Sunday Blog 32: Tough Times Are Coming

We can all remember the good humour of millions coming onto balconies and front gardens to clap in support of the NHS week after week. There was enthusiasm, and a sense of unity of a very special kind. Yet, as the virus now surges once more, there is an alarming mixture of anger, confusion, disagreement and a sense of being let down.  Because the virus has not been ‘beaten’ in spite of the massive economic, social and emotional costs, together with the biggest price of all, over 40,000 deaths of loved  ones. Underlying everything there is a current of fear. Not just for health but for jobs, businesses, careers and futures at every level.

The government appears indecisive and confused, no longer united, and at odds with many leaders of local and regional government. The science too seems to vary because of continuing weaknesses in the format of modelling favoured by the Whitehall machine. None of this will be resolved quickly, but I think I detect a shift of what might be called Covid power from the Whitehall centre to the regions, where local government and medical structures are increasingly at grips with the challenges of the pandemic. The failures of central contract tracing, in spite of the scale of testing, are the most high profile examples of how local authorities, given resources and data, can do better.

This will leave the central government held accountable for the economic impact of whatever is coming, the remedies to prop up the economy  and the plan to build recovery upon investment in new industries, retraining, infrastructure and affordable housing. Entangled in all that will be Brexit and the outcome of the US presidential election in November. The outcome overall will be that somehow we will muddle through. No victories, no moment when anything is over. Just stiff upper lip and get on as best we can. We are rather too good at that. It really is time we did better.

It is now over ten years since the great financial crash was brought about by over inflation, over borrowing and over trading in property assets, while neglecting the creation of new basic wealth. In the UK we still have an economy heavily reliant on and driven by house price inflation, high personal borrowing, shopping and eating out. This is not sustainable. In the end it will be the government’s, indeed any government’s, ability to rectify this which will determine whether the rising generation in particular and the nation in general, have a future worth looking forward to.

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