I got interested in politics around the time of the Iraq War when I was about 14. Since then, I’ve seen the bank bailouts, the expenses scandal, Austerity, Grenfell, Carillion and climate inaction. That’s just off the top of my head. So forgive me if I have a little lack of trust about how our elected officials will respond to this pandemic, and if I am just a tad cynical about their calls for us all to pull together as one. I remember after the 2008 crash, when they said we were “all in it together”. Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me. Until proven otherwise, I’m not going to believe that the “pulling together”, as Prince William called for yesterday, is not all in one direction.
And here’s something which accelerates my cynicism closer towards full blown fury. The FT reported yesterday on London – the centre of the virus in the UK – that: “Given the capital’s status as a major global financial hub, Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak, Chancellor, were determined not to further alarm the markets by putting the city into lockdown.” Again, who is it exactly that we’re “pulling together” for here? Until proven otherwise, I’m going to presume that means the bankers again.
So far government have done nothing to reassure me that this national unity effort is going to lead to genuine sacrifices at the top as well as the bottom. When the Bank of England make a public statement asking – not preventing – bosses from firing workers during the pandemic, I’m not reassured. When Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes responds to the Coylumbridge Aviemore Hotel – who have told workers that they have not only been sacked but made homeless with immediate effect – by saying that “it’s disappointing to see what appears to be the heartless treatment of staff”, I’m not reassured.
I can’t put it better than columnist Joyce McMillan, who said in response to Forbes’ remark: “A whole generation of politicians seem to have been trained to misunderstand their own function, and to have a kind of mental block about it. Shame to see Kate Forbes punting this kind of 1990s fudge, at a moment when it is so out of time.” Politicians are going to have to learn quickly how to act on the economy, rather than ask. Because communities will not wait around for them to break the habit of a life-time, not when millions in the UK face imminent hardship.