The past ten days have been the most extraordinary time I can remember. Over this time we have lost most of the staples of modern life: pubs, clubs, music venues, theatres, cinemas, museums and leisure centres have closed; most people have been told to work from home while most schools are closing. Although there have not yet been any travel restrictions, airlines are shutting down and rail services are severely diminished. Apparently the army is preparing to ‘help out’. And as a long standing Liverpool fan, I wonder if this season’s football will ever be completed. Unprecedented – today’s favourite word – doesn’t start to cover it. The impact on ordinary people is extraordinary; workers are being laid off or asked to reduce their hours of work, businesses are closing, unemployment is soaring, savings collapsing and the economy is sliding rapidly into a terrible recession.
I notice that the assurances that this is all a short blip not like 2008, are disappearing, though Johnson is sure the UK economy will ‘bounce back’. Perhaps, but I wonder how many of the small organisations will be opening their doors again? Look at our local independent music venue, The Boileroom. Without support it will probably never open again. The same goes for our wonderful pubs and restaurants. The plight of those on zero-hour contracts and irregular work is well documented and many self-employed will be left without resource. Even our bigger businesses are struggling and we may wonder what will be left of the High Street when this is all over. Far from being a blip, I think this is a paradigm shift, the end of an era. Things are not going to go back to ‘normal’ when this is all over; whatever ‘normal’ looks like next March it will not be remotely like ‘normal’ last March. Currently it looks as though this new normal will be a poorer, more unequal, greyer and duller place.
There is just one sliver of silver lining. Fish swim in the canals of Venice, those emerging on the streets of Chinese mega-cities find they can breathe the air and 2020 may be first year in decades when carbon emissions actually fell. So the planet is benefiting form this slow down. And this looks like the final nail in the Thatcher era; we are now firmly back in an era of massive state intervention. For once I think we can use the World War II analogy without being accused of hyperbole.
One of the things which kept the British people going through the war was the vision of a socialist future. Soldiers carried with them the reports which would form the basis of the welfare state. I believe that our challenge as the Labour Party is to create that vision for this modern time. Our entire set of policies, wonderful though they were, are now outdated and outmoded. We need to think deeply about what a socialist and green programme looks like in the post-virus world.
We are a small party in one part of the country, but we would like to play our part in this process. If any member would like to write a short essay about their vision for a socialist post-virus future please send them to us and firstname.lastname@example.org and we will aim to post up at least one article a week for debate and discussion.