Updated: May 15, 2020
The Coronavirus crisis has made all of us think. About what's important. And what really isn't. And what the world will look like when we get back to 'normal'. If we still remember what 'normal' is. Or even if we still want it.
In this post I am telling you what I learned from this crisis. And what I'd do if we could do things differently. People might not agree with me. You might not agree with me. In fact, I bet you don't! And that's OK.
If I was queen for one year …
OK, so perhaps not queen – because she doesn’t have any real power. Prime minister then. But one without – you know – a bad virus. And perhaps not Conservative. A bit like the awesome ladies in Germany, Finland, New Zealand. But with unbridled Trump-like powers.
If I was prime minister in the middle of the biggest health and financial crisis the world has seen in (over - what – 100?) years.
If I was in charge of a country, in the middle of a world full of uncertainty, in the middle of a crisis, where so many people are doing amazingly creative things in very short periods of time.
If I was leading a country where everyone is adapting and changing and accepting the ‘new normal’ as if it is – well – normal.
If I were the prime minister of that country I would:
Look after the homeless – permanently
Within a day after the lockdown was announced all the homeless people in my town were gone. Given accommodation. Presumably in hostels, or empty hotels.
Within. A. Day.
So it can be done. Solutions can be found for homelessness. And that's what we should do. Hotels, hostels, empty office blocks (and there will be a few of those!). Sufficient numbers of social workers, supporting all of them who want help, to get into a job, and back into the world.
Sort out the housing crisis
Years ago I read that there were 1 million people on waiting lists for homes here in the UK. And that there were 1 million second homes. Empty homes. That no one can now go to. That are only used on the occasional weekend.
When I lived in the West Country it was said that these houses belonged to ‘weekenders’. As if that is normal. As if it is normal to have 40% of your village empty because of ‘weekenders’. It’s not normal. It shouldn’t be normal. The new normal, my new normal, would look a heck of a lot different!
So, if I was prime minister I would confiscate these homes. Either you can rent them out within the next three months – for reasonable rents, long term – or you’re out. Your choice.
Fix the housing market
Honestly, what a mess.
Sky-high rents and house prices. Short term rents. People constantly on the move. Paying more than half of their income in rent. Being chucked out of their houses on the whim of landlords. Living in awful conditions.
Whilst the other half have two or more houses. Paid for. Earning them money every day. Or with exorbitant mortgages, in fear of losing their home every day.
I believe that - as a government - you have the duty to sort out basic rights for everyone. And shelter is one of them.
If I were in charge I would:
· Allow long term rents only – permanent if possible
· Make sure that selling a house does not break rental agreements – you sell your house with a tenant in it
· Have a rule that houses should first be sold locally before it can be offered nationally
· Tax second homes to within an inch of its life! Unless the house would be rented out long term for a reasonable price.
· Have a rule that new built houses can only be lived in by the owner. This will be monitored and fined.
And yes, house prices would tumble. And that's a good thing. You should not have to work so hard just to pay for a house.
Get rid of rush hour
Pollution levels are down 60% here in town. Sixty percent!
So, rule number one. No more rush hour.
Why stand in a traffic jam for 90 minutes to be in the office before 9 o’clock? When your first meeting starts at 11?
Why pour exorbitant rail fares in the pockets of rail firms’ shareholders by buying rush-hour season tickets so that you can cram yourself into an overpopulated train to get yourself to a soulless office block on a dead industrial estate?
This crisis has shown that the broadband network can cope. Make sure it can cope everywhere. Instruct all HR departments in the country to sort out homeworking arrangements. Soon. Permanently.
And get rid of rush hour. Oh yeah, and a personal pet hate: get rid of advance tickets, 100% mark-ups for rush-hour tickets and other incomprehensible ‘discount’ schemes. We don't understand them. No one does. Get rid of them.
Restrict travel - or at least make people realise that travel comes at a cost
Flying. We’ve got to have a discussion about flying. Or travel altogether.
Now don’t get me wrong. My parents live in The Netherlands. I do travel. But I do think that we’ve got to be clear about why we travel and how much of it is really necessary.
Do we really need summer and winter holidays? And weekend getaways? And city breaks?
And do we really need to fly over to Edinburgh once a week, for a one hour meeting?
No we don’t.
So, if I were in charge, you could have one holiday a year. And one business trip. That’s it. Choose wisely.
Basic necessities should be cheap or free
Can I talk about water for a bit?
How much do we pay for water? How much?
Water is a basic necessity. Which should be provided and cleaned and taken away for the cheapest possible cost. And none of the money involved in that should go in the pockets of shareholders! None!
You’re proud of your NHS? Be proud of your water people as well. And don’t let us pay for shareholders. But instead invest in your ancient sewers. And invest in your people.
Water should be free, or at the very least, cheap.
Tuition fees will be abolished
You want a knowledgeable work force, right? Well then! Don’t saddle your bright young talent with £50,000 worth of debt. That you never get back. Including a ridiculous 6% interest rate. It’s silly money. That doesn’t exist.
If I were in charge tuition fees would be a thing of the past.
And then we find an alternative to consumerism
Debenhams, Oasis, Carluccio’s and no doubt other palaces of consumption and consumerism will suffer as a result of this crisis. And that’s not good news. Not for the people who worked in these places.
But the Saturday before the lockdown we were walking in town and it was literally a mess. People shopping, shopping, shopping, eating, eating, eating.
Honestly, we don’t need all that crap. We don’t need cheap clothes that are sown together by homeless, disabled Bangladeshi orphans in sweatshops. We don’t need to eat out so much, being served by people on zero-hours contract and the minimum wage. Our kids don’t need rooms full of plastic toys that end up on some beach in Thailand. We don’t need it.
What I mean to say is - everything that is cheap comes at a cost. Not to you perhaps, but to the environment, or to poverty and inequality.
If I were in charge I would have a national debate about:
· Reducing the number of hours people worked – according to the book ‘Bullshit Jobs’ by Michael Graeber 40% of people believe they work in ‘bullshit jobs’, pointless jobs that no one would miss if they were gone. Another 20% are serving these 40% with coffee, tea, sandwiches and by cleaning the toilets.
Economists told us 100 years ago that – by now – we should only have to work 15 hours a week. We could, if we lose the ‘bullshit jobs’ and don’t have to pay so much for our houses.
· What ‘key’ jobs are and how we can fill these vacancies – you know, instead of sending for 500 Romanian workers to pick our strawberries.
· How to reduce consumerism and what the alternative is
· How we return to what is really necessary and important. And what the cost is to the world (pollution, climate change, poverty, bad working conditions) if we don’t.
And finally, we stop gender inequality
I would make sure that - before I'm being kicked out - women will be represented equally, everywhere. So that never again we will see decisions made on the basis of what the male part of the population wants and needs only. Gender-typed toys in pink and blue would be banned.
Oh yeah, and I would reverse Brexit. Remember Brexit?
That’s what I would do!
OK, so they would chuck me out after a year. But I would have made an impact. In fact they would need years to clear up after me! But I would have a ball doing it!
Anyway, what am I talking about. I’ve lived here 15 years and I can’t even vote.
Rant over. Back to work. But before I go ...
What have you learned? How would you change the world? What would you like your 'new normal' to be?