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  • Writer's pictureAnna Kaminski

Pandemic Politics

I do wonder what sort of geopolitical landscape we'll inherit once Covid-19 finished ravaging our planet, and I'm not hugely optimistic. An expansion of authoritarianism is very much on the cards, I believe, given that this week Hungary became a de facto dictatorship, with Orban giving himself pretty much unlimited powers, ostensibly to 'combat the pandemic', but so far using them to prohibit transgender people from legally changing their sex, among other, non-pandemic-related things.

Russia is using the pretence of helping Italy to massively expand its influence in the region, and Putin has even taken to trolling the United States by sending a plane full of aid, thus emphasising Trump's uselessness and incompetence, while simultaneously demonstrating that he doesn't care about saving Russian lives, since in Russian hospitals, medics are fighting the pandemic without adequate protective gear. In Russia, the goal seems to be the suppression of information by the government, rather than the welfare of its citizens, with police harassing the independent Doctor's Alliance who've been doing their best to deliver protective gear to hospitals and speaking out both about the lack of protective gear and government disinformation about the crisis. Their head, Anastasia Vasilyeva, was beaten, choked and detained by the police for her trouble a couple of days ago; she's a courageous woman, though, and after her ordeal she was already talking about getting back to her task.

In the United States, the government response to the pandemic has been largely a shambles. The country's top medical expert, Dr Fauci, seems to be sidelined more and more and I wouldn't be surprised if Trump fires him altogether for speaking the truth about the pandemic and about what needs to be done to combat it. I give him another week. Instead, Trump trotted out his idiot son-in-law, whose epidemiology credentials are on par with his diplomacy ones (check out Jared Kushner's Israeli-Palestinian plan), and who claimed, insanely, that the federal stockpile of protective equipment isn't there to address the needs of the states in an emergency. In an Orwelian move, the wording on the Strategic Stockpile website was changed overnight to reflect Kushner's twaddle. Meanwhile, Trump has taken advantage of the pandemic to fire the intelligence community's chief watchdog, thus emphasising his already obvious guilt in the impeachment trial and simultaneously trying to purge the government of any competent professional who values and upholds the rule of law. Much to the disgrace of US Navy, Defence Secretary Mark Esper sacked Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt for trying his hardest to save the lives of his crew, a number of whom tested Covid-19 positive, because Trump considered Crozier's letter to be 'disrespectful'. That would be same Donald Trump who intervened in the disciplinary hearing of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher last year and pardoned a war criminal reported by his own colleagues for slaughtering civilians.

In the UK, the pandemic response has also been shambolic, with inadequate (and inadequately available) protective gear being a massive scandal. It's obscene that in 2017 the Tories rejected a recommendation for higher standards of protective equipment for medics, and I'm dismayed to learn that nurses are supposed to handle Covid-19 patients wearing a flimsy throwaway apron, disposable gloves and a flimsy surgical mask. (When I worked as a nursing assistant, many moons ago, that's what we wore - minus the mask - for standard procedures, such as helping a patient wash and dress, and it's unconscionable to expect medical staff to tackle a deadly virus without adequate protection). After rejecting the offer to participate in the EU procurement scheme, which would've provided the NHS with vital protective gear and ventilators, the Tory government has managed to come up with, erm, 30 new ventilators, after the NHS asked for 30,000. Because heaven forbid an 'independent country' like the UK actually puts British lives ahead of Brexit dogma. Instead, apparently the UK is getting 300 ventilators from China.

A single bright spot in an otherwise bleak political landscape: today Keir Starmer was named new leader of the Labour Party, which gives some hope for the UK's future. Within 90 minutes of being named leader, he's spoken to Boris Johnson, offering his cooperation in the fight against the pandemic. His shadow cabinet picks so far have been shrewd and if anyone can manage to walk the fine line between holding the government to account for its mistakes in the handling of the Covid-19 crisis so far and working with the whole of Parliament, it's Starmer. I have a great deal of respect for him for his sharp legal brain, forensic approach and his stellar record as a human rights lawyer. He's been an anti-death penalty campaigner for over two decades and when I did a stint in Jamaica as a legal intern, he was deeply involved with London's Death Penalty Project, set up by a London chambers, that sent legal interns all over the world.

[***It was Starmer, among several other MPs whom I respect, who inspired me to join the Labour Party as a member last December, even though I've never taken more than a peripheral interest in British politics before the Brexit debacle, and was certainly never tempted to join any party before. Besides raising my anxiety levels, Brexit has awakened patriotism in me, and I’ve come to realise that I really love the foggy, rainy island that’s been my home for almost 30 years and intend to fight for the survival of its liberal democracy. Prior to joining Labour in order to try and make the party electable again, I found myself working my socks off - canvassing door-to-door and otherwise doing things out of my comfort zone - to try and get a decent and principled former Tory (Dominic Grieve) reelected. Strange times, strange bedfellows. Even though I don't agree with either Starmer or Grieve on everything, I came to truly appreciate intelligent, compassionate leadership and attention to detail on both their parts.***]

Starmer has his work cut out, because being Opposition Leader during a pandemic is a mammoth task, but it's comforting to know that the UK has a proper Opposition party once more.

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