Jonathon Shafi: Nothing is going to be the same again – and Common Weal is going to be busier than ever

“This is a system that cannot last and that is destroying the planet’s ecosystem. Now, we face a reckoning. Not just about how we get through the immediate crisis – but about what comes in the aftermath.”

Common Weal Campaigns Officer Jonathon Shafi outlines the scale of the challenge facing us – and how the think tank plans to meet it

THE ENTIRE EDIFICE holding up the economic orthodoxy that has dominated our lives is unravelling and what happens over the coming period will shape what happens after. We are saying there is no going back to ‘normal’: everything must change.

The ongoing pandemic has exposed the economic system root and branch. Austerity has been ruinous for our services and infrastructure; even before the Coronavirus crisis, it led to deaths and impoverishment, all while trust funds and Cayman Islands accounts got fatter. And now, a decade of cuts mean that our capacity to deal with the virus is enfeebled.

The kicker? None of it was necessary. For decades, we have been taken for fools and treated with contempt. A deliberate process of transferring power and wealth into the hands of a tiny number of people relative to the population has resulted in an alienated society, propped up by crumbling infrastructure and intoxicated with cheap credit and hyper-financialisaton.

As James K. Galbraith, adviser to the Democracy in Europe Movement aptly puts it: “Very simply, a house of cards has fallen. An entire world of illusions, self-deceptions and sophistries has died. We’ve come to the end of a very long string.”

Now, as it falls apart, people don’t have savings. How could they? Many people live one unpredictable payment of wages to the next; precarious jobs held onto by a thread at the best of times. Are you surprised? That is the economy that the neoliberal revolution created.

Look at the condition of housing in this country. Every month, people struggle to make their rent or mortgage, despite working all the hours god sends. Even now, while mass unemployment beckons, action has not been taken to protect renters. The list grows and the cycle goes on: homelessness, the attacks on organised labour and migrants, foodbanks, debt, poverty, an over-mortgaged middle class and too much more to continue.

Many had already broken under this failed system – a system maintained through the fragmentation of society, the concentration of media ownership to skew the story, and the colonisation of large parts of government to make sure every change is for the benefit of an elite.

This is a system that cannot last and that is destroying the planet’s ecosystem. Now, we face a reckoning. Not just about how we get through the immediate crisis – but about what comes in the aftermath.

This indeed is a time for politics. It is a time for mobilisation; a time for ideas and for challenging the status quo. It is not a time for social distancing – it is a time for social solidarity, for a rebirth in caring for one another and for ending the atomisation hardwired into our society and selves to keep us competing with each other. We have to lift our sights towards a better world.

The present economic system is not going to survive without massive pain. Regardless of the Coronavirus, it was teetering on the brink. And now it doesn’t matter how much money is thrown at it – if labour isn’t labouring and consumers are not consuming, the whole thing grinds to a halt. Martin Wolf outlined in the Financial Times where it is heading. Not to a recession – but to a depression.

Now the question is this: are we going to hand everything back to the people who got us here? Or are we going to build something new?

Common Weal says: everything must change.

So here is what we are going to do, and we want you to be part of it. We want to build a movement that will mean we go back to better, not back to normal.

  • We are going to publish a series of columns on the way Common Weal policy can answer the many questions thrown up by the virus: economic survival, social survival, politics and democracy, rebuilding the economy, rebuilding society, transition to a Green New Deal and independence. These will go up every couple of days. We want you to read them, and pass them on to your friends, family and workmates.
  • We are going to launch a digital-agitprop campaign that will get to the core of the issues at stake in a punchy, accessible way. We want these to populate and grow over social media. We want these to be tools to generate confidence and common purpose.
  • We are going to build solidarity. We want to develop the social bonds we will need to get through this crisis collectively, and for this to be a new framework for building what comes after together. We will stand against the story of this time being one of people fighting in shops for supplies. Instead, this will be a time when we came together. We are producing a ‘things we can do for each other’ graphics series, and we are going to turn our social media platforms over to good news stories. We want you to e-mail acts of kindness and community and we will give them a platform.
  • We have built (yes, we really have…) a mini film studio. From this, we will shoot short videos showing the impact Common Weal policy could have made, and how it can be made going forward. These clips will be distributed on our social media and via our e-mail list. Join our e-mail list here.
  • We are producing a series of posters for you to put up in your window. These will be freely downloadable. We want homes and streets to be covered with these. We want to build up a sense of shared community even if we are locked down. We will fight isolation.
  • We are going to organise webinars. We want to organise events with thousands of participants. In this space, we will put on lectures about the situation, how we are mobilising and how we are going to change everything together. Look out for these – and get your friends and contacts to join.

We are also going to do something else: We at Common Weal are going to bring together the expertise and the talent of everyone who has worked on previous Common Weal policies to design a fully implementable recovery plan. This will detail exactly how we will rebuild in the aftermath of what may come.

How we will re-employ people and where. How we will build a new economy. How we will address climate change at the same time. How we change the playing field so that all the money stops rolling straight into the pocket of corporations and instead flows into a wider and socially just society.  How we will reinvigorate democracy, and much more. Then, we are going to fight for it. And everything we do now is part of that fight.

We are setting up systems for you to get involved in each aspect of everything we are doing – so stay tuned. 

Join us. We have a world to win.