Looking into the future – How will Coronavirus change our policies?

So, we can’t go delivering, canvassing or envelope stuffing at the moment so what can we do? What about a bit of thinking!?

The coronavirus is making huge changes to the way that the Government, councils, businesses and individuals are doing things. Some of those are good. We welcome increased support to social care and health organisations, more support to emerging businesses and enhanced recognition of the role of councils in terms of service delivery. We welcome the greater respect that is being given to those who work in public services that we are relying on to keep us fed and safe. We deplore the anti-society behaviour of people like Dyson and Martin who have thought only of themselves and not of the needs of their staff or society as awhole as they have apparently sought to maximise their own position in all the societal turmoil.

Some food things have flowed from the lock down. Families spending more time together (not always but usually a good thing!); more exercises for many; less consumerism after the first mad dash at the supermarkets; cleaner air; the sound of birds; goats reclaiming Llandudno!

Many of these changes are very much on the line of Lib Dem polices. The question now is do we lie back and wait for business as normal or do we seize the initiative and get our thinking done now so that we emerge from lockdown with policies that accentuate the good things that have happened and deal with the bad things.

As you may imagine I prefer the latter approach. There is no need for us to sit and do nothing we can get ready. I challenge the Acting Leader of the Party; the President and the FPC Officers to set up discussion streams which can pull together thoughts on the key issues and be ready to come out fighting. This is no time to be waiting for the sclerotic processes of the FPC. Now is the time for virtual discussion and a rapid presentation of papers for approval and sue by our MPs, Peers and Councillors.

I think these are the key areas we should be looking at now:

Work in the future

I suspect that many people, having been given the opportunity to work from home will want to carry on doing so. This should be supported because:They will be more productive if they are not facing long and nasty commutes;

They will be more family oriented and strong families are a corner stone of our society;

There will be a huge environmental saving as people cut down on travel although there will be some environmental losses as more individual homes will need to be heated etc during the day.

Pleasure in the future

So, we now can’t get smashed until 05.00 in the morning. I’ll miss this terribly (not!)

But it’s not only pub and club users that will be subject to a culture shock but many other areas of our none work lives. Retail therapy will be hit for a long time. Many people are finding new, cheap and local things to do. People are being encouraged to go to parks providing they don’t mingle with other people. There is an upsurge in reading and music appreciation.

Holidays in the Future

We cannot fly to the Sun in Spain or Italy for months and are beginning to learn the benefits not only of our own localities but also of our regions and country.

Education for Life

Many people have also started to do remote learning on a range of subjects. Some of these are subjects from scratch; some are refreshing school work and some are picking up learning dropped aside because of the pressure of life. How and can we manage without exams and without OFSTED?

Planning for communities

If people work from home more what investment will be needed in their communities to enable them to do it properly.

If we won’t be going to town and city centres for leisure as much what will we need to provide in our suburbs and small towns to give local facilities, pleasures and opportunities.

What is the future of our High Streets if we do less in town but still want to buy less stuff? What will they look like in a few years’ time given the changes that were already in place?

Transport in future

If we work more at home and buy less stuff will we need more or less transport infrastructure. If people like the cleaner air will it be a lever to get them to walk; cycle and sue public transport more?

Climate Change and a serious debate and actions

Can we use all these changes to get the climate agenda firmly on track and treated as seriously as a threat to our Country as the coronavirus?

Of course, neither I nor anyone knows the answers to these questions and there are many more questions to be asked. I challenge our Party leadership to use the down time so that we have relevant papers ready outside our normal processes, which have had to be suspended anyway, in time for a real or virtual conference in September.
As always, I’d love to hear your ideas on this and other issues.

* Cllr Richard Kemp CBE is the Leader of the Liverpool Lib Dems and is Lib Dem Spokesperson on Health & Social Care at the LGA.

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12 Comments

  • Little Jackie Paper 5th Apr '20 - 1:06pm

    I agree with some of this, but not all. However surely all this is putting cart before horse.

    The most immediate adaptation will be around living with the virus. I don’t think that some people have yet grasped that without a vaccine we will be effectively doing so-called herd immunity. Indeed even if we had a vaccine the probability is that it could not be given to high-risk people safely. Care homes for example will probably have to change very rapidly.

    Without a vaccine the virus is a fact of life, and the implications are nothing to do with any political outlook. We can not keep up these lockdowns for any length of time – if you don’t have an economy then you don’t have public health. Indeed more people may well have a breakdown than coronavirus. Suppression of the virus is not the same thing as elimination of it. Once it’s out there it can’t be eliminated without a reliable vaccine. This by the way is a very real criticism of Boris Johnson. To say as he did that the virus would, ‘be sent packing,’ was exactly wrong.

    Put another way, the virus will become endemic, like many other illnesses – we will all be potentially catching the virus and in the process (hopefully, mutation allowing) some sort of herd immunity will be built. The question is how to adapt. So, for example health services will be very different and very geared to outbreak management and ventilation rather than nearly other conditions. The field hospitals will probably have to stay in some form. Drug treatments will be focussed on the virus with other things secondary. Almost certainly we will need a very invasive level of surveillance of our movements. And at the most basic level there will be outbreaks.

    And all this is before we get to the more global implications. As the article says, large scale people movement is now probably gone. At a minimum countries will require travellers to have healthchecks and quarantines are not at all theoretical. The EU for example is about to find that the four freedoms are very much divisible.

    To be clear I’m not saying that any of this is great – it’s going to be an awful decade. The question first and foremost though is about how we manage it, how that changes society is important, but secondary.

  • Sue Sutherland 5th Apr '20 - 3:04pm

    Richard I agree so much with your first 5 paragraphs but not so much with your key areas.
    The world economy will have taken a huge hit so I would like the economists in the party to work on solutions that no longer mean the most vulnerable in our society have to suffer more in the name of economic well being. The easy solution to the huge debts every country will face would be more austerity measures.
    Nature is already fighting back against the way we have abused our planet, as you say. Let’s use the opportunity which realising existential threats do exist, gives us to reorganise economic activity so that it doesn’t bring about the death of our planet.
    I agree with you that changing our working habits may be part of the solution to a greener economy now, but many people will have realised how much they need the company of others to maintain their well being, so we need to think about that too.
    A re-think of what helps our national community to operate at the maximum welfare for most of its citizens. We are more aware now of just what it takes to keep us fed, healthy and happy.
    I think your targets fit into these categories but I think the effects of the virus mean we can step back and consider the unthinkable just as Keynes did and as Beveridge did during WWII. Maybe we can even consider just who owns the Land once more.
    I do hope you’re successful

  • Laurence Cox 5th Apr '20 - 3:10pm

    Work in the future

    I suspect that many people, having been given the opportunity to work from home will want to carry on doing so. This should be supported because:They will be more productive if they are not facing long and nasty commutes;

    This point illustrates the blindness that our opponents have often accused us of. It is people who normally work in offices, who can work from home; if you are a delivery driver or work in a factory you don’t have that option. See:

    https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/business-and-finance/2020/03/work-from-home-zoom-factory-amazon-divide

    If we don’t think about how this crisis will affect everyone we risk advocating a solution that only improves life for some people while making it worse for others. Less commuting will mean less profitable public transport – we have already seen bus and rail companies closing services – making it harder for those who have to leave home to go to work, so we may well have to think in terms of subsidising public transport much more than we have in the past to ensure that there are acceptable service levels; we only need remember what has happened to rural bus services to appreciate this.

  • Simon Brown 5th Apr '20 - 5:37pm

    These are good points, but are we perhaps overestimating the long-term impact of these changes? Many people weren’t allowed to work before lockdown, and now they are so they know that they can, but they probably knew that before anyway, and that management just wants to see them in the office. Although we may be working from home for quite a while to help contain the virus, I imagine once the quarantine is up people will simply go back to old habits. Similarly, I doubt people will lose interest in partying just because they weren’t able to do it for a few months, although I could see the pandemic hastening the closure of many nightclubs which was already happening before.

  • During the dark days of 1939-1945 service personnel were actually encouraged to debate the sort of society they wanted to see when it was all over. And prisoners of war did it anyway. My father was a POW for five years and had a limited range of recreational activities! In no way was debate thought to be dangerous, anti-patriotic or in bad taste. Yes those people did not have caring responsibilities for children or the elderly but Richard is making a valid point in seeing lockdown as offering some people an opportunity for creative thinking while others paint the fence or sort out the attic.

  • Dilettante Eye 6th Apr '20 - 10:19am

    Climate Change and a serious debate and actions ?

    Yes, let’s get serious and stop pretending.
    In a curious way this virus has given us an advanced glimpse of the year 2050. If we are serious in our Green agenda, and truly intend to do away with fossil fuels in 30 years then, this is it!

    Cars sitting on the drive, buses and trains running on a minimum schedule, aircraft mothballed on the tarmac, an economy running on the bare essentials, and humanity forced to sip instead of guzzle fossil fuel?

    This is it. This virus has accelerated us into achieving our Green agenda 30 years ahead of plan. So, forget about getting back to normal, because this is our fossil~less normal. And this new fossil free normal means that you must leave that passport in the kitchen drawer, and while your at it, throw your car keys in there too.

    What?,.. you think being grounded, and having your fossil fuel confiscated, applies to everyone else, but doesn’t apply to you?

    Think again, because this is 2050 come-early, and you are going no-where if it involves going back to the dirty 250 year habit of burning that fossilised stored sunshine.

  • Paul Barker 7th Apr '20 - 12:46pm

    One possible result is a collapse in Property prices, Commercial property first.
    In the short term we have lots of Firms going bust but even after the Economy “Recovers” a lot of employers will be asking if they still need all those expensive, Electricity-guzzling Offices. We already have twice as many Shops as we “Need” & the Virus is likely to have intensified existing trends.
    All that empty property will be available for conversion to Housing, perhaps a solution to our Housing shortage ?
    One effect would be a transfer of Capital from the better-off to the worse-off & from the Old to the Young.

  • Phil Beesley 7th Apr '20 - 1:59pm

    Random thoughts and ideas:
    * Changes to zoning and planning policies. Maybe we should encourage small industrial developments closer to where people live.
    * Green space in cities and conurbations matters. Recognise that nature and small humans appreciate things which are less obvious to big humans. Stop filling in every open space in cities.
    * Liberals have to agree to new towns, providing commerce, industry and housing.
    * After the duration, people will want go out for a drive and a picnic. Make it easy for people to act the right way. Some people will have money saved up for a break. What are the plans for a safe holiday and a safe ice cream?
    * Councils have closed depots for waste disposal and recycling. Keep it in your backyard we are told. That works for me but the incidence of fly tipping indicates that local government can’t keep tips closed. The problems for farmers are not trivial. It’s a short term problem but indicative of a long term problem.
    * Considering secondary school education, four year groups will have their examination years for GCSEs and A Levels disrupted. Contrary to first ideas, this means that they’ll be given a chance to show knowledge and skill at job/university interviews. Assuming that they have continuing opportunities to learn, which are not equal.
    * Supply chains. In the UK today it is easier to buy underwear from Indonesia than a packet of paracetamol. We know how to make paracetamol and we know how to make the chemicals to make paracetamol. But we don’t do it. The UK is at the end of a long supply chain for one of the most basic drugs.
    * Careers advisers tell us that we should have enough money set aside in case if unemployment. We should have enough cash for six months. It is a middle class suggestion. I’m not suggesting that this is a realistic possibility for low paid citizens who will rightfully receive our support. But we might apply the principle to big companies when deciding on bail outs.

  • Phil Beesley – ” Supply chains. In the UK today it is easier to buy underwear from Indonesia than a packet of paracetamol. We know how to make paracetamol and we know how to make the chemicals to make paracetamol. But we don’t do it. The UK is at the end of a long supply chain for one of the most basic drugs.” – we must rebuild, subsidize and remove the manufacturing supply chains for medical supplies, equipment and PPE, for examples, by sponsoring companies to manufacture those goods in the UK with long-term contracts with the government well beyond this pandemic, combined with regular restocking of medical supplies and goods reserve. The Canadians are doing similar stuffs, although their restocking policy was disrupted since 2017-2018 due to budget cuts by Doug Ford.

  • James Fowler 13th Apr '20 - 1:52pm

    Right now, confined at home and often with little else to do, Covid 19 seems like the biggest thing ever. In a year’s time we’re going to look back and wonder what this was really all about. Societies do sometimes change dramatically, but history suggests there would need to be a much bigger death count by a factor of between 100 and 1000 to make that happen in case, and I for one sincerely hope that isn’t on the cards. Even Spanish Flu had relatively little significance in the context of what had already occurred. Covid-19 is a gnat by comparison, and it is not going to be a pivot around which anything turns. However, it does lend weight to two pre-existing political trends: 1. Anti-globalisation and pro-nativism. 2. The generational balance of taxation and benefits in a high debt economy. I think it is definitely worth thinking about our position on those meta-narratives – but we needed to do it anyway.

  • Thise seems rather like a wish list rather than a practical assessment..

    As has been said, ‘working from home’..Most of those ‘proving their worth’ in this crisis are those who can’t..

    As for Holidays in the Future……….We cannot fly to the Sun in Spain or Italy for months and are beginning to learn the benefits not only of our own localities but also of our regions and country…..

    This party seems all for ‘bailing out’ airlines and, after months being prevented from visiting areas outside our immediate location there will be a surge in the demand for ‘sunny holidays’ and no shortage of countries/hotels eager to meet that demand..

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