Of course I’m worried about the coronavirus; both personally – with my ‘underlying condition’ it would almost certainly be curtains for me if I caught it – and also because of its far more serious impact on millions less fortunate and privileged than me.
But I’m also worried about the politics that seems to be going on under the cover of the disease; insidiously slipped in, with everyone naturally distracted, no proper means of scrutinising it democratically, with a lame ‘virtual’ House of Commons, most of its decent Conservatives ‘purged’ by Johnson last year; and measures simply announced – or in some cases not announced at all – as faits accomplis. Most of them are designed as sops to the Conservative Party’s Right wing and the rabid Brexiteers in the country. The government’s refusal to consider an extension for trade talks with the EU before we finally cut the painter, in the teeth of current public opinion polls, is an example of this. Without the distraction of the virus, and with a properly functioning democracy, it’s possible that this might not have got through.
The latest example is Johnson’s announcement yesterday of the merging of the Foreign Office and the Overseas Development Department: designed to make the latter a tool of British diplomacy, rather than the foreign Aid agency that Labour intended it to be when it set it up. Soon we’ll be seeing ‘Aid’ diverted into supplying arms to the Ukrainians, rather than clean water to poor Zambians. The Tory Right has always begrudged giving taxpayers’ pennies to lazy natives (or, for that matter, to Britain’s own working classes). Johnson yesterday referred to foreign aid as ‘that great cash machine in the sky’. That mirrors the populist Right’s prejudices precisely.
I suspect the evil hand of Dominic Cummings behind all this. We know that one of his greatest ambitions is to ‘tame’ the civil service, and make it less ‘independent’ and more meekly obedient to the Executive. I can’t imagine the fluffy-headed Boris thinking this wheeze up on his own. Just look at him at Prime Minister’s Questions if you doubt his utter incompetence to function off his own bat. And you’ll see then why he was so desperate in April to rescue Cummings from the fate he so richly deserved, after that law-breaking dash to Durham. He can’t do without him. Cummings is his Thomas Cromwell, his Svengali, his Machiavelli, his Mephistopheles, his Rasputin. He even looks the part.
One of the most difficult things for us on the Left to do over the next few months is to ‘be alert’ (to mimic Boris’s – or Cummings’s? – own slogan) for signs of ‘reforms’ like these emerging out of the fog created by Covid-19. Cummings undoubtedly knows how to exploit any conditions for his own right-wing agenda. A global pandemic is just there to be used.