What is going to come out of all this? First, obviously, a thorough enquiry into the UK Government’s handling of the Coronavirus crisis, which ought to make it unelectable for many more years – but probably won’t. We’ve seen recently how insidious and powerful the forces of Reaction are, and how easily the democracy can be fooled.
Otherwise the best that people are hoping for seems be that things return to ‘normal’; but that’s unlikely, and in any case would be undesirable, in view of the fact that pre-Coronavirus ‘normality’ wasn’t, by most rational ways of looking at it, ‘normal’ at all. The whole history of Britain over the past 50 or so years has revealed scales of inequality, corruption, personal ineptitude and constitutional disfunction that no-one devising a society rationally, or a government that serves its citizens fairly, would contemplate for a moment. Part of the reason for that, of course, is that our system has evolved, over the centuries, rather than being properly planned and embodied in a written constitution; with all the untoward and undesirable features that evolution so often entails. (Look at wasps.) Not that written constitutions are necessarily more reliable. (Look at the WASPish USA.)
When we’re able to return to the drawing-board, if that day ever comes, there are certain major changes that will have to be made. Here are a couple. (I’ll add more at a later date.)
One is a thorough rescue effort for the National Health Service, whose inadequacies have been so bleakly revealed by the Coronavirus crisis; most of them caused by Tory underfunding and privatisation. They have also been exacerbated by the Conservatives’ immigration policies, at the behest of the Brexiters, which are depleting the numbers of overseas medical, nursing and care staff upon whom the NHS disproportionately depends, and whose literal sacrifices – of their lives – for the health of the nation are now well known. The NHS has been shown to be – as we always knew it was – the British institution most loved and championed by the general population. From now on there can be no more Osborneian financial decimation, and no more talk – even – of privatisation. The rich, and the not-so-rich but pretty comfortably off, must have the taxes squeezed out of them to restore the NHS to what Nye Bevan’s ideal for it always was. The health of the people should be regarded as a basic responsibility of government, not to be hived off to profiteers like the tax-dodging Richard Branson. (The cheek of the man – asking now for the government to bale out his airline!) Putting Branson’s nose out of joint will probably get any government bold enough to do it widespread popular support.
Secondly, we must take a look at the kind of people we are choosing to govern us. In my view, if they are to represent the people, they must have done ‘proper’ jobs before coming into Parliament. Writing opinion pieces for newspapers isn’t a proper job. Most of the journalists who rise high in politics today have merely commented on the world of those who do have proper jobs. They’re often just down from Oxbridge, and without having worked at anything more practical and serious in their young lives. Their main political experience – I’m talking of the Tories now; Labour has its own limitations in this regard – has been through Public school and university debating societies, which invariably value style over substance. All the laurels go to the (supposed) ‘wits’. (I know; I was at Cambridge.) Superficial ‘wit’ can then serve them well in national politics, as we’ve learned from the example of the clown we now have at the head of us. I have nothing against Public school Old Boys coming into government; but their Public school and Oxbridge education can’t be the sum total of the experience they bring with them. It wasn’t in Clement Attlee’s case, for example, who by virtue of his service after Haileybury in the First World War – rather more distinguished than Churchill’s: he rose through the ranks – and his immersion in social work thereafter, qualified him to be Prime Minister far more highly than Boris. There has to be a process for screening the Johnsons and Goves out. How that can be done, short of abolishing the Public schools entirely, could be the subject of another State Commission.
Then there’s our electoral system, on which I’ve already pontificated (see https://bernardjporter.com/2016/02/29/first-past-the-post/); the press; education; the peculiar nature of present-day capitalism; women’s rights; and a few other things, on which I intend to pontificate later on. (Watch this space.) It has all got to change. People usually equate ‘normality’ with what they’ve been used to. But there are other and better normalities than – for example – the Blair-Cameron consensus we used to live under. Living in Sweden as I do I’m particularly aware of that. Sweden may not be a perfect model for Britain – I don’t think it is; but it shows that other normalities are possible.
Either main party could achieve this. The Tories have changed their spots before now, usually in the interests of survival. But Labour, if it can resume the habit of winning, would obviously be the best bet.