Where should the Coronavirus Leave us? | Jack Downes
Nearly four years ago now, in June 2016, this country held a referendum on whether or not it should maintain its membership of the European Union. It voted to leave. Since 2016, even up to this day, the country has not considered what its steps should be after we truly leave at the end of this year. Despite what the Conservative party might say, the victory of the Leave campaign did not hinge around the protectionist economic policies of the EU, nor the opportunity for the country to be dominated by other global powers. No, the victory of the leave campaign was a cry from the British public that they were ready for change, no longer did they want to be a part of internationalist projects, they were ready to put our country, the United Kingdom, first.
This message has fallen on deaf ears in the years since. At the 2019 Conservative Party Conference, I asked many MPs what they thought about increased integration with CANZUK (Canada, New Zealand and Australia). Most gave tepid non-answers, but Jacob Rees-Mogg, whom many Social Conservatives revere, gave the most alienating answer. In front of a room of people, he said that we must not get “overly sentimental” about our links to the Commonwealth, that there is a bottomless international market for us to get involved with, and that we must become a “global Britain”. Nonsense.
Now, here we are in 2020, with the Coronavirus Pandemic slowly beginning to take its toll on everyday life here in Britain, but the anxieties of the people are only growing. Panic is spreading across the country, and the shelves of supermarkets (which I grew up thinking were just an endless supply of foodstuffs) are running empty. This is something that we have been told time and time again by Neoliberals, only happens in Socialist regimes! Well, now it’s happening here. So, where does that leave us?
Advocates for the government are very quick to pounce upon any criticism of the government’s policy towards the pandemic, or the policies that brought it here, and declare it a ‘politicisation’ of the pandemic, which should be treated with total bipartisanship and unity.
Well, perhaps it is. As far as I’m concerned, if there is an ideology that brought us to this point, it is one’s moral duty to speak against said ideology and the government’s that implemented it. Well, there is an ideology that brought it here: Neoliberalism. The loosening of our markets and of our borders, of our societal cohesion, is what brought the pandemic to this country. Nobody serious is opposing the argument that the Chinese government is responsible for the initial outbreak, but, were it not for our total reliance on China, and our ideological dedication to free market capitalism, the Coronavirus would not be in the position it is to ravage our country.
So, where do we go? Foremost, nobody is calling for the navy to be deployed to the Channel, and to sink any ship with all its people and goods; nobody wants Autarky by the 1st of April. But, it is now obvious to anyone looking that Neoliberalism is not sustainable. Our country needs to take a serious reversal in its economic policy, not just during this crisis, but well into the future. We need to seriously consider the ways in which we can limit our reliance on the international community. We should not be relying on China for any of our goods. They are a rising power, and a hostile regime, and thus, the supply of their Goods cannot be guaranteed. If we ignore this, we are asking for our supply chains to be crippled once again. The motor industry for example, some of the last factories we have here, are on their last legs. Reliance on China will see them gone for good. Diversification of where we source our goods is not good enough. We need radical government economic intervention (even the establishment of state owned corporations if necessary) to begin producing goods here again.
Many see automation as a curse that looms on the horizon, poised to seize huge swathes of employment. That doesn’t have to be the case. If labour in Asian markets is so cheap, let us be at the forefront of automation, using it to restore the British industrial base; bringing in real value to our economy (not just artificial money-moving), and upgrading the quality of work (and their wages) of our workforce. If private corporations are hesitant, the state must make up the shortfalls of investment; if it does not already contribute the majority of the spending.
If the state can generate its own wealth independent of taxation, it is the British people that will see the benefits, maintaining the world-class quality of our services, as well as keeping more money in our pockets. Leaving our economy in the hands of private interests has not worked. It’s time for something new.
So, no. I reject the “Global Britain” that the Conservative Party spoke so fondly of. Creating it would only intensify the policies that brought us to dependence on the rest of the world, would only make worse the next economic crash. We have leased our country’s wings to a party that has flown too close to the sun. Now, Britain’s wings are melting, and we must find a party, a statesman, to put her interests in front of the interests of the international business class. The right people exist inside the Conservative Party, we just have to bring them to the forefront.
Photo by Wendell on Flickr.