Necessity of social control
We do not trust the government, writes Eddie Ford. But nor do we support unrestricted liberty
Several thousand demonstrated on April 24 in central London under the banner, ‘Unite for Freedom’. Marching closely together, some carried home-made ‘No to vaccine passports’ placards, while others paraded alongside a giant, inflatable syringe, and most chanted slogans such as, ‘Freedom!’, ‘Take off your mask!’ and ‘Lockdowns kill’.
Looking at those attending, they seemed to represent a reasonable cross-section of society. But there was a rich strand of those on the libertarian right and the plain eccentric - lovable or otherwise. Hence one of those protesting was the actor, Lawrence Fox, who is also a London mayoral candidate, with the stated mission to “fight against extreme political correctness”.1 He claimed two years ago to having been “totally radicalised” by YouTube videos about “woke culture”, he believes that “the NHS isn’t fit for purpose”, and has encouraged people to disobey social distancing and other anti-Covid restrictions. He is currently tied at around 1% in the polls with Count Binface, who wants London to join the European Union.
Another London mayoral hopeful at the demonstration was Jeremy Corbyn’s brother, Piers - who has called the virus a “hoax”, compared the vaccine rollout to Auschwitz and distributed leaflets claiming that “some vaccines contain nanochips which can electronically track recipients”.2 In his bid to become mayor, Corbyn is campaigning to end all coronavirus restrictions, reduce homelessness and defend the NHS from privatisation - a mixture of the progressive and the crazy.
The main issue attracting the ire of the protestors was the question of vaccine passports or certificates, especially as the lockdown restrictions are being significantly eased. You can now sit in a beer garden or at an outside table of a restaurant. Most social contact rules are due to be lifted on May 17, and then - by “no earlier than” June 21, depending on the data - it is hoped or expected that all legal limits on social contact can be removed. Anyhow, the government is now running trials to assess the effectiveness of an immunity passport scheme. The first one began on April 16 at a club in Liverpool and will continue at other events in England through to mid-May - the FA Cup Final on May 15 has been announced as a potential candidate for trialling the scheme.
The idea of some sort of vaccine passport was first mentioned in February, when the Greek prime minister said his country would welcome British holidaymakers who had been vaccinated, or had proof of a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. Boris Johnson was initially hostile to the notion, suggesting it may not be possible to introduce such a scheme until every adult in the UK has been offered a vaccine.
When The Daily Telegraph reported at the beginning of April that Covid passports were going to be trialled, more than 70 MPs from across the benches voiced opposition. This group included Jeremy Corbyn - doubtlessly earning the approval of his older brother - and the former Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, who described it as “dangerous, discriminatory and counterproductive”. The Covid Recovery Group, led by Mark Harper, and Steve Baker of the European Research Group, were extremely unhappy too, wanting to see the lifting of all lockdown restrictions by the end of April, once all priority groups have been offered a vaccine.
As things stand now, people in England could get Covid passports for foreign travel by May 17 - therefore potentially avoiding quarantine when they reach their destination. These documents are likely to be different from domestic Covid certificates, which the government is working on separately. A department for transport insider cautioned that it might only be a physical certificate rather than an “all-singing, all-dancing electronic one”, or a repurposed NHS app, given the time constraints.
Vaccine passports are not expected to affect the ‘traffic light’ system planned by the UK government that will grade foreign destinations as green, amber or red for travellers from England - though obviously different rules may apply across the so-called four nations of the UK. Showing the general trend, Saga Holidays - which specialises in holidays for the over-50s - said booking enquiries had more than doubled since early April, when the government outlined its plan to restart international travel.
Now, I would object too if the local bakery would not give me any bread or I could not get a paper at the newsagent’s unless I presented a vaccine passport - whether an actual piece of paper or something on my phone proving that I was kosher. Barring people who cannot afford or use a smartphone would clearly be unacceptable.
On the other hand, would I want my ailing grandmother at a nursing home to be looked after by staff that refused to get vaccinated in the middle of an ongoing pandemic? We are now in a situation where the UK could easily get Covid variants/mutations from India, Mexico, Brazil or anywhere else with a high prevalence of the virus. In fact, right now the infection rate is extraordinarily high in India for reasons familiar to most Weekly Worker readers. Well, the frank answer is no - I would not want granny or anybody else to be placed unnecessarily in danger. If you want to work in that industry, then you should get vaccinated - or at least not deal with the vulnerable sorts of people in a frontline way. Similarly, if I had to go into accident and emergency at the local hospital, would I want someone meeting me who potentially has Covid? No, absolutely not. We just cannot risk another wave breaking out again, - especially for older people, who are particularly vulnerable to this wretched virus. After all, when you go to many so-called third world countries, you have to show that you have had jabs for yellow fever, hepatitis, cholera, rabies, tetanus, and so on.3 You just shrug your shoulders and accept it.
There is such a thing as ‘freedom’ - communists would not dispute that for a minute. But it is not unbounded. There is an analogy with driving. With a licence you can get in a car and drive along the highway. But should you have the freedom to drive down the right-hand side of the road, as opposed to the left? If you do that, you will quite rightly be charged with dangerous driving. Certainly, mowing down a pedestrian on a zebra crossing on the grounds that you must have ‘freedom of the road’ is hardly defensible. You should obey the convention for the safety of yourself and others - which means accepting a certain curtailment of your freedom for the greater good. In other words, there needs to be social control.
Communists certainly do not trust the government, which obviously has an authoritarian agenda - something we need to guard against. But, historically and politically, the workers’ movement does not support unrestricted freedom of action - untrammelled liberty for all, as the bourgeoisie might say. Take the hot topic of the previous week - football and the proposed European superleague. Marxists do not believe that billionaire owners should have the freedom to do whatever they like with their property. Football is not just about property, but community - there should be limits. Communists support legislation that introduces limits and restrictions when it comes to such matters.
For example, there are loads of houses that the owners cannot just knock down or modify as they fancy. There are certain by-laws protecting them, which is quite right - or ‘red tape’, as the libertarian right love to call it. Even if we do not live in them ourselves, we want to prevent houses we value collectively being flattened to make room for yet more soulless office blocks, or another supermarket just like all the others.
We have absolutely no sympathy for the Johnson regime, with its dodgy PPE deals, cronyism, corruption, chumocracy, and all the rest of it. Nevertheless, we do believe in responsibility - there is such a thing as society and we all live in it. When it comes to the theatre or a football game, for example, a requirement to show that you have been vaccinated is not exactly a terrible infringement on freedom - not the beginning of the totalitarian state, let alone gas chambers. Sorry, Piers.
More generally, right from the very beginning of the pandemic, we were right to support measures clamping down on the spread of the virus. Unlike Boris Johnson, it seems, communists did not want to “let the bodies pile high in their thousands” rather than introduce lockdowns and restrictions - which were urgently necessary then. The horrors unfolding in India should remind us of that, as should the terrible phenomenon of ‘long Covid’ - a debilitating condition that so far afflicts 670,000 or more in the UK.
That could easily be the next crisis for the NHS, possibly costing an extra £2.5 billion a year.