Coronavirus: Covid-19


It seems only right that I should write this from a UK perspective. This is indeed one of those rare events, so world encompassing that every nation will be telling their own story of struggle against the virus, that there is really no need to put it into any other perspective. I will consider this economically – I believe the most sudden and major impact this virus has had, has been how governments have responded to it fiscally. To state the situation in the UK as unique would be an exaggeration when looked upon in the macroeconomic sense, and when compared with other G7 Nations, but the UK has taken to the extremes in some regards…

On the one hand, Brexit negotiations (called off momentarily because several chief negotiators have contracted Covid) were a means for the Conservative party orthodoxy to drag the UK into an independent regulatory sphere and in doing away with the “red tape” embark on the sort of laissez faire style state capitalism we so often associate with the United States. The sceptics of this project, myself one of them, saw this as an extension of deep rooted Conservative ideas that have prospered in UK politics since the 1980s.

I’m going to quote one of Margeret Thatcher’s most famous speeches here, and this should explain why the announcements from the government last week were particularly surprising:

I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing!

Speech to Conservative Party Conference (9 October 1987)

Some commentators have indicated the UK response to Covid-19 reflects the wider influence of the socially democratic responses in line with European ideology, but general decision making since Thatcher’s election in 1979 with regards to the economy had been to further privatisation and neoliberalism. This pattern, minus only a few examples, became the model for much of the world following the end of the Cold War.

The Cameron Ministry initially elected in coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010 also followed this mantra imposing heavy cuts of emergency services, the courts, the armed forces and the NHS, and in ten years dramatically changing the social nature of the UK and prompting both reactionary and progressive sentiments against these changes.

Following the resignation of Sajid Javid as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak was appointed on the 13th February 2020. On the 11th of March, he announced his first budget, detailing some modest budget increases. Already at this stage, there were rumours Coronavirus may prompt a recession further down the line. Less than a week later the orthodoxy was in meltdown, as the scale of the Coronavirus pandemic became obvious, world governments were coming to realise this would take all of their efforts and everything in their fiscal power. £300 billion was announced in the form of government- backed loans for businesses and an extension of business rates relief as emergency measures against the pandemic. Three days later, he announced further measures including a commitment to pay 80% of the salary for staff unable to work, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month, if their employer retained them on their payroll. This was the first time a British government had created such an employee retention scheme.

The announcement means, in essence and at least for a short time, the government has nationalised the entire UK economy, under a Conservative government. In the UK, the impossible really has been achieved. On the social front, another impossibility – a future discussion of the future of the UK, beyond Brexit. The debate now seems parochial and backwards, already a feature of an old world.

I will conclude this with final sentiment from Harold Macmillan who served as Prime Minister between 1957 and 1963, in his most famous quote (although he never uttered it) but so often is attributed to him, has been brought to light again in the media with regards to the current crisis.

A journalist asks him “what is most likely to blow governments of course?”

His reply:

“Events, dear boy, events.”

Author: Ross Mackay
The writer is a journalist on Middle Eastern affairs, defence and social relations based in Portsmouth, UK. He is also a novelist and travel writer with an interest in Islamic cultural heritage, cultural evolution and social development

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