There can be no question that Covid-19 is changing the world and each individual nation that has been afflicted. No-one knows for certain of how and when the pandemic will end, and I am no virologist or other relevant medical expert, so I will make no predictions on that or when the UK’s lockdown will end. But what comes next? This crisis will end and so we should be, at the very least, starting to think about the future and considering the choices that the recovery process will force us to take.
You could take the views of most people on the Left and actually follow through on their ideology. This would be to take the emergency powers and temporary expansion of the state and not just make them permanent, but to actually go beyond them and increase them at almost every possible level. Many on the Left have been claiming that the expansion of the state and the emergency measures are a vindication of socialism and all that it stands for. However, this is clearly not the case – as has been set out by people such as Christopher Snowdon, Julian Jessop and Kate Andrews – Covid-19 has not proved the value of socialism nor has it proved that capitalism is a failure. The expansion and continuation of the emergency powers would be a swan dive into economic and social oblivion.
Emergency measures are just that, for emergencies, and completely unsustainable in the long term. However, this does not discourage the Left; after all one of their more outrageous suggestions is that they would not need increased police powers or restrictions on civil liberties. As Kristian Niemitz demonstrates in his excellent book, “Socialism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies”, socialism inevitably leads to police states and authoritarianism as socialism is completely unworkable in reality and thus deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of history as the dangerous mistake that it is.
Alternatively, we could have a government that is determined to make the best of this pandemic. A government that wishes to forge a bright new path for the UK out of the crucible of the coronavirus crisis. A government that will take the reset that Covid-19 has created and use it to remove inefficient, ineffective and downright daft regulations and policies. The government must also be ready to make the hard choices that will allow it to recover from this period of radically increased borrowing; preferably through a return to sound fiscal rules and embracing a new freer world for business and individuals.
Emergency measures are necessary, to protect the country and its people, but we must look to the future and the massively increased fiscal debt we have incurred. As soon as possible we must return to safeguarding the economic future of this country. These measures must end and will end; we must have a plan in place to get the economy moving again. Moreover, we need a structured withdrawal of these support measures so that we have not gone through the pain of lockdown just for the economic house of cards to tumble down in our haste to deem the crisis behind us. The IFS has estimated that we will have increased the budget deficit to £200bn or more by the end of this pandemic. It is my hope that we can return to the road to a budget surplus, but we should not underestimate some of the hard choices that may have to be made.
But what might this look like? What policies could the government implement or continue that would deliver on this? Firstly, the government could introduce sensible measures that will help businesses get back onto their feet in the short-term and then thrive in the longer term. This package could include turning the current business rates suspension into a permanent part of the UK offer to business and saving each one as much as £25,000. Another sensible policy that could be brought in, is finally doing away with Sunday trading rules. These rules are restrictive at the best of times and now, in this time of crisis, we are able to see clearly the benefits of allowing more time for shoppers. It would increase footfall and taxpayer spending, flexibility for those on atypical hours – such as our hardworking doctors and nurses – and would require those businesses that wish to take advantage of a liberalised Sunday to hire more staff – thus helping combat unemployment.
Finally, and no less important, I hope that this may be the final straw that breaks our pandering to communist China. We cannot continue to do business as usual, for instance the Huawei 5G deal – with a country that is responsible for two deadly viral pandemics both originating from their system of ‘wet’ markets. A country that deliberately distorted and covered up the truth of the virus; its deadly nature and its ability to spread from human to human. Moreover, how can we be standing idly by as China actively persecutes and cleanses minority groups like the Uighurs. Our dealings with China should be a national disgrace and a source of shame.