COVID-19 and the Economic Meltdown: Was Global Tourism the Only Thing Keeping Us Afloat?

Grounded planes in Alabama, March 25, 2020 (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters).

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Three months since the arrival of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 prompted an unprecedented lockdown on human interaction and on huge swathes of our economy, the primary objective — preventing our hospitals and morgues from being overwhelmed — has been achieved. The cost — economically, and, in some cases, psychologically — has been enormous, but the road ahead, as those in charge attempt to revive a functioning economy, looks like it will be even more arduous.

No congratulations should be extended to Boris Johnson and his government for the achievements of the lockdown. Johnson dithered for far too long at the beginning of the crisis, and the deaths of tens of thousands of people are, as a result, his responsibility, although not his responsibility alone, as the last few months have also shown us that, sadly, this empty windbag of a Prime Minister is largely manipulated by his senior adviser, the sneering eugenicist Dominic Cummings.

Both men were initially prepared to allow the virus to spread unchecked throughout the entire population, with people required to “take it on the chin”, as they let it “move through the population”, as Johnson explained in a now notorious TV appearance. It was only when medical experts pointed out the potential death toll of the “herd immunity” scenario that the lockdown began, following similar conclusions that were, in most other countries, reached rather earlier in the virus’s spread.

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The Dim and Dom Show: Why Dominic Cummings Must Be Banished From Political Life, and Boris Johnson Must Fall With Him

Like rabbits caught in the headlights: Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson.

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“The Dim and Dom Show” is a phrase I came across on Twitter, and is apparently how the UK is being referred to in New Zealand.

The whole world has been laughing at us, as our Prime Minister Boris Johnson has revealed himself, more conclusively than ever, to be little more than an empty vessel incapable of any kind of leadership without his chief advisor — and effectively his only advisor — Dominic Cummings, the former campaign director of the Vote Leave campaign, which, for those of us who can recall the world before the coronavirus, persuaded a small majority of those who could be bothered to vote in the EU referendum in June 2016 to vote to leave the EU.

Cummings — an alleged anti-elitist who is actually privately educated and an Oxford graduate, and married to the daughter of a Baronet — is routinely described as a brilliant political strategist, but if that is the case then it is only in the malicious, dumbed-down way in which politics has been conducted over the last decade in particular. He is credited with coming up with the winning phrase ‘Take Back Control’, to twist the electorate’s understanding of how EU membership worked, and was instrumental in the lie that leaving the EU would mean an extra £350m a week for the NHS.

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The Coronavirus Lockdown, Hidden Suffering, and Delusions of a Rosy Future

London under the coronavirus lockdown, March 30, 2020 (Photo by Andy Worthington from his photo-journalism project The State of London).

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Nearly a month since the coronavirus lockdown began in the UK, it seems clear that the intentions behind shutting most retail outlets and workplaces, and encouraging everyone to stay at home as much as possible — to keep the death toll to manageable levels, preventing the NHS and the burial industry from being overwhelmed — are working, although no one should be under any illusions that Boris Johnson’s government has managed the crisis well. Nearly 13,000 people have died so far in hospitals in the UK, a figure that seriously underestimates the true death toll, because it cynically ignores those dying in care homes.

However, frontline NHS staff are also dying, and this is because they are still deprived of necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), which is an absolute and unmitigated disgrace, showing how far our current elected officials are from the wartime spirit of the plucky British that they are so intent on selling to the public to cover up their failings.

If they really were who they claim to be, they would have pulled out all the stops to get factories manufacturing PPE in as short a time as possible, but they’re not who they claim to be: they’re incompetent disciples of a neo-liberal project that is interested only in elected officials handing out contracts — and all profit-making ability — to private companies, and that is determined to destroy the state provision of services, something that the Tories have been gleefully doing, not least to the NHS, since they first returned to power almost ten long and dreadful years ago.

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A Call for the Mainstream Media to Defend Press Freedom and to Oppose the Proposed Extradition of Julian Assange to the US

A screenshot from a video of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a prison van, as he was returned to Belmarsh maximum security prison from Westminster Magistrates Court after a hearing regarding his proposed extradition to the US. His full extradition hearing begins on February 24, 2020 at Belmarsh.

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Check out the opening paragraphs of ‘Press freedom is at risk if we allow Julian Assange’s extradition’, an excellent article written for the Guardian two weeks ago by Roy Greenslade, a Guardian columnist and academic, who was the editor of the Daily Mirror from 1990-91:

Later this month, a journalist will appear at a London court hearing in which he faces being extradited to the United States to spend the rest of his life in prison. The 18 charges against him are the direct result of his having revealed a host of secrets, many of them related to the US prosecution of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They included the “collateral murder” video which showed a US helicopter crew shooting 18 people in Baghdad in 2007, including two Reuters war correspondents, Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Among the files were thousands of military dispatches and diplomatic cables that enabled people in scores of countries to perceive the relationships between their governments and the US. They also showed the way in which American diplomats sought to gather personal information about two UN secretary generals.

Unsurprisingly, the revelations were gratefully published and broadcast by newspapers and media outlets across the world. “Scoop” is far too mundane a term to describe the staggering range of disclosures. By any journalistic standard, it was a breathtaking piece of reporting, which earned the journalist more than a dozen awards.

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The Significance of the High Court Ruling That the Police’s London-Wide Ban on Extinction Rebellion Was “Unlawful”

Metropolitan Police officers and the Extinction Rebellion camp at Trafalgar Square, October 11, 2019 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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The news cycle seems so frenetic right now that stories barely get noticed before the media spotlight promiscuously turns to some other topic. A case in point, to my mind, is an important High Court ruling last week — that a decision taken by the Metropolitan Police last month, to impose a blanket ban across the whole of London prohibiting any assembly of more than two people linked to Extinction Rebellion’s ‘Autumn Uprising’, under section 14 of the Public Order Act of 1986, was “unlawful.”

The two High Court judges who issued the ruling — Mr. Justice Dingemans and Mr. Justice Chamberlain — said, as the Guardian described it, that “the Met had been wrong to define Extinction Rebellion’s two-week long ‘autumn uprising’ as a single public assembly on which it could impose the order.”

As Mr. Justice Dingemans stated in the ruling, “Separate gatherings, separated both in time and by many miles, even if coordinated under the umbrella of one body, are not a public assembly under the meaning of section 14(1) of the 1986 act.” He added, “The XR autumn uprising intended to be held from 14 to 19 October was not therefore a public assembly … therefore the decision to impose the condition was unlawful because there was no power to impose it.”

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Extinction Rebellion Challenges and Defies Outrageous London-Wide Ban on Public Assemblies

Extinction Rebellion supporters defy the Metropolitan Police’s outrageous London-wide ban on XR protests, congregating in significant numbers in Trafalgar Square, October 16, 2019 (Photo: Ben Gillespie).

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On Monday evening, in response to the start of the second week of actions in London by the environmental campaigning group Extinction Rebellion, as part of their International Rebellion in at least 60 cities worldwide, the Metropolitan Police issued an unprecedented order, under Section 14 of the 1986 Public Order Act, which allows them to impose restrictions on any “public assembly” (an assembly of two or more people in a public place), if they claim that it poses “serious disruption to the life of the community.”

The order on Monday night stated that “any assembly linked to the Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’ … must now cease their protests within London (MPS and City of London Police Areas)” by 9pm, and even before it was issued police began clearing protestors out of their camp in Trafalgar Square.

Lawyers, civil liberties groups and some MPs immediately responded with understandable outrage. Jolyon Maugham QC tweeted, “We believe the section 14 Order is invalid — that it amounts to a huge overreach of the statutory power — and likely reflects the enormous political pressure the Met is under”, adding, “It exposes the Met to all sorts of risks — of legal challenges to validity, of civil claims for wrongful arrest with aggravated damages and so on — merely because this Government cannot tolerate peaceful protest.”

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Extinction Rebellion and the Undeniable Power of Non-Violent Revolutionary Change

Extinction Rebellion campaigners outside Downing Street on October 8, 2019 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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As the environmental campaigning group Extinction Rebellion begins the second week of its International Rebellion, it is worth reflecting on how much they — and the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who initiated a rolling global climate strike by schoolchildren that, last month, saw millions of schoolchildren and supportive adults take to the streets in 185 countries around the world — have shifted the terms of the debate on climate change over the last twelve months.

As the Guardian explained in an editorial last week, “Ipsos Mori reports that its latest poll found that 78% of Britons believe the planet is ‘heading for disaster’, up from 59% in 2013.” The actions of Thunberg and XR amplifyied the messages of doom put forward by scientists — in particular, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark report, last October, in which, as the Guardian described it, “The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years [now just eleven] for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people”, adding added that “urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target”, which they called “affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the [2015] Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.” Since then, the doomsday message has been reinforced by the likes of Sir David Attenborough, via his hard-hitting BBC documentary, ‘Climate Change: The Facts’, and the combined weight of all these actions has led politicians to acknowledge the scale of the unprecedented man-made crisis faced by the whole of humanity.

Under Theresa May, the UK government declared a climate emergency and committed to a 2050 target for zero carbon emissions, and last month the Labour party conference took an important additional step, adopting 2030 as the intended zero carbon date.

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Brexit, Boris the Narcissist Clown and “Career Psychopath” Dominic Cummings

Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings, in an image produced for the Daily Telegraph.

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It’s now two weeks since 92,153 members of the Conservative Party voted for Boris Johnson to be the new Party leader — and Britain’s new Prime Minister. 

Johnson, in case you’ve just landed on earth from outer space, is an Etonian who pretends to play the buffoon (although behind it lurks a vile temper), and who, for eight dreadful years, was London’s Mayor, when he showed little or no interest in the actual requirements of the job, indulged in countless expensive vanity projects, and pandered shamefully to foreign investors with money. 

Johnson’s elevation to the leadership of the UK was greeted by his former editor at the Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings, with the most extraordinary put-down of his unsuitability to be PM in an article for the Guardian entitled, ‘I was Boris Johnson’s boss: he is utterly unfit to be prime minister.’

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The War on Social Housing – on the Centenary of the Addison Act That Launched the Creation of Large-Scale Council Housing

The unnecessary destruction of Robin Hood Gardens Estate in Poplar, in east London, March 2018, to make way for a new private development, Blackwall Reach (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Today, July 31, is the centenary of the first Housing and Town Planning Act (widely known as the Addison Act), which was introduced by the Liberal politician Christopher Addison, as part of David Lloyd George’s coalition government following the First World War, to provide Britain’s first major council housing programme, as John Boughton, the author of Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing, explained in an article published yesterday in the Guardian.

Boughton explained how, when Addison “introduced his flagship housing bill to the House of Commons in April 1919”, he spoke of its “utmost importance, from the point of view not only of the physical wellbeing of our people, but of our social stability and industrial content.”

“As we celebrate the centenary of council housing”, Boughton noted, “this sentiment is not lost in the context of the current housing crisis. From the rise in expensive, precarious and often poor-quality private renting to the dwindling dream of home-ownership, it is fuelling discontent. This escalating crisis means that increasing numbers of people are now forced to deal with the painful consequences of the country’s inability to provide such a basic human need — a stable, affordable home.”

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Two Years On From the Grenfell Tower Fire, A Growing Anger at the Way Those in Social Housing Continue to be Treated as Disposable

A photo of Grenfell Tower, lit up with a green light, and bearing the message ‘Forever in our hearts’, on the eve of the 2nd anniversary of the fire that killed 72 people on June 14, 2017, for which no one has yet been held accountable (Photo: Tim Downie on Twitter).

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Two years ago, I switched on my TV and watched in horror as flames engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block on the Lancaster West Estate in North Kensington, in west London, leading to the loss of 72 lives.

To anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the safety systems built into concrete tower blocks, it was clear that this was a disaster that should never have happened. Compartmentalisation — involving a requirement that any fire that breaks out in any individual flat should be able to be contained for an hour, allowing the emergency services time to arrive and deal with it — had failed, as had the general ability of the block to prevent the easy spread of fire throughout the building. Instead, Grenfell Tower went up in flames as though it had had petrol poured on it.

It took very little research to establish that what had happened was an entire system failure, caused by long-term neglect and a failure to provide adequate safety measures (in particular, the tower had no sprinkler system fitted), and, more recently, through a refurbishment process that had turned a previously safe tower into a potential inferno. 

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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