Resisting the Return, C19 and Inter Generational Failure

Despite the bluster and bluff from Boris Johnson that we are ‘past the peak’ and talk of plans for a “phased release” being announced next week, I’m not so sure. The ‘radical uncertainty’ that we are all experiencing is laced with potential but many politicians and leaders are acting as if it’s simply not there, that what we are witnessing will simply ‘go away’ and we will return to school, to work, to football, to theatres, to restaurants and pubs with a joyous cavalcade. There is a myth of control that permeates out from those with their own deep-seated inadequacies. But there are so many questions about the virus that we simply don’t know.

There’s some progress on testing. The University of Oxford coronavirus vaccine trial aims to have 500 people in testing by mid-May. That’s great but we have no way of knowing its outcome. We have finally grasped testing and contact tracing, but we don’t yet have it in place and we have the obstacle of widespread suspicion about interacting with the tech giants, whose utopian promises have been tarnished by the surveillance state that they propagate. We don’t really know about the risks and impact of secondary morbidity, and we don’t really know about the risks of releasing the lockdown, particularly to the most vulnerable groups. Apart from the medicine we have no idea what unintended consequences this mass social experiment is having on our mental health, our social structures and our family lives. We don’t know (though we can take some guesses) about what industries and entire sectors will just never recover. We know, or we think we know, that the R value – the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to – needs to stay under one to avoid Covid-19 taking off again. Crucially we don’t even have any real consensus on how many people have actually died from the disease.

That’s quite a lot we don’t know.

Plus of course we have no idea about how and when there will be a second pandemic.

But rather than face this with humility and openness we’re getting the usual mix of hubris, jingoism and pomp. The arrival of a baby boy was heralded as “a wonderful distraction” and the Oxford vaccine trial was turned into an excuse for British nationalism. We don’t need to be distracted and the crisis of British exceptionalism has led us into much of this catastrophe.

More than 26,000 people have died with coronavirus in the UK, making it the second worst-hit country in Europe. The UK’s coronavirus death total means it is the third worst-hit country in the world, behind Italy with 26,872 deaths and the US with more than 59,000 fatalities. The Prime Minister claims this as enviable success.

Boris Johnson has promised to deliver a “comprehensive plan” next week on how the lockdown may be eased after declaring the UK is “past the peak” of the coronavirus outbreak. Johnson said on Thursday he would be producing a “road map, a menu of options” explaining how to “get the economy moving again” and children back to school while still suppressing the disease’s spread.

This isn’t really credible.

The response to the crisis is just to get everything back as it was as quickly as possible. The solution to the pandemic is ramp up mindless economic activity. The solution, so we’re told is to return asap to the “make stuff – buy stuff” we are all used to. The assumption that we will all pack the kids off back to school isn’t challenged. I won’t. And many many people don’t have jobs to return to.

With the death toll having exceeded 26,700 and under pressure to detail a blueprint for easing the lockdown, Johnson said: “We are past the peak and on the downward slope. I will be setting out a comprehensive plan next week to explain how we can get our economy moving, our children back to school and into childcare, and thirdly how we can travel to work and make life in the workplace safer.”

“In short, how we can continue to suppress the disease and at the same time restart the economy.”

These things are incompatible.

It’s a default position they just can’t resist. It wasn’t working before and it sure as hell won’t work now. The intention shouldn’t be to “life the lockdown” it should be to protect our society and rebuild the resilience that’s been systematically stripped out of it.

We should immediately be creating routine testing for all frontline workers; implementing coordinated support for parents and families living and working together including advice on home-schooling; instigating a six month freeze on all private rents.

The economy will be in ruins and we need a long term recovery plan not duped into short-term solutions to save the PM’s career and soothe the national stress levels. Mass unemployment looms and the people worst effected will be the young people tumbling out of schools, colleges and universities into the post-covid broken economy.

This generation, already betrayed by climate breakdown inertia and negligence, the NO vote of 2014 and the Brexit fiasco, now have unemployment to add to the glory.

As Polly Toynbee has written: “Here’s a shocking fact hidden by the steep fall in unemployment figures in recent years: there were always at least 800,000 unemployed under-25s adrift – not in education, employment or training (Neets). Many have physical disabilities, illnesses and mental health problems that have been ignored. Many are part of that long tail of lost youth from addicted or violent families; they are care leavers, people with no qualifications pulled into gangs and drugs, and failed by schools and underfunded social services that are unable to pick them up in time. As one employment expert said, “These were the ones we didn’t fix when the sun shone.”

Its crucial that we respond to this with some future-focused creativity not denial and more bullshit. Any process towards what’s being called a “just recovery” must include a plan that focuses on this lost generation. The need for inter-generational repair has never been more obvious than in this crisis.

This phenomenon we are living through is called by Paul Engler a historic ‘trigger event’: “During a trigger event, things that were previously unimaginable quickly become reality, as the social and political map is remade.”

Engler writes: “Trigger events can create confusion and unease. But they also present tremendous opportunities for people who have a plan and know how to use the moment to push forward their agendas. These agendas can be reactionary, as when conservatives and fascists pass harsh austerity measures and spread xenophobia — the type of activity documented in Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine.” Yet, this type of response need not prevail. With a counter-agenda rooted in a commitment to democracy and a deep sense of collective empathy, communities can flourish, even amid a crisis.”

So while we are demanding long-term plans and actions from our government (s) we should also be looking to ourselves. The flourishing of solidarity networks and the new resilience emerging out of the pandemic is a sign of the future. The action we need from governments is to facilitate these new networks and allow them to flourish. Leadership from below and Act for Yourselves must be an essential part of the post-covid world. The lockdown must lead to a breakthrough. The pandemic has revealed a precarious world brought to you by elite rule over decades. The task isn’t just to overcome the virus, its to overthrow this form of misrule.





Comments (28)

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  1. Stroller says:

    The best clues about what is going to happen in the UK are our neighbours like Spain and Italy.
    If the UK follows the pattern of Spain, we should drop down into the 300-400 fatalities a day next week, and the 200-300 the week after that.
    Spain is down to 164 fatalities today, and this next week hopefully we might see the number eventually go down below 100 by next Friday.
    Lockdown works surely, there are obviously far fewer chances of infection for the population, and the figures illustrate that we are well past the peak, for example, in occupied intensive care beds.
    But coming back down to normal is a long and slow process even in countries which locked down much harder than the UK did, like Spain.
    As for the changes to British society which C19 could and should bring about, I’m afraid there is no political vehicle to articulate that desire or what it would amount to in terms of policy. I mean, who is there out there? People just keep voting for the same parties, and that includes the SNP.
    Nicola Sturgeon is all style and no substance. She tells us that “mistakes will have been made” and that “some lessons will have been learned” and that “no one had any experience of a pandemic”, but I’m afraid that is not good enough.
    Governments don’t get to make these excuses. They have ample resources to hire the right people to inform themselves on policy on a pandemic which was coming down the line for months. She chose to stick to the same line as London and that was a mistake.
    It ought to be admitted by one person, just one person in power in any government in these isles, that they got it wrong… you don’t get the second highest death toll in Europe by getting it right.
    We have over 1500 people dead in Scotland which is a shocking number, way higher than it would have been with a different policy. And we’re still not testing people coming into the country. Why not?
    But the public don’t seem interested in apportioning blame.
    To bring about lasting change from the “trigger event” you mention requires a political vehicle.
    There is none which is interested in changing the fundamentals of British society…
    No change will come until a new political party appears on the scene I would say…
    Nothing will be radically changed by those in power, it never is…

    1. Jo says:


      A new political Party? Aye, that’s all we need right now!

      I have had my issues with Sturgeon but she has conducted herself with dignity throughout this thing despite a pack of rabid and hostile “journalists” on her back all the way, just hoping to trip her up.

      She has also admitted that mistakes have been made. (I’d agree there, especially on Care Homes and Social Care.) You must have missed it.

      1. Stroller says:

        I have no confidence that either the Scot govt or the UK gov know what they are doing. Sturgeon does conduct herself with dignity, she has a winning, plain spoken style which connects. But people are unnecessarily dying here, having style or dignity ain’t enough.

        From what can be gleaned from the press, the gov modelled for a virus which was like flu but much worse. They then changed tack in mid March and decided to lockdown. But why are they keeping the airports open? They still seem to be dithering between two different models. Same with masks. In Korea, the population was ordered to wear masks at home! They have only recently started talking about the R number, which is baffling too.

        It is very difficult to have any confidence in their strategy for the next phase consequently.

        An more importantly what has to change so it doesn’t happen again? Who screwed up and what should be done differently next time which might just be months away? We need a bit of humility from the gov, especially London….not apologies, information and action.

      2. Stroller says:

        So, Jo, just imagine by July or August there are no new cases and the virus seems under control.
        But then in September or October, we start seeing new cases again.
        Presumably, the next time, we don’t wait until there are over 300 cases before locking down?
        Presumably, we test, trace and isolate next time, right?
        And at the very first sign it is spiralling, we lock down hard again.
        And under that model, you have to test and quarantine people coming into the country, for obvious reasons.
        But they’re still not doing that today in Britain, which is incredible.
        So, all that stuff they told us about contain, delay, prevent, well all of that was bad policy, the wrong policy, it was mitigation policy not an eradication policy which seems to be working in China and Korea.
        It would be no bad thing to see Boris Johnsons and Michael Gove and Matt Hancock admitting that they got the wrong policy…and Sturgeon too.

        As for a new political vehicle -I said vehicle, not party necessarily, it could be a grassroots campaign for example like the anti Poll Tax campaign back in the 80’s – well I’m only stating the obvious. We can expect competence from the SNP – under normal circumstances at least – but nothing more than competence. They don’t do big ideas….

        1. Stroller says:

          There has been a big spike in cases in Russia this last week.
          Yet Russians can still fly in to the UK next week (unless Russia has locked down its airports) by the hundreds and bring the virus with them…
          How can that be possible?
          We have had the big US spike too, so who knows how many Americans might have passed through Britain with the virus.
          It makes no sense…

          As that hoary ancient Chinese proverb goes:
          “When trying to kill a rat /
          fetch a long pole /
          and shut all the doors and windows”

          (PS: Okay, I admit it, I just made up that proverb, but its true enough in essence)

          1. Jo says:


            There’s not a lot I’d disagree with in those posts. The non checking of arrivals in airports was shocking. The reluctance to shut down London, worse. Well, we can’t be upsetting the City. Disgraceful.

            What a mess.

  2. Wul says:

    The fact that the UK population can cheerfully get behind a 100year old pensioner, hobbling about to “fundraise” for our National Health Service (I’ll repeat that: our effing NATIONAL Health Service! ) is deeply sad.
    We have boy scouts, Mens’ Sheds and sewing committees making life saving equipment for essential workers and it’s a “good news” story. Why are people not furious about this? Have we become so stupid that we somehow think the NHS is a charity, in spite of paying 6 -12% of our wages into it every week of our working lives?

    It’s as if the UK population ( Scotland included) somehow actually wants to be treated like shite.

    If there’s going to be change, there needs to be more anger, better information and some basic education about how a modern, sane country could work for, instead of against, its citizens.

    1. Jo says:


      I very much hope that the established and fully staffed and independent “NHS Charities Together” is monitored closely as all these millions roll in to its coffers.

      Let’s see how much reaches “the front line”.

      1. Wul says:

        I think the distinction between the statutory NHS and the “NHS Charities Together” body is lost on most people. I’ve met many who were glad to “chip in” to “help save the NHS”. (same people who run a mile from any hint of an income tax rise at G.E. time)

        But you are right. All those recent donations should be scrupulously audited.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Wul, I wonder if that 100-year-old pensioner was amongst those British forces crushing independence movements at the end of WW2, in places like Indonesia, sometimes rearming captured Japanese troops to help restore imperial rule, often for other empires than the British? Places that have never fully recovered from extractive and exploitative foreign influence. And of course, I wonder how reliant successive NHS-weakening governments have been on the votes of pensioners.

      1. Wul says:

        Yes, the Empire. Not always a benign adventure I think.

        I was reading last night about the East India Company, a private company which came to have fully half of the world’s trade pass through its hands and a private army twice the size of the British Army. In the mid 1770’s, 10 million Indian people died from famine an areas under E.I.Co rule. Times were hard and the Company asked for, and got, a government bail out.

  3. Jo says:

    “Mass unemployment looms and the people worst effected will be the young people tumbling out of schools, colleges and universities into the post-covid broken economy.”

    Disagree. This thing is going to hurt the existing work force right across the board, right now.

    For me, only one generation deserves to be recognised in this. The one whose unfortunate members were left in care homes to sink or swim. “Protect the NHS… leave the elderly where they are!” “Protect the NHS…sod the Social Care staff supporting the elderly with no PPE and the minimum wage!”

    Such a plan only made sense if it involved ensuring care homes were fully protected from the off. Alas, not part of the plan. It’s scandalous.

    On Johnson, I had the impression on Monday that he was warning the eejit journalists present that he wasn’t prepared to throw away the progress made by easing restrictions prematurely and risking further disastrous consequences. The PHE CMO twice reminded the same eejit journalists of this at the same briefing. The warnings were ignored and the MSM hasn’t let up all week about ending the lockdown…. that includes the BBC right across its news network. That shouldn’t be ignored. They don’t give a toss. They’re worse than the politicians.

    I agree the unknowns in this nightmare should lead to great caution and yet…, not a bit of it. It’s all, “Get the schools open. Get the trains filled up.
    Get back to work!” Terrifying. Just terrifying.

    1. Thanks Jo.

      Its all awful and all generations are suffering, the elderly worse than any. My point was just that for young people this is going to be an economic disaster stepping out into the world into a (probable) depression

      1. Wul says:

        My daughter lost two jobs the same week. One job at a theatre, the other at a restaurant. No warning, no severance pay, just a text message ending her employment. Landlord refused to consider reducing the rent (“I have outgoings” ), so she lost her flat the following week. She also studies “full time” for a degree.

        I’ve had no paid work since mid-February and my wife’s income has halved. We are both self employed. HMRC has sent an email saying a scheme for assistance will open to applications in June. My son finishes his college course next month. No work on the horizon for him now, or any time soon.

        We are very fortunate though, because we have no debt. It’s going to be a rough ride.

        1. Stevie says:

          If now is not the time for new thinking or new parties, and our best response to what we are living through is to turn to our current leaders – all of them – then I really do despair. What on earth would it take to shake the complacency that underpins that sort of stasis?

          1. James Mills says:

            Stevie and Stroller :
            You make good points about NOT continuing as before with leaders /parties which have demonstrably failed so many ( 26,000 dead and counting – or not counting if you are the Tories in England ! )but what is the alternative ?

            Who do we get behind ?
            Are YOU going to start up a new political movement to oust the present incumbents ?
            How DO you start up a new political entity from scratch ?
            Do we give the Libdems a chance ? ( not in my lifetime , I hope ! )

            I am not trying to belittle your fervour for change – I share it – but how does it happen ?

        2. Jo says:

          That’s awful Wul.

          1. Wul says:

            Thank you Jo. We’ll be OK. Luckier than most. We have a garden. I feel sorry for folk stuck in flats with small children and maybe debts.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    So how reliant is the UK economy on the unjust loans made to countries like British Empire ex-colonies? According to Jubilee Debt Campaign research, 64 low-income countries pay more on debt servicing than on their health services. Which imperils global public health. Cancel the debt:

  5. John McLeod says:

    I would really urge anyone who has read Mike’s article to follow the links to two other articles he has signposted. One is by Paul Engler, about various very effective grassroots movements, mainly based in the USA. The other is by Caitlin Logan (‘Leadership from Below’) published in BC, reporting on some really inspiring small-scale local initiatives in Scotland. What they describe is action taken by groups of people, which then links up with action taken by other groups. This does not involve setting up a new political party – that takes far too long, and gets bogged down in operating within the existing political system. Instead, it works by (a) actually supporting and helping people directly from the start, and (b) exerting enormous leverage on the political system to change its policies and direction. My own belief is that the First Minister and the SG are open to this kind of influence. This is because they are fundamentally decent people. Also because Scotland is a small place, and it is not too hard to directly communicate with those in government. Also, do not underestimate the power of a leader who has is widely trusted and secure in her position. Over the course of her career, Angela Merkel made brave decisions in response to radical pressure – around adoption of renewable energy, and then around opening Germany to refugees – that went against the consensus of those who had voted for her.

    1. Josef Ó Luain says:

      @John McLeod

      Getting Sturgeon and her Party on-side would be a good approach. Not by a long-way do all Party members subscribe to a petit-bourgeois political orthodoxy if, unfortunately, evidence would suggest that its leading cadres do. Again, unfortunately, influencing any organisation from the “outside”, while not impossible, is fraught with obvious difficulties. I, for one, would like to hear your views, and the views of others, on how this might be achieved. Stay well.

      1. John McLeod says:


        Your question – how to influence the government from outside – is very important. There is no single answer. I think that one of the positive aspects of the Scottish Parliament is that there is a petition system,. Also, the current government uses a lot of consultations, including the (currently suspended) Citizen Assembly. The ideas emerging from these inputs are required to be debated within the parliament, at least at some level. In a better world, the media in Scotland would be a place to explain and debate new ideas. At the moment this is not happening. There are some useful channels of communication on the internet, but many of them are restricted to conversations between sets of like-minded people, which is fine in terms of developing ideas and positions, but not so good in achieving wider understanding and acceptance. I think that another limitation of the internet is that it is transient. For example, there are marvellous articles on BC stretching back years, which are not readily accessible. As a result, it is hard to sustain a line of argument through more than one cycle of dialogue. In the 19th century the Chartist movement developed many creative ways to publicise its ideas in the face of a hostile print media. I think that something similar is needed today. The Bernie Sanders campaigns (and simiiar campaigns) in the USA operate on the basis of networks of face to face meetings in people’s homes and public spaces. This happened in Scotland in 2014, and maybe needs to happen again (post-virus).

        Another factor is that anyone committed to radical social change needs to be willing to accept the experience of frustration and disappointment. This has always been the case.

        Despite these difficulties, I believe the evidence is that the Scottish government and people are open to new ideas. For example, following inputs from many sources over a period of time, the First Minister has expressed support for a Universal Basic Income, which would be a major development. What has happened with Common Weal is perhaps less encouraging. Since 2014, CW has come out with a long list of carefully-argued policy intiatives that – from my perspective at least – would greatly improve Scottish society. Few of the proposals seem to have been debated within the parliament, never mind being adopted into legislation. Why these initiatives have not been successful is perhaps a topic for another time.

  6. grafter says:

    “Crucially we don’t even have any real consensus on how many people have actually died from the disease.”

    “More than 26,000 people have died with coronavirus in the UK,”


    1. Jo says:


      “More than 26000..” covers a multitude.

    2. Yeah, “more than” …

      What’s your point caller?

  7. Wul says:

    Why is it so hard for the government to put Covid “bail-out” cash into the hands of the ordinary working people who actually need it? Cash given to working people gets circulated in the economy almost immediately. Cash given to corporations gets stashed off-shore or paid to the already wealthy as dividends.

    The £600m offered to Easyjet could be given as a £40k tax-free lump sum to each of it’s 15,000 employees. That would buy them a year or two find another job or re-train. Easyjet could then be told (the way shipyard workers, miners, steel workers, tool fitters, carpenters, weavers etc. were told); “Sorry, there’s simply no market for your product”.

  8. Zoonotic Gnostic says:

    A new seroprevalence study by University of Bonn suggests that 10 times more Germans have had CV than confirmed cases.
    Case Fatality ratio will drop accordingly.

  9. Liz Jones says:

    Thank you for you insightful, well written article

    Will you be our prime minister please?

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