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This week, a major parliamentary report has heavily criticised the UK’s initial response to the Covid-19 outbreak, calling it one of the UK’s worst ever public health failures. The report has focused on the response in England, over that in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The disastrous response to the pandemic in the UK has led to the deaths of more than 150,000 people so far, and still 1000 people die every week with Covid-19 in the UK. So far, nearly 6000 people have died in Wales. The virus hit disabled people and BAME communities the worst due to entrenched ableist and racist social structures. The abhorrent manner in which people were left to die in care homes, should never be forgotten. Meanwhile, capitalists have been lining their pockets with billions of taxpayer money, thanks to the Tories.
The UK’s handling of the pandemic, throughout, can only be classed as social murder. The political theorist Friedrich Engels coined this term when describing the appalling conditions of Manchester in the 19th century, but it has also been applied by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in an editorial earlier this year, criticising the UK response to the Covid-19 pandemic:
‘The “social murder” of populations is more than a relic of a bygone age. It is very real today, exposed and magnified by Covid-19.’
Wales needs its own inquiry, so that our political leaders can be held accountable, but we must not be lulled into a false sense of belief in the power of inquiries and the bourgeois state. The system is broken, we need no inquiry to tell us this. Austerity had already led to the deaths of more than 120,000 people in the UK over the last decade, according to the BMJ. Covid-19 adds another 150,000. But it’s not just health and social care that’s broken, these are the symptoms of capitalism, aided and abetted by our Welsh Government.
Make no mistake about it: Welsh Labour are not socialist. Welsh Labour are the party of managed decline. On some of the big issues such as health and social care, police, militarism, housing, workers’ rights and climate, Welsh Labour are not even progressive, nevermind socialist. Even after the 18 months that healthcare workers have suffered, nurses were given a real terms pay cut, proving that all the hand clapping by government ministers was merely virtue signalling. An NHS workers’ union has branded the Welsh Government a “disgrace”, according to reporting from Voice.Wales, over their refusal to negotiate a pay rise, which the Royal College of Nursing have said will lead to strike action being taken.
Welsh Labour are predictably trying to deflect responsibility by blaming the UK, saying they lacked the financial resources to enact sufficient measures, but we must not fall for this deceptive excuse. Wales was just as slow to react to the pandemic, evidenced by the furore over the Wales Scotland rugby match and the Stereophonics concert, along with the lack of PPE supplied to health care workers in the first wave. They followed the catastrophic path of the UK government, despite many calls to react quicker and more decisively. Undod released a set of practical demands back in March 2020, which would have ensured a far more robust response to the pandemic that would have put the needs of people first. As the pandemic developed there were occasions when the Welsh Government showed some inclination to act differently, but ultimately, the stats on this matter don’t lie. Wales has one of the world’s highest Covid death tolls per capita. For comparison, the per capita death toll in Wales, is roughly double that of Ireland’s, which in turn is double that of Denmark.
And as journalist Will Hayward uncompromisingly points out:
“There is a strong narrative that has developed that the Welsh Government, through caution and care, protected Wales from the worst of the pandemic…Without underplaying the serious errors made by the UK Government…the data simply doesn’t bear up the idea that the Welsh Government handled this pandemic well.”
There has been praise for the Welsh Government vaccine roll-out, which has been comparatively positive, but where has the internationalist solidarity been? Have they spoken out on global vaccine imperialism that benefits large corporations at the expense of people living in the Global South? Drakeford has argued that Wales cannot have a material impact globally, meanwhile Cuba has developed three vaccines, and has started exporting them to other countries in the Global South. We’ve seen the outbreak of deadly variants precisely because of the failure to protect everybody, and this will continue to happen until vaccination is rolled out to everyone globally.
Even now, the virus is rife in Wales, due to inadequate measures taken to protect school children, despite the fact that every day dozens of children are being hospitalised with Covid-19 across the UK, and despite long Covid being prevalent in children. Good ventilation, masks, HEPA filters and CO2 monitors are suggested by public health experts as measures necessary to simultaneously protect the health of children and slow the spread of Covid. Socialism puts people first, before capitalism and its relentless exploitative pursuit of profit. Socialism shows solidarity with all, and doesn’t leave people behind.
It’s easy for Welsh Government to play it both ways as we all know that the powers of devolution are insufficient, but we also know that Welsh Labour use this as a convenient excuse when it suits them and do very little to challenge this. We need a better yardstick for progress than a sociopathic British government. We know all the problems do not entirely stem from Welsh Labour, but are they currently a help or a hindrance? They’ve tried to spin the story that they have protected us from the worst of the pandemic, but we know this isn’t true, and we must continue to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We must demand more for future generations. We need more than just a Covid inquiry, we need republican eco-socialism.