We won’t return to the way things were. New patterns of living, working and learning are becoming familiar. New skills are being learned, and obstacles overcome. Some businesses are prospering, but many are struggling to survive, and a lot won’t make it. In future it will be impossible to plan holidays and leisure activities as we used to. The profound economic and social changes we are facing are bound to have political and psychological consequences, and we will not be able to avoid the thought that it could all happen again. A theoretical threat has become a practical reality.
Individually, locally, nationally and globally, we face an unpredictable and challenging situation. At every level, choices are being made that will shape our future. It may seem to be largely a question of damage limitation, but in reality it is far more than that. New opportunities are presenting themselves that would never have arisen but for the virus. Already, some people are actively finding ways of making money or increasing influence at the expense of others, but fraudsters and opportunists should not be the only ones looking for ways to take advantage of the situation. We all have a responsibility to think about the kind of future we want beyond Covid-19.
The wider context needs to be taken into account. Globally, we were already facing the prospect of catastrophic climate change, and nationally, the economic consequences of Brexit. A vast amount is already being written about how to cope with all this. Here are a few preliminary thoughts about what our objectives should be and how they might be implemented.
First, “big government” is clearly here to stay. The challenges are too great and too profound to be left to market forces or voluntary effort to sort out. The resources of society as a whole must be marshaled to meet the need, and that requires strong government leadership and direction, particularly in achieving carbon neutrality, with all the changes in energy use that will entail.
We cannot afford to leave politics, which is, in the end, the way government functions, in the hands of a rich and powerful elite. They will inevitably want to protect their own interests, while the poor will suffer most as a result of the changes that have to be made. Broad political engagement and greater respect for our politicians should be encouraged as widely as possible, through the revitalisation of politics at the local level, Parliamentary and electoral reform at the national level and the maintenance of high standards of integrity in public life.
We are all in this together, globally and nationally. Sacrifices and adjustments will have to be made by everyone, and the burden should not fall disproportionately on already vulnerable people, whether they live in our own country and abroad. The scandal of inequality must be addressed by reducing the privileges of the already advantaged, sharing the world’s resources more fairly and helping the marginalised believe they have genuine stake in society. More determined efforts must be made to build justice and freedom where they are lacking, and organisations that promote these aims should receive the funding they need to do their job.
These are broad, wide-ranging objectives. If we are to move towards achieving them, institutions and practices of every kind need to be involved, and a change of attitude towards what it means to live well in the the world of tomorrow is required. I am not sure that even Covid-19 has been enough to make that move a substantial one, but it has, I hope, given us a nudge in the right direction. We all need to do our bit to try and make sure that this does not end up being a series of superficial economic measures trying and get us back to where we were. We must not waste the opportunity Covid-19 has given us to take a radical look at ourselves and our future on earth.
Peter Shepherd (May 2020)