My favourite tweet of recent days mused: “Mind blowing how some boy in China ate a bat and it eventually led to the postponement of Elgin v Brechin City”.
Apart from being funny, which we need, it contained an essential element of truth. We live in a small, inter-connected world and rarely consider the fragility of the edifice on which all our assumptions are based.
There has been nothing like this in my lifetime. But if, as a society, we emerge having learned no lessons, the conceit of invulnerability undisturbed, then it will all have been for nothing.
The first obvious one is about the power of the state as a force for good. We are ritually conditioned to denigrate state spending and enterprise as if they were fifth-rate impediments to the genius of the private sector.
Yet at the first whiff of grapeshot, it is the state which must intervene – massively as only it can. Titans of capitalism emerge from their tax havens to demand public money. How much of their personal fortunes will they contribute?
The state can only do its job if, on an ongoing basis, it is properly funded. The pretence you can have a low-tax economy which provides high quality services and is prepared for all eventualities should never be allowed to recover.
One relic of the crisis I would like to see preserved is the list of “essential occupations”. It includes the caring professions, the educators, those who maintain essential services, produce our food, stack the shelves we are so desperate to empty.
The list does not include hedge fund managers, PR consultants or breakfast TV presenters. Yet this pyramid of social dependence is in sharply inverse proportion to the one of financial recompense.
Not everything has changed since Mary Brooksbank wrote her great Jute Mill Song: “O dear me, the warld’s ill divided/ Them that works the hardest are the least provided…”.
When this is over, let there be greater respect for the people we now so desperately depend on. The guys who empty our bins are an awful lot more useful members of society than Special Advisers who consider themselves masters of the universe. That pecking order should be built upon and reflected in what the “essential services” are paid.
There has been understandable media interest in the daftness of panic buying as an unfortunate reflection of the human condition. Fair enough – but greed takes much more sinister forms and I suggest news values should be adjusted accordingly.
Fortunes are being made by speculators who bet against companies facing a decline in value – and there are plenty of them at present. Pleas from regulators to desist from “shorting” fall on deaf ears because there are fortunes to be made in times like these.
The invaluable Private Eye names a couple of major Tory donors who have made “tens of millions” in recent weeks from such misfortunes. Wouldn’t it be good if as much TV time was devoted to pursuing these miscreants to their doorsteps as on the folly of fighting over toilet-rolls?
I have no quarrel with what Government is doing in the circumstances as they exist. There are no rights or wrongs, only a balance of options to which human judgement – medical or political – must be applied. Good luck to those entrusted with these responsibilities.
But I do object to re-writing history under the cover of a pandemic. Take for instance the nonsensical statement by Ian Blackford MP: “”In the last financial crisis, the banks were bailed out, the ordinary people were not.”
Mr Blackford surely knows the banks were bailed out because – due to the crazy irresponsibility of his fellow bankers – ordinary people’s savings were about to be lost, ATMs were within hours of not paying out and the financial system was about to grind to a halt.
It was indeed “ordinary people” who were bailed out at that time. Perhaps Mr Blackford and I can agree that the subsequent failure to punish bankers who had endangered the ordinary people was, and remains, a public scandal. Perhaps and perhaps not.
LET’S FORGET ABOUT BREXIT DEADLINES FOR NOW
Throughout the country, businesses face enormous uncertainty. With half the economy closed down, those which continue to trade worry about how they will survive.
Government assistance is, of course, vital. But how far will it go? How long will all this last? Will customers be able to pay for goods, and if so when? How will exports be shipped to markets with borders closed?
The questions are endless and definitive answers in much shorter supply. Nobody knows how long it is going to take and Government cannot be blamed for that.
It can, however, be blamed for adding to that massive uncertainty. Can it really be true that in the midst of all this, they are ploughing on towards a December 31st deadline for EU negotiations with “no deal” the fall-back option?
Is it really conceivable that businesses which survive the crisis and come blinking into the autumn sunlight, if we are lucky, are immediately to be faced with another dose of Brexit uncertainty?
I have always accepted the referendum result and Government’s right to act upon it. But this is entirely different. It would be an act of statesmanship to say now that the Brexit negotiations are on hold until all this is over, with no fixed deadlines in place.
On the other constitutional front, I note a portentous statement from Michael Russell that “the Scottish Government has paused work on preparing for an independence referendum this year…It follows from this that a referendum will not take place this year.”
In a reciprocal gesture, I have paused plans to holiday on the moon this year. Indeed, I will shelf them indefinitely in order to concentrate on more important matters.