Building on his piece, ‘Will defeating COVID-19 lead to a radical inclusive politics?’, Kieran Breen, CEO of Leicestershire Cares, writing in a personal capacity, wonders whether the pandemic opens the door to a renaissance of the public spirit. It’s important to read his sweeping historical overview as the basis for the proposals outlined below.
We now have an opportunity to create a moment like in 1945, when after World War Two, people wanted to create a country fit for heroes. This led to the creation of the NHS and a whole raft of social policies that benefited the people who had fought and won the war. I would suggest the areas and issues we need to look at would include:
1. A proactive, efficient, enabling state that creates a partnership between the state, business and community so they work together for the good of us all. Health, education and housing should be top of the agenda.
2. Recognising that whilst it is good to have a sense of individuality, we are all social beings and we are all socially constructed. So, we need to develop a society that encourages and welcomes an inclusive “collective spirit” where we all recognise we have rights to be free but a responsibility to look after each other.
3. Promoting tax as an essential insurance, not a burden, that guarantees we have an enabling state that provides us with services and ensures we are housed, educated, kept healthy and safe and our rights are protected by rule of law.
4. We need to ensure the rich and powerful pay their tax and globally we need to seek to work to close tax loopholes and ban tax free havens.
5. We need protection for those who cannot work, living wages and decent conditions for those who can.
6. We need to get rid of “us” and “them” structures. One health system and one education system for all would be a good start. Surely all people require the same treatment. After this pandemic I am pretty sure people would put a front line nurse ahead of a merchant banker or PR guru in the queue for a hospital bed.
7. Our social, youth and community services need to reconnect with their “collective” roots. Many of the issues people face grow out of inequality and living and growing up in poverty. People need to be encouraged to explore why it is that on their estate there is lack of opportunity and develop the skills and knowledge to challenge and change that. Person centred therapeutic approaches have a place but have swamped these professions. Sometimes people need to get angry not mindful and to be shown how to harness that in a positive way to bring about change for themselves and others.
8. A “together” politics and “society” requires a “we” leadership. We need to see a diversity of people in leadership positions. Political parties need to stop parachuting apparatchiks into safe seats. We need local politicians who have lived in the area, had “real life” experience beyond think tanks, media and degrees in PPE.
9. Business needs to step up the move to have diverse boardrooms, their vison and missions must deliver social value and this should be an accountable area of operation that is audited.
10. Community groups need to engage in three – way discussions with government and business and must be prepared to learn from them as well as share their opinions. They also need to look at their own operations and ask how accountable they are to the people they claim to represent They need to question their own operations, have they become self-perpetuating oligarchies that stifle new voices and innovation?
11. Equality and environment must be at the centre of any plans we come up with.
Our pubs, restaurants and town centres are closed. The shelves in our supermarket our empty, our NHS is at breaking point and our PM tells us bluntly thousands are going to die. Yet people are not rolling over in despair and giving up. The huge outpouring of collective action has shown we never really stopped being a “together” society, we just forgot we had it in us to collectively share and tackle problems. So now that powerful genie is out of the bottle, we must work with it to create a better Britain and world for all.