CULC Campaigns Officer Stephen Hughes gives his insight into the political ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, and why he thinks Labour should already be focused on a post-corona world.
It's all a bit crazy really isn't it? I'm old enough to remember a time when moving the House of Lords to York was the story in British politics. To say things have changed in the intervening period would be an under-statement. Seven billion people's health linked together like never before, fiscal rulebooks ripped up and the ever chameleon like Piers Morgan coming out to bat for the NHS. After five weeks in lockdown, we can only hope that we are through the worst of COVID with regards to loss of life. The mantra in those weeks, particularly amongst students and those of us on the left, has been that things can't go back to being business as usual after this crisis. Yet, where it gets even crazier is that things may well not change at all, in fact they may get worse.
Despite the unrelenting cruelty of coronavirus, many of us will have seen firsthand some of the positives to have emerged from lockdown. Cycling is booming, the supposed snowflake generation are volunteering in huge numbers, spending in some local businesses is up, and best of all, Michael Gove is defending experts. Evidently, amidst the profound socioeconomic harm of lockdown, there is also for the first time in living memory a real opportunity for a genuine and wholesale reset. Those who have argued for a Green New Deal, or for a lasting solution to the social care crisis for example, may finally be seeing the Overton Window shift onto favourable ground. Having flattened the curve, the challenge now is to get ahead of it.
This really matters because failure really isn't an option. On a day to day basis, fail to implement bold and innovative solutions on active travel (you've probably guessed I'm a cycling enthusiast) and we risk seeing even more congestion and poor air quality in towns and cities as workers look to avoid crowded public transport. On the battle of ideas, failure to make the case for public investment and progressive taxation will laden already cash strapped local authorities with another round of austerity and accelerate the marketisation of our universities. On an even grander scale, fail to win the argument on international cooperation and solidarity between rich and poor nations, and the Trump-esque slide into populism will only hasten. With COVID only being the curtain raiser for what will be a decade of profound social, economic and environmental shocks around the world, a retreat into national silos now would be the ultimate white flag for any efforts to halt climate change.
So yes, COVID could change our national conversation and priorities for good. But such a change is far from inevitable and given the extent to which social and economic power is entrenched in Britain, there is every chance that the status quo survives unhinged. To succeed then, every sinew of the Labour movement will need to be pulling in the same direction. Coronavirus has the potential to be a blank canvas for the whole world, so too it should be for Labour after years of division and self indulgence. There really is an argument to be won right now as we speak, and it is upon all of us to pull together in order to have the best chance of winning it. The road ahead may be steep, but as Lisa Nandy has said herself, it need not be long.