This self-employed guy runs his business and described himself as “right of centre”. A good man running a good business. He shared his views. Bits of the conversation warmed my heart about his concern for the community. Bits worried me.
What worried me was his hindsight analysis of what the Government should have done as the virus developed worldwide. He considered that we closed the borders too late. Well, I was in Oz when the call was made; well before Australia. I had been in lockdown for 10 days before everybody else. The call was actually made early and quite clearly. Then we all locked down. His hindsight was actually incorrect.
What worries me is that there will now be political debate at the level of “they were too slow”. “They don’t know about the economy”. “They were foolish to …” fill in your space.
We should not allow hindsight to paint our national response as anything other than fantastic. There do need to be changes made. Like I would like the PM to go back and sack the Health Minister. His behaviour was disgraceful. It probably is also time for a shake-up in cabinet.
What I have found interesting is the number of people who have been brought in to advise the Government. Normally this is the realm of lobbyists with the Cabinet weighing up between the advice of their bureaucracy and the advice from outside. I hope this style continues. It is very healthy.
What we need right now are the voices from throughout our society influencing the decision making. Forward looking people with different opinions from the norm. It isn’t time to re-invent the past, as Christchurch did post-earthquakes. It’s time to put into the middle of the debate the sort of ideas which were raised by Simon Wilson in the NZ Herald on Friday:
There’s a better way to measure the economic management skills of National and Labour. It’s revealed in their ability to rise to the challenges we face now, which include but are not limited to:
- climate crisis,
- sovereignty and national security,
- building resilient communities,
- the tech revolution,
- creating new economic opportunities,
- reducing inequality and
- making our society both fairer and more just.
And, obviously, strengthening the health system and managing us all through the pain of pandemic recovery.
Labour has not yet demonstrated it can do this. Nor has National. Bring on those rebuild programmes.
So, I found this article in the Guardian quite revelling this week as they discussed the UK. However, the issues raised are just as relevant here:
Conventional wisdom has changed almost overnight. The words “the pandemic has exposed” have become a mantra, as existing fractures (apparent as they were to some of us) are revealed to all. The pandemic exposed our failing healthcare systems; the disparity between the perception of immigrants as a drain and the reality of them as pillars of our communities; the gulf between races and classes; the incompetence of our politicians; the fatal consequences of diminishing public services.
When I read the next bit, I wondered if the parties in our Parliament will rise to the challenges in front of our society:
Even establishment bastions turned against the current political order. The Financial Times wrote that “radical reforms – reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades – will need to be put on the table”. Emily Maitlis looked straight at the BBC Newsnight camera and slated the inequalities of the pandemic. Rightwing governments in Britain and the US scrambled to pay people to stay at home. Surely, all these things point to a revolution.
The rupturing effects of the lockdown appear to be laying the foundations for our new world. “Nature is healing” is now a meme. The air is cleaning itself. As we clap each Thursday, the old hierarchies that defined “skilled” and “unskilled” seem to be dissolving. Some hold out for further changes, anticipating the introduction of low-carbon jobs to replace those lost, or a universal basic income, or rethinking the value of labour altogether.
But observation alone does not bring about transformation. There is a naivety in the hope that once ideas are discussed and made popular, they will permeate policymaking and bring about change. History shows us that, during a period of economic upheaval, this is unlikely. The 2008 financial crisis is the clearest cautionary tale.
In reality, the first thing that happens in a recession tends not to be radical reengineering of the economy. The first impulse is to make a quick calculation: who should be saved and who is dispensable. In the US after the 2008 crash, the banks were recapitalised and the economy stabilised, and 10 million Americans lost their homes. The only factor that mattered was how many people could be lost without disrupting the economy for everyone else.
If the loss of life is at a level deemed acceptable by big business and government, the focus will shift to moving on while minimising the need for change. The old order – that some are already writing eulogies for – will surge back rather than retreating. We will be told that deep-rooted reform is not necessary because this is an unprecedented crisis, an unforeseen event, a once-in-a-lifetime shock.
In the final stages, policies to help the vulnerable launched at the start of the pandemic will be quietly jettisoned. A popular programme to house homeless people in England in hotels was quietly scrapped last week. The homeless returning to the streets will be joined by others sent there by the economic downturn. They will be scapegoated, along with the rest of the dispensable victims.
Who took more than their share in furlough? Who wasn’t alert? A chorus of reactionary voices is already lining up for this task.
None of this inevitable, but it is all likely if we are not vigilant. History shows us that whatever horrors a crisis exposes, they can be covered up in the shattered aftermath. Yes, we must imagine the new world that needs to come out of this crisis: but it will not come to pass without a fight.