It’s important to be non-political at the moment. Whatever you think of having a clown as PM and the worst leader of the opposition ever, it’s probably best to accept things as they are for the time being. It will be for another time to attribute blame to whoever fucked up, always assuming they did fuck up. However, we have learned one important lesson. We need the state.
With the exception of the Labour government from 1997 to 2010, we have been told by governments from 1979 onwards that we needed small government and that unfettered, deregulated capitalism could deliver all the things we needed. The unfolding economic disaster that will accompany Covid-19 has proved that we need government and we need it properly funded.
Granted that this virus is unprecedented, we know that no economic system could withstood it alone. Yet the consistent underfunding of public services, certainly since 2010, has made things so much worse. We are short of nurses and doctors, we are short of police officers, social care is already in crisis. In ‘normal’ circumstances, government and indeed many people will have been content to let the system struggle on, quite possibly because they were not personally affected. That’s all changed now. Suddenly, we have become high risk or family members and friends have become high risk. We can’t keep calm and carry on if granny gets terribly ill and there aren’t enough ventilators.
I doubt that we shall ever again allow the NHS to be underfunded, regardless of what it costs. No one seriously doubts that it is our greatest institution and we cannot go and pretend that the last ten years of savage austerity never happened. Even the Conservative Party, which has been taken over by the hard right, as Labour has been taken over by the hard left, cannot carry on down the road of running down the NHS. Or any other vital front-line service for that matter.
The state cannot do everything, we know that, but it is not the impediment to life that many had imagined it to be. The public sector is not perfect but then neither is the private sector. The future, surely, will have to be genuinely mixed economy where, yes, we reward entrepreneurs and successful businesses but also one in which we value vital front-line services and the workers who provide them.
As time goes by, the idiocy of panic-buying will subside and the spirit of community that is re-igniting at street and local level will take over. I am sure of that. I don’t want some kind of Cuban socialist ‘paradise’ or an American system where if you can’t afford health care, you can just fuck off and die. I don’t something in the middle, either. I want something better.
I am not interested in calling a better way a new kind of socialism, capitalism or anything else. Have the best from both, like for example the NHS on one side and consumer choice on the other. They needn’t be either or choices.
The nearest we have ever got to that was the Labour government from 1997. I know that was then and this is now and we will face a very different landscape when finally Covid-19 subsides, but it’s a decent template for the future.
We are being told at the moment ‘we are all in it together’ and, for once, it’s true. The trick will be coming up with a vision for the future that we can all believe in where everyone has the opportunity to get on in life and no one is quietly forgotten.
‘We’re all in it together but once we get through this, we won’t be’ should not be the direction of travel. Not now, not ever.