Since the coronavirus-prompted panic buying spread through our supermarkets, a lot of self-proclaimed comedians and trolls on social media have dug out their old right-wing hymn sheets. From British Brexiter Boris-backers, American corporate news pundits to conservative Australian senators – they all have the razor-sharp wit to compare a barren Tesco aisle to “socialist Venezuela”.
The conservative commentator Darren Grimes tweeted on March 14th that “at least coronavirus panic has given us a look into life under Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred Venezuelan alternative”. This statement was endorsed by eleven thousand likes and nearly two thousand retweets. The question we must ask these comedians is “what are the shelves like under Boris Johnson? under Trump? Under Morrison?”. These commentators seem oblivious to the fact that the structure of capitalism is not suited for a social crisis. The irony is compounded when we see socialist Cuba sending their Doctors to infected hotspots like Italy to help battle the virus. Are those hard-left communists sending aid to Europe the reason why we need a points-based immigration system, Mr Johnson?
This crisis also highlights the extraordinary double-standards of the media. If the Labour Party won a majority in the December 2019 general election, and Jeremy Corbyn was our Prime Minister, you could bet that the media would be hounding the government for the empty shelves. It is highly unlikely that the Sun newspaper would have a headline along the lines of “keep calm and carry on”. It would be comparing Britain to the Soviet Union bread queues of the 1980s. Piers Morgan would be lambasting socialism and Nick Ferrari would be calling for Corbyn to resign. But instead, we get “Hysteria will not help us through coronavirus” from the Murdoch press. The comparison has been made by ‘Now This’ of Fox News’s different responses to the Ebola outbreak of 2014 under President Obama. Fox News criticised outright the leadership of Obama whilst preaching fire and brimstone. Under “their guy” Donald Trump however, they reiterate the fact that this is a global outbreak that Trump is not at all culpable for and that his response has been rational and logical.
The other irony of the crisis is the amount of world war two “keep calm and carry on” and community “pulling together” rhetoric being used. During the war the UK was far more socialist than now or even in the industrial strife ridden days of the late 1970s. For all intents and purposes, socialist Labour politicians ran domestic affairs during the war, leading to the equal rationing of food, evacuation of children, nationalised production and conscription of men. If the second world war had been left to the free market, you would most likely be reading this in German.
This all comes back to one simple fact of policymaking. Free market capitalism is a luxury. In a real crisis, everyone is a socialist.