14th October 2020
by Harmony Party UK founder & general secretary John Urquhart
Distance learning. Emergency UBI. State interventions to prevent economic hardship – for all of society. We could be discussing these things as a society, as a country – making real advances on how to approach this deepening crisis. We could go really radical – and call a moratorium on debt & rent for the duration, to ensure nobody is set back by conditions outside their control, and the country is ready to emerge from the crisis bold & strong.
But we’re not.
We’re instead witnessing a disturbing national conversation around who is worthy of saving.
The answers to this question is answered by our own supposed values. It is illegal in this country to allow someone to die when you can intervene, reasonably, to save them. That is called manslaughter.
It is further widely held that everyone deserves access to medical treatment when sick; that we also require interventions before people get sick is, too, widely held. We call that “the National Health Service”, and we call it “public health”.
Our values as a nation are clearly enshrined in the way we have built our society: no one should be left behind, which is why we have a welfare safety net, regardless of how well we implement that net.
We agree, as a society, that no-one should die unhelped and that it is a tragedy when they do, which is why if you call an ambulance, you are not expected to prove you weren’t likely to die in the next week anyway before you board it.
Teachers are as important as anyone else. The elderly and disabled are as important as everyone else. Workers are as important as everyone else, no matter what they earn. And yes: the consideration of everyone’s mental health is important, but it always was, not merely during an outbreak. And ultimately, the argument based on mental health? That is an argument for more interventions by our society to support itself, not fewer, because the longer the crisis looms, the deeper the metaphorical demons will burrow. The greater the loss, the graver the grief.
If we take care of each other, our mental health need not suffer. If we take care of each other, people need not die in large – or even medium – numbers. If we listen to our basic sense of fairness, as a nation, I think the way forward is clear, and always has been clear.
The people matter more than the economy. The economy exists to service us, not vice versa. As such, if the economy is not serving us – as is the case during a pandemic, where the human cost of operating it is greater than the return of its operation – then the wise choice is to pause it. The economy, like our entire civilization, like our daily lives, stands upon social contacts.
The difficult thing is that the pandemic does too.
Are some of the choices we must make really difficult?
I say no: for the choices should not be difficult. The implementation? Certainly!
Implementing remote learning for children has significant barriers to overcome if we are to ensure that no children are unfairly treated. But overcoming barriers is what we supposedly pride ourselves, as a nation, on doing. Should we cease from effort because the going has gotten tough? Absolutely not. I don’t think that’s who we are. Do you?
And yes: I do know it will be hard to live through an economic pause such as the one I advocate for.
I myself have been in isolation – out of an abundance of caution for my community, not myself, I have already had the virus but simply do not wish to spread it should I encounter it again – for over 200 days.
And I have been housebound before, as a disabled human, and if anything, that only raises the difficulty. Do I want to resume being trapped? No, of course not! Do I understand how hard it would be for you, for your friends, for your family? Yes, I’m living it right now.
But if we do it right now, if we act now and take just forty to eighty days… that might be all the remaining cost. All that’s needed to buy us the time needed to force the virus to dead-end in the population, to force the numbers down to zero, or very close to. And then we are just a hair’s width from the normality we all crave. Old acquaintances shall be renewed, on the other side of that hardship we will all share, together.
I tell you: it is not insurmountable. It is highly achievable.
For together, we can get through this. We do not need leadership for that. We simply need resolve.
Stand together. Stand fast. Stand for your community.
The only way to break the chain of infection is to reduce social contact. The best way to do that is to reduce social contacts. Workplaces are places where social contact are mandatory; schools are places where social contact is unavoidable; hospitality is an industry based purely on social contacts.
These things are integral to our society – and they will be once we win this fight.
But some of them will need to be rebuilt if we wait much longer.
We must act now. We must act together.
Any more dithering will be fatal.