What a post-coronavirus society must look like

We must not forget the pillars that have allowed our society to function after this pandemic is over.

While we all long for normality and liberty from the health, social and economic constraints of Cov-19, when this crisis is over – it can no longer be business as usual for this government.

The fallout of this pandemic has shown us as a nation what those on the left have been saying for years: some of our most precious workers are the most undervalued and lowest paid, and the state does – and must – fill a vital role in our society. This is the difference between life and death for communities up and down the UK.

Some have spent decades praising the private sector and unrestrained free market capitalism, but when we’re faced with an existential threat, we turn to the state, to our public services, emergency workers, local authorities and shop workers.

Did we ever envisage a world where a Conservative chancellor would effectively nationalise railways, airlines and even the payrolls of an estimated 9 million workers?

He is not “comrade Rishi” through choice, but because of this life and death national emergency where the market is unable to respond in the way the state supported by the third sector can.

Even Michael Gove has rediscovered the spirit of his NUJ shop steward days, boasting about the influence the TUC has had on shaping the furlough, wage retention scheme and self- employed support packages.

This is not the first time the state has had to aggressively grab the wheel to steer the ship away from the rocks.

Last time was in response to the consequences of unfettered greed in the financial sector – the Credit crunch. A necessary response by the then Labour government that has been loudly criticised by the Tory party since.

Through clever PR from the coalition at the time, the blame for the subsequent chasm in public finances was placed on everyday people who had ‘lived beyond our means’ and ‘maxed out the credit card’, not the bankers who’d gambled their money and lost. As Cameron pleaded with us not to ‘bash the bankers’ those bankers replaced their own money they’d lost with ours, paying themselves bonuses as libraries closed and councils slashed staff numbers.

But this time, when the dust settles, people will be not so willing to accept more endless austerity.

After the second World War the country was financially and physically broken, yet a visionary Labour government did not respond with austerity, it responded with bold state interventions which led to our welfare state and NHS, vital organs of our society on which we are depending on like never before.

After this crisis is over, this Tory government must be equally daring, we in Labour must hold its feet to the fire of justice. It must turn its back on austerity for good and re-evaluate its core belief that ‘private always trumps public’ and ‘markets know best’.

Beyond the State, the other pillar keeping our society going at the moment are our key workers. Our health professionals, care home workers, teachers, shop workers, emergency services, bus drivers. They’ve all had their wages and conditions attacked in recent years.

For too long we’ve valued workers based on their income rather than what they add to society. We now know who adds value and who doesn’t – because we see it every day.

The government can no longer allow attacks on the conditions and pay of these workers. Allowing employers to freeze their pay and attacking the terms and conditions of the very key workers that they then encourage us all to clap every Thursday evening.

This is something Labour’s new leader Kier Starmer has already spoken about. He must and will be true to his word that key workers – both now and beyond the crisis – come first.

With a place for the state, a newfound appreciation for our key workers, and the everyday love and compassion shown by neighbours and strangers in the face of a terrible threat, must all become part of our post Covid19 society. We’ve fought too hard, we can’t go back.

Mike Amesbury is a Labour MP and Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning

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