID related. The landlords – who are getting on – have left for Ireland to quarantine in a quieter, sparser, greener place and are selling it out from under them. At the end of the first furlough period, both the Mum and the Dad downstairs were made redundant from their managerial roles in a hotel. Luckily, the Dad has found a job deputy managing a store – a rather posh one in Chelsea – and says he is the one member of the management team that hasn’t contracted the virus even though the streets are like a ghost town. This makes both him and his boss very nervous. Unfortunately the Mum has not and has had to claim Universal Credit. That makes them unacceptably precarious renters for far too many landlords; unwilling to accept tenants on benefit or solely dependent on one job in an uncertain environment. They have nevertheless found an unexpectedly affordable flat in Fitzrovia, near Regents Park, as the expected rent has dropped by 40% since last year – a sign of how much the centre of the city is hollowing out. This is part of the zone in the West End that is dead at the best of times, as so many houses and flats are owned as investments by absentee, often oversea, landlords and often not even rented out; so there are empty, lifeless streets lined with dark flats, and the occasional pedestrian scuttling nervously through the shadows.

All through the night, the foxes scream in the snow.

Labour – follow the science and support Zero Covid.

100,000 now dead. One of the highest totals in the world. Still in the thick of it.

There is a certain sort of Tory who is either in denial about the severity of Coronavirus, or who sees it as an invigorating social Darwinist challenge that will make our society leaner and fitter as part of the bracing new Brexit Britain by killing off the unproductive elderly; or anyone in the workforce with the sort of “underlying conditions” which might require them to claim sick pay from time to time.

Even as the winter wave and new more infectious variants were forcing the government into a far stricter lockdown last week to sustain their bottom line – avoiding a collapse in the Health Service that could prove fatal to them too – a member of the “COVID Recovery Group” of back bench Tory MPs raged in the Evening Standard about Education Secretary. “Gavin Williamson’s saving grace is that he wanted schools to stay open but he was crushed by the Health Department and Cabinet Office. If he had more clout he could have told Health to f*** off.”

Telling Health to “f*** off” indeed.

SAGE told the government before New Year that – with the new infectious variant – it would be impossible to keep the R rate below 1 unless schools were shut. They nevertheless pressed on regardless until slightly beyond the last minute; closing most schools down a day after they had partially reopened. However, unlike in the Spring, they have kept Nurseries open, and initially widened the essential worker list so that more kids could come in. Trying to accelerate even as they were pressing on the brake. The effect was that three or four times as many were in by the end of the first week back; requiring another screeching u turn to get the number down again. With a more infectious virus, and looser restrictions than in the Spring, the trajectory of infections is unlikely to come down rapidly, even if the vaccination programme hits its targets.

This illustrates why Boris Johnson’s Tory government is presiding over a health and economic disaster. Influenced by the sort of libertarian, economy first thinking that sees human life in instrumental terms – and makes a hard nosed calculation that those likely to die are disproportionately not people like them, which allows them to use phrases like “take it on the chin” with a certain devil may care insouciance – they have sought to “balance” economic concerns with health concerns. No such balance is possible. Attempts to reopen the economy before the virus is eliminated can’t fire on all cylinders even before the virus gets back out there and starts spreading wildly again. So we have a sort of macabre hokey cokey approach which prolongs the crisis on all fronts.

Its hard to imagine a Labour government doing half as badly, or being give a tenth as much indulgence – either by the media or the opposition.

Tony Blair – who is advising Matt Hancock – made several comments this week in the Evening Standard which are both revealing and characteristically ignore the fundamentals. He simultaneously drops the bombshell that on current polices it will take “two or three years” to deal with the pandemic – TWO OR THREE YEARS – notes that the UK government has been “behind the curve” every step of the way, then lets Johnson off the hook; arguing that “no government” has done any better. Really? New Zealand, Taiwan, Australia, Vietnam, China? All these countries have had a COVID elimination strategy; and it has worked. All are now fully active societies with recovering economies. Hard to imagine from here right now, but its never too late to do the right – effective – thing.

The charge sheet against Johnson is plain. Failure to

  • lock down early when they knew what was coming,
  • shut off air travel from well heeled business travelers,
  • use the potential for social mobilisation shown in the rapid growth of local mutual self help groups,
  • set up an effective track and trace system; outsourcing it to SERCO rather than using GPs and local authorities,
  • and, most damning, failure to press on with the initial lock down to the point that infections were so low and rare that an effective track and trace system could have squashed any further outbreaks.

Projections of the decline in infections in mid May indicated that – other things being equal – sticking with the restrictions in the first lockdown could have eliminated domestic infections at some point in June. Instead they thought they could “manage” the situation and “live with” the virus; started lifting the restrictions and allowed the genie back out of the bottle; with the results that are all around us.

At the moment their approach seems to be a variant on the Great Barrington Declaration. They aim to vaccinate the most vulnerable, then remove restrictions to allow the rest of us to take our chances while explicitly ruling out an elimination strategy. Given that vaccination and having had the virus only confers a certain immunity for a limited time – 5 to 6 months – and vaccinating the entire population will take longer than that, the problem is obvious. This inevitably means that the virus will continue to evolve – probably to be more infectious than it currently is – because that’s how evolution works – unless it is eliminated.

Labour’s policy throughout has been defined by a search for “national consensus”, which has taken the form of tactical criticism on points of detail, but no alternative strategy. At points Keir Starmer was pressing the government from the wrong side, flagging up an “exit strategy” as the key issue during the first lockdown – rather than an “elimination strategy” within which “exit” would have been implicit – and for schools to open before it was safe to do so. This is in contrast with the approach of the teaching unions – especially the NEU – which have followed the science and put health first. Thousands of Section 44 safety letters generated from a 400,000 strong NEU meeting on the last day of the Xmas break will have helped nudge the government in the right direction. Slightly stronger calls from the front bench now are being driven by just how bad things are getting, but are too often phrased hesitantly. Nurseries should “probably” close, and so on.

This approach helps explain why a recent YouGov Poll showed that far more people blame each other than blame the government. This is absurd. An overwhelming majority of people both support and comply with restrictions brought in to stop infections. Despite mixed messages from the top and the campaigning of anti-lockdown head bangers like Nigel Farage, very, very few are breaking them lightly or rashly. Put bluntly, Boris Johnson is getting away with it – and persisting with a strategy that will cost many, many avoidable deaths – because the opposition is not pushing for the Zero COVID strategy we need to avoid them.

This Zero Covid rally at noon on Sunday 24th January should be built as widely as possible.

Confirmed Speakers:

Diane Abbott MP

Howard Beckett , Unite the Union

Richard Burgon MP

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet.

Rokhsana Fiaz , Mayor of Newham

Along with other leading scientists, campaigners and activists to be announced!

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/stopping-the-virus-it-doesnt-have-to-be-this-way-tickets-136004337635

This is a possible motion that could be put to CLPs.

Draft Resolution for GC

XXXX CLP recognises that 

  1. The evolution of a more infectious variant of the COVID19 virus is leading to a rapid increase in infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
  2. The government’s approach has led to one of the highest per capita death toll among the larger countries.  The objective of prioritising the economy has also been completely counter-productive as 900,000 people have already lost their jobs and international bodies such as the IMF and OECD forecast Britain will have one of the deepest recessions of any major economy.
  3. the governments approach is exactly the opposite of that needed; which is to drive down infections to the point that they can be controlled and managed until the virus is eliminated, which has been achieved in a number of other countries.

We welcome the deployment of vaccines as a way to speed up this elimination, but it is clear that the government has already mishandled the roll-out and its vaccination programme is not going to prevent new cases and deaths for weeks or months.
We believe that the Party nationally – and the front bench in Parliament – should be calling for a zero COVID strategy – designed to eliminate the virus. ‚Äč
That requires

  1. A serious lockdown to squash transmission to a point that the virus can be eliminated, the closure of all non-essential workplaces, schools, colleges and universities.
  2. Full economic support for everyone affected.
  3. Overhauling test and trace through the Health Service and Local Authorities so that it actually works, and full financial support for those in isolation.
  4. An economic recovery plan to regenerate the economy that also transforms it by investing in green transition on the scale proposed by the TUC – which could create 1.2 million jobs, stave off a recession and avert poverty.

Resolves 

  • to send this resolution to our NEC representatives and appropriate Shadow Minsters and circulate members.
  • to investigate Zero Covid initiatives and discuss them at the next EC.

When is a “surge” not a surge?

The Guardian reports a new “surge” in cases in Hebei Province in China. This amounted to 33 people on 10 January and led to an immediate city wide lockdown and quarantine to eliminate further domestic infections. Because China has the virus under control, this can be done.

The comparable figures for new cases in the UK and USA were 59,937 and 313,516 respectively, because our governments have not got the virus under control. That looks like this.

Some “surge”.

The use of the term “surge” is clearly designed to reinforced the UK government’s defeatist narrative that the virus cannot be defeated, even in places where it has been.

The importance of consciously examining the language we are reading to see how our responses are being manipulated is made clear by this example.

Popping the Radio 4 bubble. Why China has good reasons not to be “more Western”.

It has become a cliche of Western punditry that China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2001 should have gradually made it “more Western”; and therefore acceptable to “the international community”of wealthy countries and the classes that run them. This is usually cloaked in the language of “representative democracy”, but actually means that they believed that China’s economy would “liberalise”, allow the private sector to dominate domestically, and following from that, pro US business forces would press the CCP to allow a political framework that would facilitate the interventions from the State Department that are routine in virtually every other country; and thereby fit into a US dominated world internationally – on the game plan of the internal coup by sections of the Nomenklatura that overturned the Soviet Union. This was- and is – expressed in a touching faith that “free market capitalism” is the only way that an economy can be run efficiently; which is always true for those that own it, but not for the rest of us who just work in it.

This has not happened. Deng Xiao Peng’s comment – “I don’t care if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice” – was widely, possibly willfully, misinterpreted in the West as a vindication of market mechanisms and nothing but; paving the way for the rule of capital to be restored in the same way that it was in the former USSR; which among other things led to a decline in male life expectancy to 58 in Russia in the mid 1990s and collapses in living standards so severe that the per capita income in Ukraine today is still below the level it was in 1989. On the contrary, the way that China has incorporated market mechanisms within state direction is now causing conniptions in the US and UK precisely because China’s growth has exposed their own failings, especially since neo-liberalism ran out of steam in the 2008 crash. An event that brought it home even to the most pro US currents in China that all was not well in the “shining city on a hill” and that perhaps it didn’t present such an alluring model of the future after all.

What this means for people’s lives can be seen in the following figures.

In 2001, at the point China joined the WTO, life expectancy was 70.59. Per Capita income was $3,207 (in PPP terms*). The percentage of people living on less than $5.50 a day, the World Bank’s higher level of poverty measurement, was 80.6% and those on less than $2 a day – truly grinding poverty – was around 44%.

By 2008 – at the time of the Western credit crunch – life expectancy had risen to 75.14. Per capita income was at $7,577. The percentage of people living on less than $5.50 a day was down to 60.6%.

As the Western economies stagnated and held down by austerity, China reoriented investment away from exports to internal infrastructure – from high speed rail to renewable energy – and the net result was that by the end of 2019 per capita income had risen to $20,273; and by the end of 2020 life expectancy to 76.96, the percentage living on less than $5.50 a day down to 23.9% and those on less than $2 a day to 0%.

These figures – the reality of the staggering improvement in quality of life that they represent – and China’s apparent immunity to economic stagnation and austerity – are also a challenge to those sections of the left in the West who consider it to be just another capitalist country. The ruling class here are under no such delusion.

Listen to the smug and thoroughly insular discussions among the commentariat on Radio 4 and there is now a cosy consensus – with opinions stated complacently and neither challenged nor explored – that the time has come to “stand up to China” and “President Trump didn’t get it all wrong”. The critique now is that the CCP run economy is “authoritarian” and – as it runs on state directed investment – provides “unfair competition” to the West. In other words, it works better. It is more effective and efficient. In the Western view, they can provide cats in black or white, but they must be privately owned. If a state owned cat catches more mice, it has to be put down.

These discussions are taking place in societies still stricken by Coronavirus – as governments put commercial considerations ahead of health, leading to a catastrophe for both – and people in China look Westwards in horror at the mess the former “Global leadership” have made of it.

*Purchasing Power Parity. This compares what can be bought with a given sum – so a lower income in one country is balanced against lower prices and compared with the higher income and higher prices in another; so a more accurate comparison can be made. One dollar in China buys roughly what $1.50 would buy in the USA. In PPP terms, the Chinese economy is already larger than that of the USA. $24.16 trillion: $20.81 trillion. With four times the population, however, per capita income is still substantially lower.