For as long as I can remember the Tories have argued, to huge effect, that a country’s economy is akin to a household budget. Simple, understandable, brilliant. Also, untrue.
The narrative – which the Tories usually command – goes like this: a household must balance its budget. If a household is in debt, then the household should cut spending. Debt must be repaid. Who could disagree with that?
Applying the same logic – with the economy like a household – the Tories argue that, particular in times of a recession, the Government must cut public expenditure in order to “balance the books”. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
To coral public opinion in order to lay waste to public spending, beggaring millions of people, the Tories routinely trot-out this simple household analogy. As very few people have a grasp of economics, this simple argument becomes the narrative: the sun, around which all other policies submissively encircle.
This explains the Tory’s cruel policy of austerity which caused a double-dip recession i.e. a recession that, when the economy eventually improves, then falls into a second recession. This article from 2012 neatly sums up what was happening at that time: the Tories took over a recovering economy, which then plummeted into a second policy-caused recession.
The fact that most of the welfare state, in particular the NHS, was formed in the rubble of World War Two, escapes most people’s consciousness. Austerity would have been an anathema to our greatest economist: Keynes. If only we had a Keynes today.
But why write about this deceit in the midst of the pandemic? Because, in order to defend the Government from the allegations that they failed to prepare, the Government reminds us that this pandemic is “unprecedented”. As most people’s lenses do not see far back into history, most people would concur that the pandemic is – duh – unprecedented.
Even a cursory knowledge of history would reveal the numerous plagues to have struck all parts of the world. The bible describes seven plagues. Reckless Boris’ (RB) hero is the Greek statesman Pericles. RB even has a bust of Pericles, not Churchill, on his desk. As RB will know, Pericles had to steer Athens through a plague which killed up to 100,00 Athenians, including Pericles himself. By the skin of his teeth, RB nearly followed in his hero’s footsteps.
Even in my lifetime we have contended with SARS, Ebola, MERS, Swine Flu and, for animals, foot and mouth. With the world more interconnected than ever, a pandemic would spread faster than before. Bill Gates foresaw it all, as mentioned in my blog on 31 March 2020 here.
RB’s poll rating remains absurdly high, even though our people have been slaughtered, because most people assume that an event which caught them unawares, of course caught the Government unaware too. Therefore, the Government can be forgiven for its lack of preparedness.
I have spoken to and witnessed on social media people use this argument: it’s fair enough that Government didn’t prepare for an unprecedented event, because we weren’t prepared as a household; my family didn’t foresee this. Burned into most people’s consciousness is that the household is a microcosm of a country.
But the primary role of Government is to protect its people. Our Government wastes billions on Trident, all in the name of self-defence. But with the Cold War over, with people criss-crossing the planet more than at any time in the history of humans, a pandemic was inevitable. The greatest threat to us in the short-term was never terrorism, it was a pandemic. This isn’t hindsight-thinking: our world-leading epidemiologists knew this.
In 2014, Public Health England (PHE) released its report into a likely pandemic found here. PHE’s Chief Executive stated: “The prospect of a flu pandemic is one of the highest risks faced by the UK. Ensuring the country is fully prepared and able to respond quickly and effectively is a top priority for PHE and, of course, for the government.”
The report also states (my underlining):
“With unpredictable frequency, novel influenza viruses emerge or re-emerge to cause an influenza pandemic. When this happens, it is likely that global spread will ensue rapidly, affecting large numbers of the population because there will be little or no immunity to this strain. However, until such an event occurs, the impact, expressed as the severity of the illness and proportion of the population that will be most severely affected, will be unknown. As a guide, the impact could range from a 1918-type pandemic, where severe disease was mainly in young adults, to a 2009 pandemic, where the illness was mild in most groups of the population.”
Two years after the report, in 2016, the Government war-gamed a flu-like pandemic, codenamed Exercise Cygnus. The Government never published the findings. However, the Chief Medical Officer at the time, Sally Davies, said: “We’ve just had in the UK a three-day exercise on flu, on a pandemic that killed a lot of people.” Davies highlighted that we needed more ventilators. As I blogged here, only in mid-March 2020 did the Government beg the private sector to immediately produce ventilators. “If you build them, we will buy them,” said a desperate Hancock.
Post-simulated apocalypse, the Government did nothing to prepare us. If anything, our defences weakened as PPE stockpiles deteriorated and our NHS and social care continued to decline.
Undeniably, the Government was on notice that a pandemic was coming. In the greatest derogation of duty, they didn’t protect us. So far, politically, this Government has been saved thanks to people’s learnt logic. What is needed, now, is intense, forensic decimation of the Tories as a political force. Tory Governments are a threat to us all, rich and poor.