There has been a significant sea-change in concerns, if not government focus, over the last few days; certainly, in the UK. (See Lord Sumpton’s article below). I believe it’s fair to say that the panic-meter is no longer at its high and folk generally are becoming accepting of certain ‘truths’:
- In the long run, all who can contract the virus will do
- Of these, some will die, some will get unpleasantly sick, most will hardly experience anything
- All governments reacted late.
- Because they reacted late, the issue became a resource-led question, which dictated the requirement of a widely defined lockdown
- in the end, the only true measure of the success of any government’s response will not be deaths per se, but the number of avoidable deaths as a result of poor or inappropriate responses.
As is the right of the electorate, there will be a significant swathe of voters who will want to ‘punish’ their governments for pre-C-19 policies that resulted in their countries ill-preparedness for the pandemic. In the UK’s case this will major on:
- why the government seemingly did not respond to its own 2016 Exercise Cygnus, which more-or-less acknowledged the high possibility of a Coronavirus-type pandemic and foretold its potential effects, if actions were not taken
- the impact of austerity policies on the availability of resources
Critics will also, not unreasonably, wish to correlate the confluence of interests between government and Big Business, especially with reference to profit-led practices such as ‘just-in-time’ supply chains.
However, these are moot points as it is extremely unlikely that there will be a General Election until-2024. Though this will dismay many, on the basis of their ‘leopards never changes their spots’ analyses, I would suggest that government policy for the immediate future will be very different from that which preceded the pandemic. I would argue this on the basis alone of the Conservative government response to the pandemic, which saw a wholesale abandonment of their prior fiscal policy and free-market ideologies. The immediate impact of this response on policies will, I believe, shackle them for quite a considerable time. However, the national pulse will also play a large part in policy making and any suggestion of policies such as broad-based privatisation of the NHS would be, in effect, electoral suicide.
My confidence in the above was supported by a presentation – that I virtually attended on Sunday – given by Norma Cohen, the former FT journalist, on the subject of how the UK government-funded the war effort of 1914-18 and the impact after the war of such funding; a synopsis of which is published in today’s Financial Times.
The analogy that compares the C-19 crisis with a major war situation is very apposite, as both situations mandate a very large disruption of existing economic & social norms. Many commentators have looked at WW2 as a basis of comparison, but Norma believes that WW1 provides grounds for more fertile comparisons as that war & the C-19 Crisis involve the ‘shock of the new’. Similar to our government’s under-appreciation of the gravity of the situation, the then UK PM, Lloyd George’s belief was that the war would be over with by Christmas (1914). This aside, the presentation majored on the significance of the War Loan on the outcome of the war, (the ability of the Allied side to feed its troops and its population cannot be underestimated as a major factor in the eventual victory), and the long-term impact of this funding on the post-war world. Norma estimates that the outstanding 5% War Loan 1929-47 was £2.1 billion at its first maturity date of June 1929. Private econometric calculations for UK GDP (official data did not begin until decades later) in that year was £4,047 billion, and that number was far higher than UK GDP in 1917, the year of issue. The impact of such debt on the Government’s post-WW2 taxation requirements was enormous; as will be current government borrowings when we emerge into a post C-19 world. No way, can any government maintain a ‘small state’ political credo! Post WW1 government had no choice but to tax the wealthy, their estates and the existing major industries. Similar tax demands on incomes, wealth & Big Business are unavoidable. Additionally, after WW1, the working populations’ demands for equitable social policies resulted in the massive programmes that created social housing and public education. Ultimately government policies are dictated by practicalities & public endorsement. I have no doubt that our post C-19 political masters will be responding to the same truths.