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29 Apr, 2020 08:38

Wanting the UK lockdown to end does not make you a nasty right-wing capitalist

Wanting the UK lockdown to end does not make you a nasty right-wing capitalist

Easing the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown is being presented as a case of greedy capitalists who want workers to go back to making profits at great risk to themselves. In fact the wealthiest will do best of all from a prolonged shutdown.

It’s ‘the capitalists’ versus ‘the people’. Or at least that’s how some opponents of an easing or lifting of the UK Covid-19 lockdown are portraying it. If you want the shutdown to come to an end and life to return to ‘normal’ before a vaccine is found (which could be 2021 or even later), then you’re a heartless so-and-so who is willing to sacrifice the lives of potentially hundreds of thousands of workers just to get the economy going again.

Where does one begin deconstructing this extremely flawed analysis? For a start, it treats a lockdown as a zero sum game. On the one side we have a lockdown, which saves people’s lives, and on the other we have an end to the lockdown which will kill large numbers of people. 

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But lockdowns kill too. Isolation is deadly, particularly for the elderly. And what about people who are not getting the proper tests or treatment for serious non-Covid-19 diseases? Death rates rose sharply in early April – and over 2,000 of them were not directly attributed to Covid-19.

The eminent oncologist Professor Karol Sikora says that normally in April around 30,000 people would be diagnosed with cancer and put on the treatment path. This year, he said he‘d be surprised if it was more than 5,000. The government’s oft-repeated ‘Protect the NHS’ mantra has led to hospitals being half empty.  

Another reason why the ‘capitalists versus the people’ lockdown analysis is flawed is because ‘capitalists’ are not a homogenous group. Now, if you own a motor garage, a photographic agency, or a hairdresser’s salon then you will be very keen to get back to normal. I spoke to a garage owner last week who told me he’d lost a great amount of work due to cancelled MOT car tests. I know of other small business owners who are really worried about the situation.

But there are other capitalists – the much bigger fish in the sea – for whom a prolonged lockdown is great news. 

The power of the banks and finance capital will be even stronger. Many more businesses and individuals will be indebted to them. Last week the Bank of England chief Andrew Bailey warned against lifting the lockdown too early. Some on the left seem to have missed that.

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Let’s imagine if the UK lockdown in some shape or form does continue for the rest of the year.

Thousands of small, medium-size and even large companies will go bankrupt. Vulture capitalists will then go on a spending spree, buying up once very valuable assets for next to nothing. Talk about ‘Sale of the Century’.

I’ve also seen it claimed, in relation to easing the lockdown, that the economy is not worth a single life. But the economy sustains life. It’s what pays for our hospitals, our roads, our pensions, our jobs. It’s what puts bread on the kitchen table. Now we can argue and debate what kind of economy we want: a planned communist one, a mixed economy, combining private and public ownership, or a more ‘free market’ capitalist one, but the idea we can survive without any type of economy is absurd. Where is the money to keep us at home month after month going to come from?

Estimated to be costing the nation £2.4 billion a day, the longer the lockdown continues, the higher the final bill will be. Make no mistake, the burden of paying this bill won’t be placed on the mainly off-shore-based high-ups but on ordinary people. In addition to increased taxes, a new wave of austerity will be unleashed which will be far more severe than anything imposed in the Cameron-Osborne years – and that was tough enough.

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And the swingeing cuts, which are likely to see local services such as public libraries threatened with closure, will be sold to people as the price to pay for ‘protecting the NHS’.

Instead of supporting a prolonged domestic lockdown the left should be noting who benefits most financially from the shutdown and support its easing. There may well be a ‘second wave’ or a spike in Covid-19 cases in the autumn, which needs to be guarded against but there’s solid scientific grounds for thinking that the virus will run its course and infections and deaths (already falling) will decline steeply as the spring/summer progresses and people‘s immune systems are boosted by being out and about in the sunshine and getting lots of Vitamin D. Closing ports of entry for at least three months (or enforcing strict mandatory quarantine measures) to ensure no new Covid-19 cases are imported into the country would also help the situation.

Of course there are risks involved in lifting the lockdown, but nowhere near as many as continuing with one for several months to come. People, please wake up!

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.