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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler


I have already written in an earlier blog of how some authoritarian regimes, such as that of Hungary, are taking the opportunity of becoming more authoritarian and autocratic. Now, additionally, we have the unedifying spectacle of Trump attempting to reinterpret the American Constitution. His view of the relationship between the Federal and the State Governments is not that specified within the constitution. His stance has taken us back to 1861, the year war broke out between the Southern States and the Federal Government. The difference this time being that the States, led by New York and California, have right on their side.

We have seen no such moves here (unless you favour an extreme interpretation of Hancock's NHS App), but what we have seen, without Parliament sitting, and with a Press Pack tugging their collective forelock at the daily Government briefings, is a lack of scrutiny from the normal quarters. Yet, scrutiny is taking place, largely through the internet and the voices of the General Public. These voices have been picked up by the printed media, and belatedly by the terrestrial television channels. This is perhaps the emergence of a new type of involved democracy, which we might label 'internet democracy'. It is unlikely to disappear once the present crisis is over. Politicians will have to face new political realities, and closer to home the impact of a virtual House of Commons, which now seems likely within the next month.

In terms of the mechanics of Government, our system has shown itself as less than robust, whether in the form of collecting reliable figures of the numbers of death caused by Covid 19 or the distribution of PPE. The latest manifestation of our creaking system being the sending of 'shielding letters' to thousands of wrong addresses. No one doubts the integrity or the hard work of those involved, be they politicians or civil servants, but the structure is not holding. John Jackson Miller, the American sci-fi author, most famously connected with Star Wars, has written: "All ..... empires rose and fell, ultimately, on their ability to deliver on this one simple, unexciting thing: logistics". And, the very core reason why Chamberlain's Government fell in May 1940.

I wrote an earlier blog explaining Walter Scheidel's theory that great disasters, such as pandemics, prove the catalysts to a greater levelling of society. There has been increasing comment in Britain of the gap between Rich and Poor highlighted by the pandemic. The Times, earlier this week, published a long article on this very issue. Scheidel's argument may be beginning to gain practical traction here. But the biggest danger is that if the lockdown continues for a considerable time, there could be disturbances in inner city areas where the people simply can't take any more. If this were to happen, then the prospect of street violence increases. This would not be a unique outcome in time of crisis, after all it it what triggered The Peasants' Revolt of 1381. The Government need to keep their collective eye on this particular rolling ball.

It is always dangerous for anyone, let alone opinionated historians, to stray into commenting on the present, let alone upon the future. Yet, an awareness of the past allows us to make judgements about the present, and an understanding of the present lets us take informed opinions about the future. It is worth remembering in this context that at the height of The Second World War Churchill's Government was planning for the post war world. The greatest example being the publication of The Beveridge Report in November 1942. We can only hope our Government is likewise engaged in such blue skies thinking in the middle of this crisis.

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