The corona-virus pandemic has shone a bright light on our society, illuminating all that makes our society great, and where we have been let down by our leaders. Labour members nationwide will regret that it took a global pandemic to prove what we already knew. That there is such a thing as a society, and despite claims that privatisation produces better services, when the chips were down all the moguls gave us were pleas for bailouts. We must use this crisis to fundamentally re-examine what it is we have taken for granted. Let’s not only discuss this government’s daily stratagems, let’s think about the morals and lessons that underpin the thinking of the government itself.
A government’s first duty is to keep its citizens safe, yet a defence budget of £38bn failed entirely to protect us from the virus. Tens of thousands dead and an economy in tatters should force us to reconsider what we are being defended from, and how? Perhaps a smaller but better trained military, with money saved spent on developing our soft influence, is preferable. We can see in authoritarian states such as China, Hungary and Iran that government-controlled media minimises crises, stalls reaction and creates whirlwinds that the planet reaps months later. Should part of our defence budget be used to disrupt propaganda efforts of repressive regimes on the basis that in our interconnected world, they endanger us all?If speculation about the Russian online disinformation campaign in the 2016 US presidential election is accurate, it cost Putin less than the price of a single fighter-jet, yet we are silent. This country already has the greatest international broadcaster the world has ever seen, so why not give the BBC World Service more money to tell the story of the Uighur Muslims or the corruption at the top of the Russian government? We endlessly complain that our discourse is being filled with disinformation, yet the Johnson administration posed as online fact checkers to try and trick voters and Johnson speeches were doctored to remove reference to how many hospitals he had promised to build. Our government often stoops to the quick fix of a lie, disregarding the damage done to our international reputation.
Domestically, we are living through a time of true economic upheaval. It is unlikely that any of us who sit in offices will return to an unchanged workplace. Why aren’t we reacting to the workplace challenges of AI and home-working for the next decade? We must rethink work and training. The government should reinvest in the Open University, one of the outstanding creations of a Labour Government, that can provide our country with tools to allow us each to be more in control of our destinies. Vast parts of the country have been criminally neglected for decades and the government builds the North a train to London in response. Yet we starve a famous decentralised university system that could give those communities education, value and the ability to “level up” their own prospects.
If we return to business as usual after this crisis, some may feel it a triumph – but it will be a trap. This suffering will have been for nothing.
by Olly Longworth, Co-Ward Political Education Officer, Highbury West