THE Conservative Party, ever eager to reach for a military life raft in times of crisis, will fall greedily upon the 75th anniversary of VE Day this Friday. Certainly, the deliverance of Europe’s peoples and nations from the slime of humanity must be commemorated for as long as the earth keeps turning. For me, though, a Brexit campaign chiefly characterised by persistent xenophobia – if not downright racism – by Leave has contaminated all future commemorations of that almighty struggle against the forces of evil.
During the Brexit campaign the leadership of Leave regarded the multinational effort to defeat Adolf Hitler as an inconvenient truth. They preferred to convey the impression that Britain had stood alone against the Nazi foe. And now it was time to stand alone again and free itself from the tyranny of Europe.
It was a well programmed lie. It insulted the Russians without whose vast human sacrifice the allies’ fate would have been an uncertain one. It was also a grievous calumny against those European countries who, lacking a 24-mile expanse of water as a natural means of defence, had been overwhelmed by the Nazi war machine. Yet, they resisted them bravely thereafter and helped Britain regain a precarious foothold in Europe after the retreat from Dunkirk. And it insulted the memory of the thousands of Canadian and US soldiers who were cut down on Omaha beach and Juno beach during the D-Day landings at Normandy in 1944.
This year’s landmark com-memoration will, of course, be muted by coronavirus. However, it will still provide some relief to a Conservative administration struggling to explain why this country is on course to record the highest death toll in Europe from the contagion. At the outset of the pandemic Boris Johnson was encouraging us all to show the Dunkirk spirit and to take it on the chin.
The Conservatives will be much less enthusiastic about the 75th anniversary of another great event due to happen in the middle of the summer. This one doesn’t perhaps carry the import of victory in a war when our civilisation was being menaced but it remains the most important political landmark for working people in UK political history.
July 5 will mark the 75th anniversary of Labour’s astonishing General Election victory and the first parliamentary majority the party had ever achieved. The scale of Labour’s victory took many of its own supporters by surprise.
Winston Churchill had been a great wartime leader and the Conservatives he led mistakenly believed that would be enough to secure the election.
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The parallels between what happened then and now are obvious. Churchill had called the election because there was a general recognition that the war had wrought fundamental societal changes in Britain. The country and the people that emerged from war were profoundly different from those who had gone into it six years previously.
Yet, Labour’s victory was virtually guaranteed despite Churchill’s wartime leadership. The Second World War had, as all wars do, taken a terrible toll on those living on society’s bottom rung. In the 1920s a previous Conservative government had promised returning soldiers from that terrible apocalypse and the families of the fallen that Britain would be a country “fit for heroes”.
It was another lie and, within a decade, the Great Depression of the 1930s had wrought a terrible whirlwind on working-class communities all over the UK. The regions that had suffered most in the war found themselves suffering all over again barely a decade later.
This time it wasn’t German bullets destroying them but long-term unemployment, homelessness and starvation. After the Second World War, these communities and their families were wise to the empty promises of the Tories and made their overwhelming numbers count in 1945.
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EVEN had the Johnson administration been deemed to have governed well during this health crisis there would be a pressing need for a General Election. The effects of the coronavirus mean that we can never return to what we considered to be normal a few months ago.
There are two competing philosophies dictating how best to emerge from it. One will be based on monetarism and the rule of the free market; the other will be rooted in the needs of those who have suffered most during the pandemic and who face the biggest challenges in seeking to recover from it.
The Tories insist on pressing ahead with Brexit and all the uncertainty this will bring. This virtually guarantees that the UK, having been hit hardest by coronavirus, will be the slowest to recover from it. This isn’t merely an act of political folly but something truly wicked.
Data from Scotland’s national records this week revealed that Covid-19 deaths are three times higher in our poorest areas than in our most affluent. Last week it was revealed that deaths in England’s most deprived communities are currently twice as high.
The effects of this apocalypse – physical, psychological and economic – will stalk an entire generation. The people who are giving us light in this darkness – the frontline NHS workers, the care workers, the service-providers, the shop assistants, the delivery drivers – are among Britain’s lowest-paid. Many of them live in the areas most adversely affected by coronavirus.
Unlike 1945 though, I wouldn’t be sure that a majority of British people will recognise the need for profound societal change. Brexit showed that too many of them have been seduced by Boris Johnson’s dishonest rhetoric about English superiority and European perfidy. The Tory puppets in the English press and BBC political unit will provide the usual back-up.
Scotland, though, will have its own election in 2021 and this can provide an early indicator about how this country wants to rebuild our society.
It will also be a referendum on Scottish independence and with it the opportunity to plot a different course from the Tories. Certainly, it carries an economic risk but not as big as trusting this Conservative Government. They failed its people in a time of great peril. How can we entrust our recovery to them?