As Jerome Roos of the London School of Economics observes in the New Statesman, a true crisis is a vitally important moment at which change has to come, for better or for worse. ‘It is difficult to shake the feeling that we are now at a threshold between two eras,’ he ruefully concludes.
As Guernsey emerges from lockdown and joyfully but probably falteringly takes tentative steps back to normality, never has the cliche ‘new normal’ been more appropriately applicable. Firm, decisive leadership, excellent and clear communications, the unstinting implementation of ‘test, track and isolate’ born of a well-prepared and clear plan, a population that understood and definitely ‘did its bit’ and a common intention to maximise the natural status of being a small island all led to Guernsey being the first place in the British Isles to shake off the shackles of lockdown.
But the war is not won; social distancing measures must stay in place for a long time, compulsory 14-day self-isolation upon arrival must be rigorously enforced for many months to come and people must constantly implement that rarest of commodities, common sense, more than ever. The fact that this virus can kill you has not disappeared with the end of lockdown and none of us want it back. Ever.
But things will never be the same again, not for this island, not for the UK, not for the world. The ‘new normal’ will find expression and application at different levels in different societies at different times.
The appalling events of 9/11, nearly 20 years ago, rocked the world and certainly led to change, be it localised in air travel, regionalised in dreadful violence and war in the Middle East or globalised in the emergence of suicide-based Islamic terrorism, but our day-to-day social and working lives remained untouched.
The financial crisis of 2008 triggered recessions in the majority of world economies and ushered in greater control of one particular sector (banking) but speedy, co-ordinated action by governments and central banks across the globe (for which the UK and its then Prime Minister Gordon Brown should be recognised as leading from the front) led to a relatively speedy recovery, after which life went on much the same as before for billions of people. There was no reset by society.
But this time things will be different. The ‘Krisis Point’ has arrived. The recovery is under way; the onset of societal death has been faced up to and banished. The economic recovery will be fuelled by banks which have not suffered this time from liquidity or capital inadequacy, largely due to governments standing there right with them like the Colossus of ancient Greece. But the recovery will bring many changes, in all our lives and forever.
People have sampled different ways of doing stuff:
. More flexibility in the workplace – more working from home, not exclusively but as part of a flexible, often bespoke mix which will lead to less commuting, less rush-hour stress, less pollution and (bad news for landlords and thus our pension funds) less office space required in the long term once the requirements of social distancing are over. The creative tension of the office environment and the competitive spur and innovation born of the chat by the coffee machine will all still be essential but so much of the way we work will change.
. The last few months have allowed employers to observe the wrecks as the tide of business activity went out. Bad news for the coasters and drifters or those who think the ‘new way of doing things’ doesn’t apply to them. There will be two sorts of redundancies: those born of a fall in demand where businesses will in time recover to a greater or lesser degree with some re-employment taking place, and those created by employers not allowing a good crisis to go to waste as they finally do the reshaping of the employment profile of the business that they should have done ages ago.
. Fewer journeys (by car, train or plane) for that ‘vital’ face-to-face meeting. The world of Zoom, Teams and FaceTime is upon us. While new relationships will still be best cemented by physical meetings, so many routine meetings can be successfully achieved remotely. Bad long-term news for airlines, train companies and hotels. Airlines cover their costs from revenue in economy class but they make their profits from those who turn left on a plane. And it is precisely those customers whose travel requirements and wishes will have changed forever.
. There will be a greater awareness of public and personal hygiene. Personal exercise will grab more of ‘me time’; indeed ‘me time’ will assume greater importance in the work/life balance.
. We’ve all liked the skies without contrails and the roads without noise and fumes in lockdown. Stand by for a massive greening of the transport equation. Surely there has never been a better time on Guernsey for a compulsory shift to electrically-powered vehicles, implemented over 10 years but started now. And let’s get on with the University of Guernsey – specialist subject: sustainable energy.)
The past few weeks have changed the way people see various aspects of their wider lives and the global piece:
. The television media has not had ‘a good war’. Especially the BBC. It clearly sees its role, at a time of national crisis, as to viciously attack the government wherever and however it can. Panorama wheeled out nurses to attack the Tories, only to have some of them revealed as paid-up Labour activists. Regardless of the merits of the Cummings story (NB: if you’re worried about your eyes, I recommend a visit to an optician rather than a 60-mile test drive), their reaction to it was little short of an irresponsible witch hunt. Marr, Kuenssberg and Maitlis should all be in the dock accused of turning their back on reputable journalism as they indulged in blood sport. If this was some form of revenge for losing the Brexit issue it was disgraceful.
. Beware China! The UK’s dependency on supply chains originating there, for so many of our day-to-day requirements, vital components and ingredients, shows up the vulnerability in which it places us all. There is a total loss of trust in the dependability of their data, an absence of integrity of their membership of the global club, a lack of truthfulness in what they say. The UK’s growing dependency on them for delivery of infrastructure from energy generation to telecoms, their blatant policy of turning the South China Sea into a Chinese Lake, their disregard of international rules and treaties.
. Globalisation, with its massive movements across borders of capital, of goods and services, and the greatest migration of people the world has ever seen, has seen its zenith. Protectionism, nationalism, high taxation and public spending will rule in democracies for many elections to come as voters seek reassurance from those who want their vote that they will not be hurt again. From ‘China’ to ‘being better prepared next time’, from rewarding the key workers to taxing properly (at last) those technological giants who have basically cleaned up over the past few months ... stand by for huge change.
I guess we all have our personal, even private, ways in which we know things will be different from now on. If we have come to appreciate people and relationships more, if we have come to understand and not fear change and difference, if we have learned to reach out and see what ‘community’ really means, if we have identified nature’s tug on our lead and have come to appreciate things we used to take for granted (maybe because we simply had the time to go with the inclination), then we, the people, will have stared the Krisis full in the face, met the challenge and emerged on the other side as better people ready to help build a better world.