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Editorial: Clear-sighted decisions over our economic future are needed

IT LOOKS like the British people are more sensible than the government by a wide margin. 

And judging by Boris Johnson’s latest burst of confused messaging, the government is still way behind the curve when it comes to understanding how safe it is – or rather isn’t – to mingle with masses of people you don’t know.

And when restaurant chains choose this moment to tell us they are shutting up shop, we can see the difference between their cold calculations about the viability of their businesses in the current climate of opinion and the sunshine stories got up to persuade us to resume the patterns of consumption that existed before the lockdown.

It takes an evidence-free leap of faith to believe that the rate of infection has declined enough to accelerate the shift towards the normality of the capitalist market economy.

The premier argues that July 4 was picked “based on a clear understanding of the statistical risks.”

Statistically, Britain is a dangerous place. The reality is that with close to 44,000 people dead after testing positive for coronavirus –a conservative measure of the true toll – we are third in the global mortality ranking behind only the US and Brazil.

Keir Starmer took the Prime Minister to task over the easing of the lockdown: “I support the easing of restrictions but, unlike the Prime Minister, I’m not blind to the risks and I don’t think anybody else should be,” he said.

Confusingly, he was also concerned that easing the lockdown was taking place “without an app, without clear data for local authorities or the world-beating system we were promised.”

Either the absence of these things is critically important, or it is not. 

Labour cannot afford to be evasive on these questions. If the current level of infection continues or if there is a renewed surge the ground for equivocation on this issue becomes vanishingly small and Labour’s credibility suffers.

With the Prime Minister hinting that the furlough scheme must come to an end, the question of jobs is becoming paramount.

There is a dangerous hole opening up in the government’s thinking which suggests that it believes that market mechanisms alone are sufficient to restore employment levels.

The Unite union put the question squarely today when it called for a sector-specific approach to job security and promotion with an extension of the Job Retention Scheme until 2021 at least and for a comprehensive industrial strategy.

An effective strategy to develop our industrial economy requires clear-sighted decisions about both what is necessary and what is desirable.

Necessary in the first instance to support already established industrial sectors which are pools of skilled labour, technical expertise and R&D-led production. 

Aerospace comes to mind – a sector already skewed by an unhealthy reliance on military expenditure and a commercial aviation industry that itself faces a very uncertain future.

Desirable because in the long term Britain needs to recalibrate its overall economy to eliminate the morbid symptoms of a system that is already dangerously skewed towards a parasitic finance sector.

In addition, a very large part of the population is employed, sometimes underemployed and sometimes overworked, in sectors where pay levels are barely at subsistence level, with millions reliant on tax credits and their skinflint employers thus subsidised by the taxpayer.

A vast amount of essential work is carried out by workers who are insecure and low-paid and have limited opportunities to acquire new skills, progress their careers or earn higher wages.

But it is higher wages, enhanced skills and more secure jobs in safe, productive and sustainable industries that our people and economy need.

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