What is becoming clear is that when this health crisis is finally over, the trail of economic destruction and social deprivation it leaves behind will continue to rip through our communities and impact lives for many years to come.
Just as every published Covid -19 death is a visible tragedy, there are hundreds of thousands more hidden tragedies playing out in high streets and households across the country – businesses gone, relationships soured, jobs and livelihoods shattered, children ignored, futures lost.
The crisis has thrown the Government’s policy programme and priorities up in the air. It changes everything. How we choose to rebuild our economy and repair our society over the coming years will now consume every government department and require thousands of political choices.
Our role as the official opposition is to shape those choices, to fight for policy decisions that reduce inequality, rebalance our economy and ensure social justice. The full horror of this crisis is still unfolding, what we think about it, not yet written, and we must not allow Johnson and Cummings to bully and bluster to gloss over the facts. As the mistakes and miscalculations of this government are exposed and the public mood inevitably changes, we must be ready to shape a new political consensus with the British people.
The country has been through a collective trauma and will come out blinking on the other side feeling different, with a fresh perspective on what really matters in the world around them. They will have understood the true value of an active state, seen the power of reconnected communities, and felt the legacy of austerity, and of under-investment and fragmentation of our public services. This is firmly Labour territory and, with a new leader and renewed focus, we now have an opportunity to not just challenge government, but to shape the policy environment through effective opposition nationally and local implementation of Labour values where we are in power.
We must set clear benchmarks against which the country should judge this government, and define the terms of their success in a way that we have failed to do for a generation. We must put our key values at the heart of our opposition and show the British people that the Labour party has listened and changed. There is lots of work to do, many discussions to have. Yes, we need to be working constructively during the crisis, but we must also be planning for the return of ‘normal’ combative politics.
Let’s capture this new sense of camaraderie, the we’re all in it together mentality, to build a renewed case for more equal distribution of wealth and opportunity in UK. If we can, we will ensure that the burden of our economic recovery does not fall disproportionately on the poor (as it has done over the last decade). We know that the instincts of the traditional Tory right will see them under pressure to embark on market driven, private sector recovery, with spending restraint at its core. Austerity with knobs on. We must show, to coin Keir Starmer’s slogan, that “Another future really is possible”.
Let’s build a new consensus about the role and value of the State. People will remember that it wasn’t the banks, tech giants, or outsourcers, that stepped in to pay wages when the virus hit. It was the State leading a collaboration with the voluntary and private sector to build hospitals in days and coordinate a critical national effort, to protect us all. We need to make a new case for a for a strong state with well developed partnerships locally and nationally as the best way to build a better fairer Britain.
Let’s strengthen those fledgling community networks, reconnect fragmented communities and work together street by street to enable greater community cohesion. Let’s restate the need for localism and devolution and empower these communities to shape their own destiny. Working with local government led partnerships to support the vulnerable, and create places that reflect local character and priorities.
Let’s change the way we talk to business, celebrate and applaud those that did the right thing. The ones that stood by their staff and their customers, and let’s work with them in partnership to rebuild the economy and regain their trust.
Let’s build our networks, and embrace this new found familiarity with technology to connect with new groups and organisations outside of the traditional Westminster policy bubble. Let’s seek out new opinions, shine a light on new ideas and best practice, and ensure that no-one gets left behind and no community or section of the economy feels unheard.
And finally, please, let’s embrace experts again. This crisis has necessitated the need for action backed by research, evidence and factual analysis. Let’s hope fact free populist politicking can be left back in 2019.
It’s time for Labour to build a new political consensus with the British people. Let’s begin.
Emily Wallace is a freelance strategic communications consultant and the Vauxhall CLP Policy Officer