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Our politics isn’t designed to protect the public from Covid-19

8 600 2411
18.03.2020

The worst possible people are in charge at the worst possible time. In the UK, the US and Australia, the politics of the governing parties have been built on the dismissal and denial of risk. Just as these politics have delayed the necessary responses to climate breakdown, ecological collapse, air and water pollution, obesity and consumer debt, so they appear to have delayed the effective containment of Covid-19.

I believe it is no coincidence that these three governments have responded later than comparable nations have, and with measures that seemed woefully unmatched to the scale of the crisis. The UK’s remarkable slowness to mobilise, followed by its potentially catastrophic strategy – fiercely criticised by independent experts and now abandoned – to create herd immunity, and its continued failure to test and track effectively or to provide protective equipment for health workers, could help to cause large numbers of unnecessary deaths. But to have responded promptly and sufficiently would have meant jettisoning an entire structure of political thought developed in these countries over the past half century.

Politics is best understood as public relations for particular interests. The interests come first; politics is the means by which they are justified and promoted. On the left, the dominant interest groups can be very large – everyone who uses public services, for instance. On the right they tend to be much smaller. In the US, the UK and Australia, they are very small indeed: mostly multimillionaires and a very particular group of companies: those whose profits depend on the cavalier treatment of people and planet.

Over the past 20 years, I have researched the remarkably powerful but mostly hidden role of tobacco and oil companies in shaping public policy in these three nations. I’ve seen how the tobacco companies covertly funded an infrastructure........

© The Guardian