It’s a communicable disease and the problem of transmission is now mirrored by our leaders inability to communicate. His inability to have empathy, to show humility, or to face reality is killing people.  We are being infected by language and naked ideology, venal incompetence and criminal negligence as much as we are the virus.

The failures are manifest everywhere.

Johnson’s baffling messages have only sown complete confusion and risk complete chaos.

Even with the generosity and caveat of “unprecedented times” this is a shambles. The official toll is 50,000. I think everyone knows this is a brutal understatement.

The FT now says that over 60,000 people have lost their lives in the UK from Covid-19. That’s 891 per million. What’s staggering is comparing that to 93 per million (p.m) in Germany, 92 p.m in Denmark, 42 p.m in Norway, 15 p.m in Greece and 3 p.m in China.

Talks of ‘public inquiries’ don’t really make the mark. They belong in the pre-covid world where government incompetence and corruption would be brushed over with expensive and inconsequential whitewash. We need more profound change.

Capitalism as a death-cult is the new normal.

The essential message from the UK government (I paraphrase) is “Go back to work and die we are so incompetent we don’t know what to do”.

The plans for “re-starting the economy” are a dangerous nonsense, a mixture of barely disguised social control, eugenics and ideologically-driven Tory punishment politics. The casual way people were “sent” back to work without any of the infrastructure to make this remotely possible shows a total disregard from this government for workers’ safety.

The idea that you can see your “nanny” but not your extended family just lifts the lid on the class nature of Virus Britain. The scenes of crowded buses and trains across England is the stark new image of Britain’s class divide.


Having observed the cluster of (mis) management from testing to overall strategy, from protecting care homes to supplies of personal protective equipment, the evidence has been mounting for weeks that the Government’s handling of this crisis has been a disaster from the start.

But this isn’t really just about mistakes in a difficult time.

As Caroline Lucas writes: “I think there is something more fundamental about this government’s failings and that is its arrogant complacency, which leads it to believe that Britain has nothing to learn from anyone else – a deep-rooted sense of Little Englander exceptionalism. All of our institutions are, by definition, the best in the world – even when they’re not. Our testing regime, when it’s finally up and running, will be ‘world beating’. How about something that is half as good as South Korea’s? It would be a huge improvement on what we have now, which has caused us to stumble through the early months of this crisis with – in the words of a former Cabinet minister – a ‘self-imposed blindfold’.

So here we are mired in someone else’s superiority complex – stuck in someone else’s exceptionalism – and in lockstep with someone else’s morbid incompetence, we need to see some ways forward.

There’s an ideological background to this as well as a cultural one. The countries immersed in the most audacious and fantastic populism with “Take Back Control”, “Get Brexit Done” and “Make America Great Again” still ringing in our ears are the ones that have been brought to their knees. Britannia has not so much been unleashed as put down.

As Nesrine Malik, author of We Need New Stories, Challenging the Toxic Myths Behind Our Age of Discontent’ points out:

“Here in the UK, we comforted ourselves with the belief that while our own buffoonish rightwing leader had his faults, at least he was no Donald Trump. But in the end, Boris Johnson has managed to stumble over even this lowest of hurdles. The UK government’s response to the crisis has turned out to be nearly as flippant and ill-prepared as the US’s. Two nations that prided themselves on their extraordinary economic, historical and political status have been brought to their knees. Their fall from grace is the outcome of a damaged political culture and distinct form of Anglo-American capitalism.”

“Over the past four years, reckless political decisions were justified by subordinating reality to rhetoric. The cost of leaving the EU would be “virtually nil”, with a free trade agreement that would be one of the “easiest in human history”. Imaginary enemies were erected and fake fights confected as both countries pugnaciously went about severing their ties with other nations and international institutions. Political discourse focused on grand abstract notions of rebirth and restoration, in a way that required few concrete deliverables. All the Tory government needed to do was Get Brexit Done, no matter how slapdash the job. In the US, all Trump needed to do to maintain his supporters’ loyalty was bark about a wall with Mexico every now and then, pass a racist travel ban, and savage various public figures for sport.”

Anglo-Britain’s story of ‘rebirth and restoration’ has descended into mayhem, more cremation than Phoenix. Brexitland is a Charnel House.

There are a number of stories being played out here and it’s useful to disentangle them.

1. People’s fortitude and mutual support in a society that has had all of its resilience systematically stripped out of it is remarkable and inspiring. But it is not enough. It is inadequate. It is being used as a sideshow when it needs to be used as the basis for dismantling and re-building our society. I say this as someone living in Scotland but its equally valid and essential to anyone else.

2. People’s complicity in the return to work is born out of three competing instincts and problems: an inability to realise the depth and scale of the problem, an inability to conceive that things have and must change, a sort of default setting of the comfort of ‘normality’ even if that normality is dysfunctional; second the financial imperative for survival which reveals the truth that many of us are only a few weeks or months from destitution; third a misplaced faith and trust in government. If ‘Boris’ says lets all go to work then lets all go back to work.

The strangeness of this phenomenon means that peoples desperate need to immerse themselves in ‘normality’ even if that normality is profoundly dysfunctional (ie climate breakdown behaviour or rushing back to work in a pandemic …) because actually dying is preferable to a new way of living. That is fatal levels of conformity.

3. Whilst there’s a certain fantasy about the most grandiose plans for an equitable reconstruction (guilty as charged) there’s also a laziness in doom. For everyone who says the society, the economy the undemocracy will simply ‘jump back’ to its normal settings, there needs to be a response. That inevitability needs to be challenged.

That we are working “off the map” know takes a long time to sink in. The tv news tells me that people are enjoying back playing news and a women’s golf tournament has started somewhere.

If we accuse and observe our ‘leaders’ inability to have empathy, to show humility, or to face reality – we at least must do these things.


Image credit: Nude Vampire with Gloves, Tanja Jeremić

Comments (33)

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  1. Bruce McQuillan says:

    Having a window open or standing upstream in front of a wind tunnel, bottle of bleach at the ready.

    Dont breathe in.

  2. Stroller says:

    It’s full on class war….

  3. Kenny Smith says:

    I know you mentioned that people are only a short time away from destitution but please don’t be to hard on people going back to work sharpish. Obviously there is a mental aspect to going back but for me personally I need to or I am right up shit creek. I said in scotgoespop that this crisis is crippling me but the thought of adding to the death toll chills my soul. You are absolutely spot on about everything though, it’s been an orchestrated shambles from the get go. The only good thing lately has been the exposing of devolution. People go on about the SNP whining and politising events, can we say that about the DUP as well now then?

  4. Ariel Killick says:

    Brilliant Mike, esp “rushing back to work in a pandemic … because actually dying is preferable to a new way of living. That is fatal levels of conformity”

    Small joy (yay!) I can post comments now & problem fixed (whatever it was) ☺️

  5. Paul McMillan says:

    I agree with a lot of this article but I fail to see what a virus with its origin (as far as we know) from medeival style meat markets in China has to do with ‘capitalism’.
    Perhaps when this is all over (?) pressure might be bought to bear on the ‘socialist’ elite of China to adopt western ‘capitalist’ standards of food hygiene. Just a thought.

    1. Daniel Raphael says:

      There’s nothing socialist about the system in mainland China other than the rhetoric of its multi-millionaire rulers. It is a class society ruled by an autocratic, authoritarian clique that has created an unparalleled Panopticon-style state. Socialism is the furthest thing from this arch-capitalist tyranny.

      That said, capitalism is indeed possessed of a death wish at its core, being unsustainable and based on the necessity of endless conflict up to and including wars. One way or another, all that stuff their exploited 99% can’t purchase has to be amortized–and war is a real fire sale, every time. ‘Revolution’ isn’t just a word on a t-shirt; it means profound, basic change. We will revolt, or perish. Capitalism has no solutions.

      1. Paul McMillan says:

        Agree, so what is a ‘socialist’society in your opinion. Its a broad church with many ‘heretics’.
        Please inform

      2. Paul McMillan says:

        Finished for the weekend. Lets see if you can come up with a definition of ‘socialism’by monday. Trouble is lots of other ‘socialists’ will disagree which is why the biggest killers of ‘socialists’ have been their fellow ‘socialists’.
        We hate those bloody Romans but we hate the peoples liberation front of Judea more…

        1. Josef Ó Luain says:

          I’d love to hear your definition of ‘socialism’, Paul. Before you ask me: even I’m not sufficiently presumptuous as to imagine I could produce a definition of a socio/political system that would suit the predilections of all socialists. I would say this much, though: Capitalist societies have thus far failed miserably in doing very much to combat and eradicate C19, despite their liberal democratic political systems and their vast technological and other resources. Despite ample warning, it would appear that Capitalism, internationally, took a calculated gamble and lost. That may not tick all the boxes for direct culpability, but it comes pretty damn close.

      3. Blair says:

        Margaret Thatcher was aware of the problems when she set the markets free utilising the power of capitalism to find a solution for an underperforming government machine. There was more to her plan than creating wealth. It was just unfortunate that time was against her, capitalism was working but it was also in failure mode due to lack of appropriate regulation & understanding of how technology advances could be used to reconfigure government and roll out power to everyone. Some in the private sector flourished to such an extent that they became global & were able outperform governments. Some people have been able to accumulate so much money they have the power destabilize markets worldwide and cause failures!
        We all know that this is true from history and we are currently learning that change is possible because a virus has forced politicians to take stock. Politicians are stuck between a rock and a hard place or rather between the global corporations & their electorate who are demanding changes to create a fairer system to ensure intergenerational balance & protect their planet.
        With current wealth being controlled by an elite few, politicians around the world have little to offer us as they just cling to power by mercy of capitalism and trickle down of money corrupting many in the process.
        Capitalism is more than money, it is also about information & knowledge. When Margaret Thatcher set the markets free, she was looking for a political power solution.
        Today we can use technology to reconfigure how we work, this must start with reconfiging how our UK Government works before introducing changes.
        Nature takes its time to do things, the capitalist system can do things quicker especially as technology develops. Our government could start to implement changes within weeks. The idea only needs to be assessed by the Boris & Rishi & we could have a new way of operating within 10 years.
        Scotland has far more to offer than anyone realises.
        It is our policians job to research possible solutions and to work together before nature takes the opportunity away.

      4. Malky Mack says:

        The Chinese Communists could see what was happening in the collapse of The Soviet Union and made the decision to take the capitalist world on at their own game when it became apparent the a command economy was doomed to fail. They simply decided the best way to beat capitalism was to challenge the west to a game of the west’s choosing. So far the Chinese have outplayed the west whilst maintaining an iron grip on their country. If the Chinese people try to replay Tianemen Square then it will be brutally put down again. The Chinese empire is on the rise from the Pacific islands to Africa Asia and the Arctic. The Belt and Road initiative is designed to enable the export of not only Chinese goods but its control ideology. They will show the west it’s failure in neglecting the third world and build their empire around the west’s failings. Whether they will be benevolent rulers or not is yet to be seen but they are well on the way to their goal.

  6. Wul says:

    This shambles, this litany of failure and un-joined up thinking, lack of resource and not-meeting of needs is EXACTLY what any one with a disability, or mental health problem, or in poverty, or having support needs of any kind, has been living through in Britain for the last dozen years.

    The only difference now is that the entire UK population is exposed to the hollowed-out remnants of our social security system. It was always desperately inadequate but the people relying on it didn’t matter enough.

  7. SleepingDog says:

    You might have thought if alien parasites had taken over the government and were killing us off, we would have reacted more briskly than now, although I suppose they have had nearly a thousand years to bed in and nearly manage to speak the same language. Technically speaking, to the devout believer in afterlife, dying *is* the gateway to a new way of living, although whether the Christian demographic is propping up Johnson as they do Trump, I do not know, neither how many believe that the divine right of kings gives the Prime Minister all the authority they need.

    Wikipedia puts total British Commonwealth deaths at 95,675 after four-and-a-half months of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 (not counting, as is the British media wont, 50,756 French dead and 164,055). I wonder if Johnston has a Blue Peter-type thermometer in his war room with the death tolls of various conflicts forming the ascending bars? Kill millions and you are a conqueror. Start a nuclear war, a God?

    1. Bruce McQuillan says:

      Were a tough and adaptable lot us humans.

      It will be hard but as a species we could survive an onslaught by alien parasites.

      The one thing we could not survive, not recover in a “V” shape from would be the shame and embarrassment of not knowing what way to react, where to look or how to change the subject if any one of those aliens called our bluff as a purported intelligent life form and dominant species by demanding “take me to your leader.”

      1. Daniel Raphael says:

        Got a good laugh from that one. Thanks.

  8. kate macleod says:

    English and American capitalism has entered a magical thinking realm fostered by increasingly shared ruthless individualism and a habit of trashing the poor and people of colour as scapegoats. abetted by right wing christianity, especially in the US . although who can forget the CofE Archbishop’s recent electoral dis-endorsement of Labour?

    There is little point in waiting on England or the US to return to sanity in the near future. As much as possible they should be ignored or their influence neutralized.

    I thought australia’s federal govt would was likely to support herd immunity/mass death, as it has climate denial, but it stayed on a reasonably sane path parallel with NZ, or was pushed there by state premiers and chief ministers . that showed there is still hope (and allegiance with NZ) there, as there is for scotland. i also suspect that the AU PM’s version of christianity, although right wing pentecostal properity gospel, is related to his aversion to herd immunity as a sort of mass murder of the weak and the poor.

    Australia, NZ and Canada are Scotland’s major diaspora not Europe and provide better points of contrasts as partly derivative cultures. People in Australia and NZ are certainly not regarding the US and UK as exceptional in any good sense. I noticed there is a column in The National (jouker) on coverage of the uk’s covid response in other english speaking nations. I think that is useful and more culturally connected than comparison to norway, south korea and china. how does it play for british exceptionalism or even SNP exceptionalism for the UK govts to be so inferior to its not entirely former colonies in delivering for its publics, at least so far? I guess that’s partly why the subject rarely comes up.

    The SNP/Scottish govt is not talking about change , i.e. actions for not returning to a bad previous normal or a worse austerity, as SNP MP Cherry seems to have pointed out. That is something that can be influenced in Scotland, is not necessarily hopeless and is more useful than railing about England – which could be seen as a distraction from what could actually happen in Scotland. The narrative that westminister has all the powers scotlands needs for real change is on its last legs and if its true that seems to support hopelessness in the present and near future. probably commonweal is on point that the SNP’s lack of an agenda for major egalitarian change is more about the SNPs relationship with corporate lobbyists and landed gentry.

  9. florian albert says:

    ‘Capitalism as a death cult is the new normal.’

    This is nonsense. The country which you (correctly) cite as an example of successfully dealing with the present crisis – Germany – is a capitalist country. It took over its failed socialist neighbour thirty years ago.

    Successful capitalist countries such as Germany have built proper systems of regulation into their institutions. Usually, this regulation is done directly by the state.

    The inadequacies of the Tory government are plain to see. Nearer to home, we have a non-Tory government at Holyrood whose inadequacies (except in presentation)
    looks worryingly similar. Thus we have, according to Channel 4 News, a care home (sic) in Uddingston where 22 people have died but staff have not all been tested for the virus.

    1. James Mills says:

      What actions have the owners of these ( privately owned ) Care Homes taken to protect their residents/cash cows rather than attempting to shift the responsibility to the SG ? Many charge high fees so they have a great responsibility for the HEALTH and well-being of their customers.
      The Care Home on Skye was Covid-free until recently . Their CEO , last week, was bitterly complaining about the lack of testing of his residents/staff , yet did not reveal that the recent importing of untested staff from ”down south ” may have had a bearing on the outbreak .

      1. florian albert says:

        Unscrupulous capitalists try to maximize profit ! Who would believe it ?

        At this point the government, whether in Germany, England or Scotland, should intervene to ensure that proper, minimum standards of health and safety are guaranteed. In an emergency such as we have now, the government has powers and resources to achieve this. Sadly, the administrative capacity is lacking.
        This lack of administrative capacity is what separates us from the likes of Germany. There is a reluctance to accept this in Scotland (and England).
        There is a lot of evidence that the government at Westminister is failing here – and deservedly being pilloried for its failure. The Sottish government should be held to the same standard.
        A government which shown up by the Scottish football authorities in its concern for public safety – as happened just prior to the lockdown – fails to inspire confidence.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @florian albert, that would be the Germany whose state regulation failed to stop the profit-oriented Volkswagen emissions scandal? Interesting view of success.
      What are your criteria for success? Germany has not developed to imperial global scale like the capitalist USAmerican and British Empires. Nor has it overcome social democratic resistance like the uber-capitalist South Korea, whose social provision is among the worst in the world, lethal to many of its unfortunate people (the more mobile of whom seem to be leaving in droves). It is only fair to describe any political-capitalist system/ideology as a death cult if the orthodox belief is that human lives (and/or future generations viability, or planetary life) must be sacrificed for the godlike public Economy (or demonic private Profits).

      1. Paul McMillan says:

        Germany didn’t develop a global empire because the UK/US/Soviet ’empires’ stopped them from doing so. Would you have prefered otherwise?
        If people are leaving South Korea I some how doubt they are moving to ‘socialist’ North Korea as I suspect the welfare state in this socialist state leaves something to be desired.

        1. Josef Ó Luain says:

          There are historians who argue, convincingly in my opinion, that had it not been for the Nazis coming to power in 1933, the 20th Century would’ve belonged to Germany. My point is: there’s an awful lot more to German history than the period: 1933 to 1945.

    3. Daniel Raphael says:

      When Allen Ginsberg wrote of “Moloch” in his famous poem, Howl, he chose wisely–for it is the young, all future generations of them, who will be sacrificed so that clubby capitalist deals can continue despoiling what remains of nature. But the rulers of capital aren’t waiting…they are serving Thanatos steadily, as they go along. Noted today, America’s latest mass human sacrifice:

  10. Lisa Glaze says:

    This crisis has also highlighted communities of haves and have nots here in Scotland, communities that have organised community benefit funds from renewable energy are able to provide support. Those with well organised community councils have been able to access grants to support their communities. To me this highlights the need for devolved powers from Holyrood and the beefing up of community buyout powers to build in resilience.

  11. Wul says:

    Any one who is disabled, has mental health problems, experiencing poverty or needs vital state support will be very familiar with the utter shambles that is Great Britain’s social security system. It has been broken for a very long time. It is only now that we are all at its mercy that we see how damaged it is.

    1. Bruce McQuillan says:

      It’s worth pointing out that most people who are in the isolation group are the people who have received nothing at all from the government.

      Generally people who have substantial and debilitating medical conditions and are under 65 are on legacy benefits like ESA rather than UC because they have lived with these conditions over a long time.

      UC has been undated by £1000 a year while ESA has had nothing.

  12. Ann Jamieson says:

    Useful nuanced unpacking of our present condition. So what’s next?

    1. david black says:

      We could start the unpacking by recalling that the UK government and its Public Health England advisers announced on February 21st that coronavirus was judged to be a ‘moderate risk’ and stuck to this utterly irresponsible line all the way up to March 13, the last day of the Cheltenham Gold Cup weekend. Boris and his crew have blood on their hands, as have many of their pet scientists, like Professor Chris Whitty, who thought it would be a good idea to shoehorn 75,000 rugby fans into Cardiff City Park a day or two before it was cancelled. Northern Italy, by contrast, closed its schools TWO DAYS after the first reported death from coronavirus. Great analysis Mike – keep it going.

      1. florian albert says:

        It is also worth noting that the Rangers v Celtic league game at Ibrox was due to go ahead on March 15th, with the permission of the Scottish Government.
        It was postponed by the football authorities, the SPFL.

        Failures at Westminister level were, sadly, replicated nearer to home.

  13. Richard Easson says:

    Perhaps they see chaos as their getout clause and camoflage.

  14. Stroller says:

    This issue was discussed on Bella just a few months ago, I don’t really see the point of going over the ground again, because we know that the SNP will not turn the parliamentary elections into a plebiscite on independence because Nicola Sturgeon has said so.

    There are good reasons to try to secure another referendum rather than go the plebiscite route. Referenda are the way constitutional matters have been decided in Europe over the last few decades – they have become fashionable you might say – and while it is true that even Margaret Thatcher – in her autobiography I think – states that if the Scots were to return a majority of pro independence MPs they could go their own way without any quibble, the international perspective and most importantly securing recognition from other European States should be paramount in people’s minds. As we have seen with the C19 calamity, Scotland is totally reliant on cooperation with other countries, we do not make anything here these days at all really and international recognition is important to a new nation State, especially one floating a new currency if that is eventually the plan.

    It seems odd, by the way, that when Johnson said no to a second referendum, no-one in the SNP bothered to remind him very sharply in public that the idol of Tory England, Margaret Thatcher, always unequivocally backed the right of self-determination of the Scottish nation. What do all those SNP advisers and staffers do all day except retweet Nicola Sturgeon?

    Talking of which, the announcement in The Guardian today by The Adam Smith Institute, and the 1922 Committee, that neo-liberal austerity is over for good means that the SNP commissioned Andrew Wilson Growth Report is now more right-wing in terms of economic policy than Conservative England. Wilson and his crew at his consultancy firm Charlotte Street Partners were already to the right of the editorial line of The Guardian and the Financial Times back at the time when the infamous document was published, but to be outflanked on the left side by the 1922 Club and the Adam Smith Institute marks a new low for the SNP….

    Nicola Sturgeon says that the Sustainable Growth Report was not binding, which begs the question, why did the Scottish govt commission it, how much did it cost, and what use is it now except to pull apart and use to build paper aeroplanes with during lockdown?

    But like everything else involving the opaque, highly top down SNP – run by a married couple in the shape of the FM Sturgeon and her husband, Peter Murrel, CEO of the party, an iron fist in a velvet glove so to speak – nobody asks the questions for fear of a torrent of insult, abuse and invective, even below the line on Bella Caledonia…

    All in all, another day in Scotlandshire…

    PS: Re Peter Murrell we know next to nothing. Why? He is, after all, the CEO of the party which is asking for our votes?

    1. Stroller says:

      Eh, sorry, I posted on the wrong page…

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