There’s Nothing So Political as a Pandemic

By Adam Ramsay, openDemocracy’s main site editor. Originally published at openDemocracy.

The technocrats are on the rampage.

When Jeremy Corbyn produced a list of fairly moderate demands of the UK government in light of the coronavirus outbreak, ITV’s Paul Brand argued that if such proposals were ‘too political’, they would look opportunistic. The Tory MP Jonathan Gullis branded Corbyn “the biggest disgrace to British politics I have known in my lifetime. To try to play party politics with a health crisis”, he raved, “is disgusting.”

When Owen Jones proposed that the left should develop a list of demands people could then organise for, his timeline was drowned in a tsunami of blue-tick tickings-off. After the Democratic primary debate on Sunday, one commentator complained that Bernie Sanders was attempting to make COVID-19 “a healthcare issue”. Responding to complaints about his response to the crisis, Donald Trump told the governor of New York state to “keep politics out of it”. Every social media complaint about how governments are managing the crisis is flooded with the same foaming tide of responses: “Don’t politicise a crisis.”

This is nothing new. From terrorist attacks to far-off famines, every time one of the horsemen of the apocalypse gallops forth, the outriders of the status quo trot behind them, proclaiming that we shouldn’t ‘politicise’ the crisis.

Facts, of course, are facts. But in the coming weeks and months, the questions we will face will be about much more than science. Our future will be determined by questions about sick pay, rent freezes and government communication; support for the most vulnerable and who’s considered valuable. It will matter which voices are heard and whose needs are understood, who we remember, and who we forget.

No avoiding politics

The government has chosen to communicate with the public through private briefings with preferred journalists and paywalled articles in friendly papers. It decided to allow major events to go ahead before providing the vulnerable with clear information or means to cocoon themselves. It then opted to call on citizens to stay away from pubs, clubs and arts venues, before making clear what support it would offer these venues. These were political choices.

Today, the Chancellor has announced a mortgage freeze but not a rent freeze, finance for businesses but not for workers, billions of pounds, but nothing for those without jobs. These are political choices.

The US Federal Reserve has chosen to pump $1.5tn into Wall Street to reinflate the stock market, while millions of Americans go without insurance or continue to go to work despite sickness, because they can’t afford a day off. That’s a political choice.

The governments of Ireland, Finland and France have chosen to pay out millions to their citizens and to cancel mortgage and rent payments. Those, too, are political choices.

The poor are much more likely to die from COVID-19 than the rich, because they have other illnesses thanks to their poverty. The staggering increase in homelessness rates in the UK means thousands have nowhere safe to go. The failure to tackle domestic violence across the world means that millions of women will be living in fear as they self-isolate. All of these problems are products of the failures of our politics.

Wealth and power will define who is bankrupted and who isn’t, who becomes sick and who doesn’t, who gets the care they need and who suffers, how many of us will live and how many will die. But we will be told that we’re not allowed to talk about these things, because they’re political.

For a decade, progressives across the Western world have been pointing out that our healthcare systems are being torched on the altar of the market. But now we’re all paying the price of that sacrifice, we won’t be allowed to mention it. Because that’s political.

For a generation, the left has developed policy ideas to ensure the protection of everyone in an increasingly precarious economy. But we will be told off for calling for them. Because that’s political.

How we live together

““But it’s not politics we object to,” some say, “it’s party politics.” But parties are a key part of the system of elections and voting – the formal system we have for holding our governments to account. When Tory MP Jonathan Gullis complains that Corbyn is “playing party politics”, he may as well say: “We don’t mind you complaining, but how dare you actually challenge our power!”

More broadly, politics is how we negotiate how we live together. And so there is absolutely nothing on earth that is more political than a pandemic, when disagreements over resources and priorities and behaviour define who will live and who will die, not through the slow playing-out of the long symphony of history, but in the coming weeks and months.

Health is always a social affair, and never more so than with infectious diseases. As a species we live in groups. Everybody’s health relies on everybody else’s. The survival of each depends to some extent on support for all. There is no such thing as an isolated individual decision in a pandemic.

There is no doubt that our world will not go back to what it was before, As Naomi Klein pointed out more than a decade ago, big money has long used disasters to advance its agenda of cuts, privatisation and deregulation, securing unpopular policies when people are too overwhelmed to resist.

In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, luxury hotels privatised beaches on the Indian Ocean which had been used by local fishing communities for generations. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, schools and housing were privatised. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, austerity was unleashed. On the back of 9/11, the ‘war on terror’ was launched.

Likewise, more positive changes have often come from disaster. The Spanish flu of 1918-19 was interwoven with the year of revolutions which overthrew the German empire, ended World War One and shook the Western world. (Some) women’s suffrage soon followed. The welfare state was forged in the fires of World War Two.

It’s impossible to politicise a crisis, because there is nothing more political than how a human society navigates its way through a disaster.

Politics as performance

All the establishment snark is possible because of how we’ve come to understand what politics is. It should be the way we mediate the web of relationships and power structures that make up our society. It should be a social process, part of all of our lives, like family relationships or friendships, only on a bigger, more formalised scale.

If you talk to people about politics, though – in the UK, or in Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine and Czechia, where I spent last month interviewing people – you find that, for the vast majority, it has very little to do with them.

“It’s a big theatre,” one woman said to me in the mountain town of Poprad, eastern Slovakia; “a big circus”, said another. I spoke to hundreds of strangers in the street about politics in their respective countries, and the language of performance – bad performance – was common.

And if it’s performance, then people see themselves not as participants, but as the audience.

“You should speak to people in Bratislava [the capital],” said one man in eastern Slovakia. “That’s where politics happens.” In the eastern Hungarian city of Nyínghaza, two separate men asked: “What are you doing here?” “You should go to Budapest, ask people there,” one of them explained.

It’s not a social process they are involved in, but a thing they watch or – like a reality TV show that’s gone on a couple too many seasons – something they switch off.

The word used by theorists to describe the transformation of a social process into a thing is ‘reification’ – (‘thing-ification’). The Hungarian philosopher György Lucás argued that this habit of turning social processes into things external to us is an inevitable consequence of living in a capitalist society: you need to put a boundary around something and tell people it’s external to them before you can turn it into a product, and sell it back to them.

There has been a lot of political debate about the fact that neoliberal institutions and governments have privatised large chunks of the state in countries right across the world. We tend to talk less about how, at the same time, modern politics has been constructed in a reified way: a line has been drawn around political process, cameras have been pointed at it, and we’ve been taught that it’s something for us to watch from afar, a hobby to buy into, or not. “I’m not into it,” said Stephen, who I met at a bus stop in Hartlepool the week before the UK election. “I’m into computer games.”

Partly, this reification has been done by the media, who gain power by selling their exclusive access to this distanced world, treating it like a form of celebrity gossip, showing us a world in which we have no place. Partly, it’s done by lobbying firms, big businesses and the influence industry, who have become experts in ensuring they have better access to our representatives than we do. And partly, it’s done by the bureaucrats of party hierarchies, whose value in the labour market comes from being able to navigate the labyrinth.

This reification of politics is itself a key element of a broader phenomenon which is shaping our world: alienation.

The Scottish trade unionist Jimmy Reid defined alienation as “the cry of [wo]men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It’s the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision-making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.”

Where Marx explained alienation in the context of (capitalist) workplaces, Reid argued: “The concentration of power in the economic field is matched by the centralisation of decision-making in the political institutions of society.”

Given that people feel deeply alienated from our political institutions, it’s not surprising that the many will rally behind the idea that we shouldn’t politicise crises. Politics, as people experience it, is utterly awful.

When we’re told ‘don’t politicise the crisis’, we’re told that democracy doesn’t have a role in making what might be some of the most important decisions in our lives. The fact that so many people seem to intuitively agree – that this sort of statement has almost become common sense – tells us quite how broken our democratic systems are, quite how much we need to build democracy anew.

Alienation and the right

These processes of reification and alienation tend to be good for the right for three reasons. First, a large portion of the media – in the UK as much as in central Europe – is owned by oligarchs who align with regimes which represent their interests. If politics is something we watch, and they own the stage, then their preferred actors will get the best lights and the best lines.

Secondly, progressive ideologies are almost inherently arguments for politics: almost any kind of left-wing programme seeks to solve our collective problems through democratic forums – usually, the state. But if people don’t trust politicians to do what they say they will, and don’t trust politics to make their lives better, then the promises of progressives become just more drivel in a waterfall of nonsense.

“I see all these facts flying around on Facebook,” said Jade, a woman I met as she left her shift in the Atos building in Crewe the week before the UK election. “I don’t know what to believe any more.”

Right-wing politics, on the other hand, tends to be an argument that our problems should be solved through some other social structure: the market, traditional patriarchal and racial hierarchies, faith groups, some kind of authoritarian figure, or some combination of all of these.

“I don’t believe in politics,” said a youngish woman in a Communist-era housing estate on the edge of Prague. “I believe in the family”. She voted for Czechia’s conservatives.

Once democracy has been labelled as ‘politics’, and defined as the quarrels between distant MPs in national parliaments and TV studios, it’s easy to argue against it. When Boris Johnson argued to “get Brexit done”, he was making the case against parliamentary politics. As I’ve written before, he made politics awful, then asked people to vote it away. When Donald Trump proposed to “drain the swamp” and “make America great again”, he was making a similar case, against politics, and for the illusory concept of the nation and its traditional social hierarchies. And when people like Hungary’s Victor Orbán shout about strengthening ‘the family’, they are playing into similar feelings.

And thirdly, once politics stops being about the material issues shaping our lives and our communities, and starts being about more abstract questions of performance and credibility, we are taught to feel that certain sorts of politicians and parties ought to be in charge – the groups our different nationalist lenses teach us are competent, trustworthy and sensible. In the UK, that’s the posh. In the US, it’s the rich. Across the Western world, it’s stupid white men.

You can vote on anything you want… but not on that

One of the things performance authoritarians like Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro and Orbán have in common is that they deal almost entirely in illusions. The issues they focus on tend not to affect the voters they aim to reach. In Hungary’s last election, Orbán raged against immigrants, but almost no one moves to Hungary. The areas of the UK and US which vote for the immigrant-bashing Johnson and Trump have relatively small immigrant populations.

While questions like abortion control, Brexit, or LGBTQI rights are very real for the people affected by them, they aren’t usually direct material concerns to the voters these parties seek to win, or even matters they personally witness. Their understanding of these matters, usually, comes from something other than personal experience.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with voting based on issues outwith your personal purview. In fact, I’d hope we all consider more than our own material interests. But the problem is that when politics becomes a conversation about issues we have few direct encounters with, the mediums through which we learn about these matters become all the more powerful.

And so they encourage their supporters to believe that the set of issues included in their reified version of politics is a collection of rules and laws which are unlikely to impact on the people in that audience. The things you can ‘politicise’ are the things you have no experience of, things which they can teach you about, on the show they control.

Outside the ice hockey arena in Slovakia’s second city, Kočise, a young man called Michael told me he supported the country’s neo-Nazis because he opposed ‘gender ideology’. In Croatia in 2018, activists on more than one street corner asked my partner and I to sign their petition opposing trans rights.

These are not people who have ever in any way been damaged by trans rights. Most likely, they have never knowingly met a trans person. Their passion is not connected to material reality. It is a function of fiction.

Things which we have experience of in our daily lives, on the other hand, are, so often, ‘not political’, or ‘shouldn’t be politicised’.

The economy, for example, has itself been reified and placed in the public imagination in a magic box which no one can influence. Austerity was justified because the gods of the market had, we were told, to be sated.

In reality, ‘the markets’ are not a thing. They are a social process, whose parameters and boundaries are drawn by the laws of states, from protection of property rights to the details of contract law. But we’re not meant to talk about that. Because democracy isn’t allowed to interfere with this reified market. Rather than seeing them as interacting social processes, we are taught to think of both as forces, external to us and only tangentially related to each other.

Partly, this is a matter of propaganda, of how we are encouraged to talk about the economy. And partly, it is a product of privatised and deregulated states. Where once, governments set rent controls, owned major industries and had significant power in the economy, over the past forty years, that grip has weakened, and so the power of democracy over the market has dwindled.

Similarly, and particularly at the height of pre-crash neoliberalism, issues which were obvious moral concerns – climate change or global poverty – were largely transformed from collective problems requiring political action to issues of individual ethics.

Vast campaigns were run encouraging those of us who cared about these crises to focus on changing our light bulbs, buying Fairtrade products or donating, rather than organising for system change. Vast campaigns were run, in other words, to ensure that these deep questions for our society were put in a box marked ‘charity’, which is also, we were taught, separate from the dirty business of politics.

I used to work in climate change campaigning, and would endlessly meet people insisting that we shouldn’t ‘politicise’ the issue, as though the future of civilisation should be determined by some means other than democracy.

The result of these processes was that the reified version of politics under neoliberalism increasingly became a show about the things that neoliberals accepted were the purview of the state – border controls and security; migrants and terrorists.

For the merchants of neoliberal ideology, health has always been an intrusion into this story. As my colleague Caroline Molloy has long documented, there have been numerous attempts to individualise responsibility for healthcare in the UK, from fat-shaming to smoker-blaming. Often, democratic decisions about the NHS are bureaucratised, with politicians attempting to hide behind unaccountable managers when they make profound decisions of resource allocation – again, we’re told we shouldn’t ‘politicise’.

But on the whole, people have been pretty good at insisting that health is a collective matter. People have a pretty strong instinct that these are matters for democratic debate – issues in which we all deserve a say.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Divadab

    Great essay. Thanks.

    IMHO the silver lining to the coronavirus cloud is that we may hit critical mass of people who have tuned out of the show and are actively engaged in building a renewed society. Hard work, yes, and hard not to get discouraged. But the show is past the point of direct insult to the « audience « .

  2. Sean Kane

    Insightful article.

    The author really nails down the rightwing tactic of making politics dirty and making government disfunctional and then running against politics and disfunctional gov’t. The rightwing also atomizes people so they cant see collective goals while simultaneously “uniting” their followers against “THOSE” people and any govt programs seen to help “THEM”‘.

    But the author is wrong to suggest most people have no stake or experience in “trans-ideology”. The trans movement is looking to force enormous changes on society, overturning societal norms going back millenia and grounded in biology. This would be very difficult to achieve even if the trans movement goals were fully justified which they are not.

    Trans persons deserve to be treated with dignity and decency just like every other person in society. Clearly they carry additional burdens negotiating their way thru life. And this should be met with compassion and understanding. But overturning societal norms and practices as old as human history in order to adopt new trans “standards” which are in flux, fluid and ever changing makes no sense.

    In the very sense of Democratic politics the author supports, compromise and accommodations not wholesale changes should be made for trans persons. The most direct example being bathrooms and locker rooms. If a trans person is not comfortable using the traditional facility, men/boys or woman/girls, that corresponds with their biological sex, then a reasonable and fair compromise is to create a 3rd bathroom or locker facility that anyone uncomfortable with the traditional facilities can use. This makes much more sense, is much fairer and will be more successful in accommodating aspirations for changes for trans persons than trying to impose a trans ideology on a resistant public that is not on board with radical changes made thru the force of law.

    1. curious euro

      No, Sean Kane is wrong that 0,1% or less of the population need an extra kind of public toilet. Toilets have stalls for privacy, and the trans person better go in there, period. I’m very sure there are vastly more people of either sex uncomfortable and therefore want stalls, which are fine for them, than there are trans persons in existence.

      It is not fair to accomodate an almost nonexistent minority with great expense when there is no real problem. If you have spare room, make room for mothers with babies to change nappies and breastfeed. They need a special place since normal public bathrooms won’t do and they are a bigger percentage of the population too.

      1. Shiloh1

        When I run half marathons they usually have private toilets, but bring your own toilet paper just in case.

        The IHSA runs the Illinois state XC meet and they ran out about halfway through the races.

      2. stan6565

        Ha! Be careful, the PC gestapo will come for ya, you outspoken so and so


        But seriously, if people who do not wish to use the boy/girl facilities provided by and paid for by the 98+ % of population, then they are free to provide an alternative network, paid for from their own pockets. Subject to availability of space and planning provisions of course.

        I am happy with the biologically correct girl/boy toilets arrangements. If anyone wishes to take my money to create biologically deviant alternatives then I should be looking at that as unlawful confiscation of my funds, ie, theft.

      3. JBird4049

        I’m not sure that it is that small of a population. However, has anyone noticed how the more awful it gets for the average stiff the more the DNC, RNC, Deep State, Black Misleadership Class, Civil Rights activists, the leadership of the Evangelical Churches (both Black and White ones) start bringing up everything but poverty; the War on Terror, Fear Everyone, Moochers are Mooching, the Liberals, the Conservatives, Racism, Homophobia, Transphobia, Space Aliens, the Illegals, Communism, Putin and Russia, and the Prosperity Gospel. They all get get trotted out.

        When people persist in bringing up the collapsing economy of the past forty years the shouting just gets louder. You’re racist. Class war. ISIS. Berniebros.

        The worse it gets the greater the attempted distracting from the pain; when you tell people that having food and a roof is probably the most important things to people and if they and their people do not have it all the other “rights” don’t mean anything. Up comes racism/transphobia/communis, etc, or anger, or worse of all incomprehension.

        It does say something about us that large numbers of Americans have never gone hungry, or searched desperately for a way to stay housed, or have not seen a loved one died because of the damn insurance. It is nice to know that many have had such a blessed life. It also means that too many people do not understand just how not irrelevant, but also insulting, to have such suffering demeaned. It also explains the stupidity of so many people and why the mishandling of COVID-19 and Bernie Sanders nomination being stolen just might be a spark.

        Also, it is so very fascinating that the Democratic Party was able to have Night of the Long Knives and put Joe Biden on top on the fly while the entire United States flopped the pandemic despite at least a month’s warning? Power over public safety.

        1. curious euro

          I’m not sure that it is that small of a population.

          I’m from Germany, where we have a mandatory registry office where every person is registered at birth. It’s the basis for or voting system for example. We also have mandatory ID coming from this, etc. It’s the basis for everything concerning citizens, think social security number on steroids.

          In all these we have since a few years 3 genders after a decision of our supreme court: m=men, w=women, d=divers. d subsumes everything not men/women. Every public job ad, every official document where gender is listed like passport,drivers license, every single form, public or private enterprise, where gender is asked had to change by law to 3 choices instead of 2: m/w/d

          Everyone can go to the above registry office and change his/her gender to d

          How many people use the third gender out of a population of 80 millions? about 150.
          Even if various people don’t want to change for various reasons. It’s still a miniscule number of people that it’s basically a statistical non-existing anomaly.

          If the US gets 3 public bathrooms everywhere, the only reason the third bathroom is used by anyone will be that the third bathroom will be cleaner than the other ones.

          Biden had nothing to do with the pandemic. The average person didn’t care about it when they elected Biden to be the contender. Also there was no long night. A long night means that you suddenly turn on a subset of your group “over night” and exterminate it. Sanders never was part of the group and all the others, including the ones who dropped out still all are.

          The stolen election won’t matter at all. It didn’t matter 2016, it doesn’t matter now. CoVid19 of course will matter depending how bad it gets. However if there will be a reaction, it will be reactionary. Right wing reactionary. It will basically show the US as more of the dictatorship, dictatorship by the economy aka more capitalist, and military empire it already is, and the people will be fine with it.

    2. GramSci

      The rightwing also atomizes people so they cant see collective goals while simultaneously “uniting” their followers against “THOSE” people and any govt programs seen to help “THEM”‘.

      Actually the left wing and the right wing conspire to enact Jay Gould’s old political recipe: “Hire one-half the working class to kill the other half.” Left and Right simply hire from different sides.

      1. Clive

        Yes, exactly. They are each (and here I’m referring to the libertarian or free market fundamentalist right and the authoritarian left) are indeed two sides of the same coin.

        I’m having to suppress a hollow laugh that here’s the authoritarian left now trying to rewrite the ancient history of, oh, crikey, we’re going back at least a couple of months here, and now pretending it never did anything to create conditions which were going to make it harder for politicians to take correct action. And how, with the benefit of hindsight, it can tell us exactly what should have been done and if the politicians didn’t do it, that’s nothing at all to do with the actions of the authoritarian left.

        To state in more practical terms, I could dredge up Twitter-storms from the massed ranks of the authoritarian left in, say, January likening Trump, Johnson, Salvini and a few others to wannabe demigod dictators, intent on suppressing democracy, subverting justice, being recklessly nationalist and racist through policies in migration control.

        The same authoritarian left is now seriously trying to tell me that, if we look at, for example, these graphs and pick some time or other in, perhaps, early February, and the politicians they loved to hate had on that day given instruction to close borders, have country-wide lock downs, suspend elections, demand cessation of international agreements and sought emergency powers from legislative bodies, they’d have — contemporaneously — said “no problem, we’re absolutely fine with that”.

        I know the first rule of propaganda is to get your messaging out first and the second is, if you’re going to tell a fib, make it a big one. But really, they must be living on a different planet to think they can get away with this load of old cobblers.

          1. Basil Pesto

            without wishing to speak for Clive, as I understand it he’s referring to (neo-)liberals/centrists. I may be mistaken.

            1. Clive

              Yes, that’s about those size of it. I wish I could find a simple, consistent and accurate vocabulary for this one!

        1. curious euro

          Ours are sorta more consistent: they rail now against travel restrictions, closings of schools and shops, curfews and the like.
          Call it a police state, impingement on their freedoms and the like.
          They still want the borders to be open, for both themselves and foreigners, especially themselves.

          The governing politicians however have claimed last week that rumours of closing anything, travel restrictions and the like which went around in social media, whatsapp,etc. are fake news and need not only to be ignored but actively fought. Now they of course enact all of these “rumours”.

        2. ObjectiveFunction

          Agreed, the author’s list of rightist ‘performance authoritarians’ could readily be extended to include all the strongmen elevated by the smug ‘third way’ liberal establishment since the 1980s: Obama, both Clintons, Blair, Mitterrand.

          They all use the same tactics to slap the unworthy hands of the unwashed away from the levers of power.

  3. Jabbawocky

    Maybe this is confirmation bias but I think this essay is bang on. The playbook of the right has been to hide the negative consequences with PR, pretend the bad things weren’t happening or were happening only to someone else.

    Now the consequences of political decisions show up in raw numbers, deaths, hospitalisations, unemployment. There will be country by country comparisons, all the stats laid bare. There is no amount of PR that can hide the consequences, but the UK and US governments realised this too late.

    Yesterday the UK government were still on the airwaves refusing to extend sick pay to all workers. Refusing to increase the £94 per week sick pay level, despite agreeing they could not live on it. Renters apparently should negotiate with their landlords because ‘ there is no point simply passing the problem along the chain’ (a lot of the government are landlords). These workers will go to work with the virus, they have no choice. Small businesses are offered loans they are expected to pay back. Mortgage holidays come with no interest forbearance. Italy has nationalised Al Italia. Will the UK or US?

    These are political decisions. Remarkably a minister was on Channel 4 news last night insisting a no deal Brexit would go ahead in December whatever happens. Still, the magnitude of the crisis has not sunk in.

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