I finished this yesterday. Not sure what to do with it.
Just after the 75th anniversary of VE, I’ll be the millionth person to link the 2nd world war to the Corona crisis, and I’m sorry. It was a coincidence that I’ve been reading J.B. Priestley’s morale-boosting Postscript talks, which he gave on BBC radio during that war.
His constant refrain was that the British people couldn’t be called upon to make enormous sacrifices just to re-establish the same rotten old order. The war effort was an opportunity to remake Britain in a better, fairer form. That was something worth fighting for.
Priestley’s supporters credit him with being instrumental in the push towards a more egalitarian society that lead to Labour’s 1945 election victory, then the establishment of the welfare state, and, most importantly now, of the NHS, whose heroes we applaud.
Today, awaiting an easing of Lockdown, I’m feeling similarly optimistic about our chances of dealing with a future invasion by a corona or flu virus. I’m still frazzled and falling over with the struggle and the stress of it, but it’s a sunny morning and I’ve remembered to take my thyroid and happy pills (mother’s little helpers), which always makes me feel better.
I think we’ve learnt lessons about how to manage this sort of attack. We need easy and constant communication between nations, sharing information and using the WHO and other pan-national organisations to provide us with an early warning. We need to act in concert to develop tests so we can contact-trace the spread of the disease and attempt to quarantine it. In Britain, we’ll need to identify, isolate and support the most vulnerable. We’ll have to develop the structures and technologies to do this, and hold them in readiness to respond swiftly to new variants, with new infection profiles, so we can develop and mass-produce new vaccines. We also need to think about how to soften the impact on the economy, because, yes, it’ll cost.
We were warned about this, as we have been, repeatedly, about that other monstrous, bastard child of consumerism, climate change. In both cases, we knew and acknowledged the scale and impact of the problem, but refused to think about it or do anything. We left it to our future selves, because the market demands that costs be deferred to maximise profits and we have invested so much in the hope of those profits. Preparing for future problems would incur unacceptable costs, now, for no immediate benefit.
But all debts defraud our future selves, or our children. We have increasingly allowed the primitive principles of capitalist exchange to govern all aspects of civic life. Everything has been given a monetary value. The state has been shrunk and most of its functions have been sold to the private sector. The purpose of government has become merely to facilitate business. It serves the market rather than maintaining it for the country’s use. Administrations point to resurgent economies as proof of success, ignoring the fact that governments’ remits are far wider than that.
The coronavirus has shown us that we can no longer live in this manner. The childish idea that all we need to do is allow unfettered trade and that will magically solve all our problems is now palpably false. One day soon a new, even more virulent pandemic will emerge; One day soon, we will be overwhelmed by such extreme weather conditions that food production will catastrophically fail. And we will be wholly unprepared.
No part of the fragmented private business system will have the ability or the will to steer and organise the global effort required. It will need governments, over-arching organisations which, with the consent of the people, have the scope and capacity to co-ordinate so many aspects of society, from medical responses, to healthcare, to security, to food distribution, to financial aid packages.
I’m not advocating revolution: all revolutionaries are closet fascists, but It will need people of vision, determination and administrative control who will not be intimidated by the asset-stripping profiteers of big business. Because all this will need money, which means tax and probably deep-rooted financial reform. Governments must get over their crises of confidence, their fear of upsetting those who threaten to take themselves elsewhere. They should be offered stable, nurturing, and well-funded governments that they, too, must support. Government is everyone’s insurance against catastrophe.
And it will need co-operation and compromise not jingoism. All around the globe, nationalist demagogues have risen to power on the hot air of baseless indignation and xenophobic resentment, helped along, of course, by lies and disruption. These aren’t the skill sets we need, right now. The countries most likely to develop, manufacture, or acquire life-saving medical equipment and medicines are those most able to share expertise, information and technology, who can most easily collaborate and pool resources; the countries most able to weather the coming economic storm are those with the strongest links of mutually beneficial trade and co-ordinated economic relief.
And here we are, about to hit a Covid-19 recession, amplified by a Brexit recession. Isn’t it time we re-thought our exit from the EU? And before you tell me how humiliating it would be to creep back, cap in hand, just remember that sometimes you may have to swallow your pride to save your country. Our great national humiliation came when we revealed what mean-spirited, ungrateful and blindly arrogant little xenophobes we truly were. Now’s our chance to rise to the challenge, as Priestley would no doubt have said, and do something positive for our country!