The Tories are under increasing pressure as criticism widens of their criminally chaotic mis-management of the coronavirus pandemic.
An article in the Sunday Times newspaper forensically details the failure of Boris Johnson’s government to prepare for the pandemic. It also shows their foot-dragging slowness to react when its scale became glaringly apparent.
It accuses Johnson of missing five of the government's key Cobra planning meetings as the Covid-19 crisis gathered pace. The article quotes a senior adviser to Downing Street saying “There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there. And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends.
“There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be.”
The article also claims that years of cutbacks and preparations for a no-deal Brexit “sucked all the blood out of pandemic planning”.
Officials told the newspaper that “Emergency stockpiles had severely dwindled and gone out of date after becoming a low priority in the years of austerity cuts.”
Shortages of crucial personal protective equipment (PPE) could still have been avoided. But the article says “little progress" was made in obtaining emergency supplies of masks and gowns.
The British Healthcare Trades Association was ready to help supply PPE in February, but its offer of help was only accepted on 1 April.
A senior department of health insider told the Sunday Times, "I remember being called into some of the meetings about this in February and thinking, ‘Well it’s a good thing this isn’t the big one.' We were doomed by our incompetence, our hubris and our austerity."
There are many other serious charges against Johnson and the article is utterly damning of Tory rule.
But it's important to ask not just how they failed but why.
If the only problem is the laziness and ineptness of Johnson himself then replacing him with someone more efficient will suffice. Perhaps a more diligent Tory or that serious-looking SIr Keir Starmer will be enough.
But the rot goes much deeper.
In a speech in Greenwich on 3 February (which the Sunday Times doesn’t mention) Johnson was arrogantly proclaiming a new era of British strength.”We have the opportunity, we have the newly recaptured powers, we know where we want to go, and that is out into the world,” he said.
Key to this post-Brexit vision was that “We are re-emerging after decades of hibernation as a campaigner for global free trade.
“And frankly it is not a moment too soon because the argument for this fundamental liberty is now not being made.”
At the time the speech was reported as directed against the European Union. But its implications were far more important.
Johnson bemoaned that, “We are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.
“And here in Greenwich in the first week of February 2020, I can tell you in all humility that the UK is ready for that role.”
Corporations and capital flow must come before everything. Britain would reject the measures actually necessary to combat the pandemic because they seemed an obstacle to business.
This is also the the background to the "herd immunity" strategy.
The Sunday Times headlined its article “38 days when Britain sleepwalked into disaster”. It didn’t sleepwalk—it leapt into its policy with eyes wide open.
It was utterly reckless and fatal for thousands of people whose lives could have been saved.
But the crucial thing is to recognise that it was political, an entirely consistent continuation of capitalist policies that put profit first and ordinary people last.
The revelations underline why we shouldn’t trust the government’s current measures or its plans for when restrictions should be lifted.
Johnson, and acolytes such as health secretary Matthew Hancock, have blood on their hands. They should go.
But what’s most important is not just revealing Johnson’s failings, but crushing the capitalist priorities that lie behind them.