The UK has taken a terrible step: 100,000 people have died from coronavirus. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the nation on Tuesday evening that he had done his best to protect us from the pandemic. “Heaven help us”, many people must have thought, if the last year of political mistakes is really the best we can expect from this government. Britain, one of the richest countries in the world, now has one of the highest COVID death rates on the planet.
How did we get here? To be sure, the government’s level of incompetence is staggering. Virtually all decisions – whether on lockdowns, travel restrictions, school closures, even guidelines on wearing masks – were only forced on the government when doing something else would have been totally done. catastrophic. As recently as March of last year, Johnson was bragging about shaking hands with COVID-19 patients in a hospital.
But it wasn’t just mistakes that drove Britain to this desperate place. Rather, Johnson’s actions are based on his worldview, anchored in him by his privileged upbringing, which dates back to the “heyday” of the British Empire. For much of the 19th century, the ideology adopted by the British ruling class was known as “laissez-faire” – emphasizing minimal government intervention in the economy and, instead, allowing it is up to the market to dictate what the company will produce (and for whom).
Ireland’s famines in Bengal have been virtually ignored by the idea that any government action is sure to make matters worse. Millions of people died, not for lack of food per se, but because the hungry did not have enough money to pay for the food that existed, and therefore the food was shipped elsewhere, to those who could afford it. .
A similar approach has also been taken closer to home. From the satanic mills of industrial Manchester to the Victorian slums of London, people’s lifespans were reduced as capitalists and landowners employed and housed people in the most horrific conditions. God forbids the government to regulate to prevent this misery – that would only make matters worse.
Johnson is fascinated by these governments, citing leading laissez-faire thinkers in his speeches. While some of his more extreme backbenchers may be less steeped in history, their so-called libertarianism exceeds that of Johnson himself, and the PM is repeatedly challenged by his own gone for, incredibly, being too quick to end the lockdown. measures in place.
The government’s failure to protect people, still caring about the effect on the market rather than the health of the British people, is part of that same mindset. It is, of course, ironic that the failure to protect people has made our lockdowns longer and harsher than they needed to be, in turn causing far more damage to the economy than a social protection and security. But then laissez-faire never worked well when it came into conflict with harsh reality.
Whatever the political class believed, the British Empire, of course, relied on substantial public resources. And the same goes for Johnson’s coronavirus response. Colossal sums of public money have been thrown at large corporations, especially those with personal ties to the Conservative Party, and often without transparency. In November, watchdogs showed how billions of pounds still were not counted for.
But these expenses also rest on a strong laissez-faire basis; over the decades, various conservative governments have cut welfare benefits, privatized public services that had been put in place to protect people from rampant market forces, and cut welfare. Britain today is a deeply unequal country with large pockets of poverty. When it came to an acute emergency like the coronavirus, our public sector was already in a desperate state and society as a whole was falling apart. Simply put, we lacked well-funded, quality services, a resilient and educated society, or even the manufacturing base, that could have helped us through this crisis.
So we ended up with a motley set of politically connected private companies living off public money, while extracting as much value as possible for their wealthy financial investors. Thus, parents are unable to feed their children properly because private companies are pocketing our taxes while providing shockingly inadequate meals for children living on the poverty line. And £ 22 billion (roughly $ 30 billion) has been spent on a test and traceability system that has been an absolute disaster – except for the companies that have made a fortune.
As in the past, Johnson has managed to keep a surprisingly large chunk of the public on his side with rhetoric designed to stoke their patriotism – in March of last year, he said Britain would “send a coronavirus package. ”Within 12 weeks.
From the attempt to get doses of the Oxford University / AstraZeneca vaccine labeled with the UK flag to the announcement of a £ 100 billion (roughly $ 136.4 billion) plan to roll out the “best The world’s testing program, which was then quietly scrapped, the Johnson bombing is designed to bolster support for pumping large amounts of taxpayer money into some of the most irresponsible sections of the private sector. And, as with the empire of old, this is important, because otherwise how do you maintain your electoral base while you preside over one of the worst coronavirus death rates in the world?
Britain doesn’t just suffer from the clumsiness of an incompetent government from disaster to disaster, seemingly without any plan. There would be an easy solution to such a difficult situation – at least in the next election. Rather, we are suffering from the effects of an ideology deeply embedded in the minds of our elite. It is an ideology that will see human beings suffer and die by the millions rather than disrupt the functioning of the market. And sadly, they have had 200 years to devise ways to convince the public that any alternative is sure to be worse.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.