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Thursday, March 26, 2020

What will post-virus Britain look like?

Nobody has a crystal ball of course, but there is an excellent article by Martin Kettle on the Guardian website that is worth reading. He argues that we need to anticipate a change in public mood once the COVID-19 crisis is over. His concluding paragraphs are worth quoting in full:

Everyone in these debates could use a bit of humility and a dose of open-mindedness. That’s true on both sides. It’s true for all of us. The right has been forced to relearn the prime importance of the state as guarantor in a period of emergency. It is having to accept the state’s irreducible responsibility to the most vulnerable. It has also, perhaps, learned that what a health service can achieve reflects the investment that has been made in it, although no health service anywhere has been or could have been fully prepared.

But the left has lessons to learn too. Many of the takeaways from the Covid-19 crisis may seem obvious. But what is true during a crisis is not necessarily true or desirable when the crisis is over. The NHS needs whatever it takes in a crisis, but at other times health service spending is as long as a piece of string and there has to be a cut-off point, if only to allow spending elsewhere. The borrowing that may or may not save the economy from recession in a crisis will also have to be paid for when the crisis is over. People may trust Johnson with powers they would not want Jeremy Corbyn to possess.

We are sailing in the dark towards an unknown future. Britain’s mood after the first world war and the flu pandemic has been described by the historian Richard Overy as “the morbid age”. It was, Overy says, an era of fear and paranoia about a dystopian future. Few put their faith in traditional politics. Britain after the second was very different. “Never again” was its more optimistic motto. No one can say which of these moods, or what other mood, is likely after the Covid-19 pandemic . Instead of insisting that the pandemic confirms everything we thought beforehand, it would be better to start thinking about all the unwelcome changes that the pandemic may bring in the decade to come.

Things may never be the same again.
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