The Conservative government has bungled the coronavirus crisis. It talked big but it couldn’t deliver. There was a lot of bluster about ‘world-beating’ and ‘extraordinary’ implementation, but it fell far short of its promises about PPE, testing and track-and-trace. It over-promised and under-delivered.
Why was it unable to deliver? Why, even, did it get its promises so badly wrong? I fear it is in their DNA to fail on large-scale delivery to the many. Their political instincts are against it.
Conservatives have a dogged belief in the market and in entrepreneurs to deliver what people need. They turned to their principal party donors to tackle the crisis through big contracts, for example to Dyson and Europa, and to Faculty who serviced the Leave campaign. They are not medical experts or even experienced in public service delivery. They are buddies and salesmen, not a public service.
Labour is not in the pocket of big donors and it works through Local Authorities.
Conservatives resist working through local government such as Local Authorities and the Local Health Authorities which have direct links to every single household, every single patient and every single GP. This means that it has been depending on an exceptionally weak delivery chain. For example, it asked people to travel long distances to get a test.
Existing, accountable, elected local bodies would have done it better under a Labour government. They would have understood the area, had better networks, worked under scrutiny and been –literally – much closer to those in need. In fact, those countries which did well in the crisis used effective community health teams.
Conservatives have privatised the care system to the point of irresponsibility and are looking to parcel off the health service too. The government had no way of knowing how bad the situation was in care homes during the early stages of the pandemic because they did not regard it as part of their remit. The care system is atomised, with each care home left to sink or swim. With staff on the minimum pay and denuded by harsh immigration measures, it had no mechanism to gather even the most basic data and no way to intervene. Privatisation is a form of abandonment by the state. The old were left to die uncounted, and the heroic staff of care homes were left to take their chances.
Labour understands the care system and the people who work in it. Labour will never abandon the old, and it will never privatise the NHS. Labour will create a truly national care system.
Conservatives are hooked running England by competitive capitalism and not through democratic local bodies. They are busy centralising power not just in Westminster but in the cabinet itself, under the direction of a handful of extremely reactionary advisers under Dominic Cummings. Central control is exciting for politicians; it makes them feel like Victorian generals. Indeed, most centralised projects end up with an army of freelancers working from Westminster under civil servants, who tell the seasoned practitioners on the ground what to do. It really ought to be the other way round.
Labour works with unions, communities and LAs to share decision-making, devolve power, and work co-operatively in the regions. Decentralisation would have worked better for a rapid response to Covid. Labour will strengthen local democracy and infrastructure.
Too many Conservative MPs have little or no experience of work or even of management. Most of them have never had to work outside of Westminster. Safe-seaters often go straight to the House of Commons after Oxford has polished up their public-school education. This means they saw no problem in sending people back to work whilst keeping their children off school. They saw no problem in working almost entirely through NHS hospitals whilst the virus was coursing through the care homes. Indeed, it went to some trouble to get aged residents to agree in writing to die in their care homes instead. They have called on businesses to re-open with so few customers able to enter that owners cannot cover costs.
More Labour MPs have had real jobs in the real world and are mindful of practicalities. Labour has fundamental links to unions. Labour works.
Tories are trapped in the Westminster bubble. You can see it in the slogans: ‘Stay alert. Control the virus. Save lives’ But what exactly does that mean to an individual? Isn’t that the job of governments? It was the same issue with their previous version: ‘Protect the NHS.’ Well, okay, but the NHS is here to save us: our lives are the prime purpose. Dying conveniently over a longer period of time is not a great consolation, even if it does protect the NHS. This slogan cost lives among people who politely stayed at home with worsening illnesses to spare the NHS.
The Tories have bungled the Covid crisis because they reserve power to themselves and their sponsors and do not believe in publicly-owned services or decision-making local democracy.
Labour can do better. It would have done better. It works for people through local government and respects the delegation of powers to those who enact policy locally. Labour created the NHS and will never sell it off as the Tories are doing. Labour is the party of public service and public voice. Labour delivers.
Sue Hackman, June 2020