Last year, GDP fell by 20.4 per cent in the three months leading up to June, plunging the UK into the deepest recession since records began, with unemployment rising to 4.9 per cent (August to October) and more than 10 months in, the country is facing 60,000+ daily cases.
Grace Blakeley was already writing about the UK’s next economic crisis before coronavirus hit. “Most people were assuming that the UK would be in recession by around 2021 due to the dynamics of the financial cycle. The virus has accelerated the inevitable and highlighted faults in the system that desperately need addressing.”
In her new book, The Corona Crash: How The Pandemic Will Change Capitalism, written in response to the pandemic over last summer, the 27-year-old explores how this period will affect our vision of capitalism and, most importantly, how the system needs to be restructured to remedy the crisis.
“We need a much more democratic system, we need decentralisation and to get actively involved in making decisions, we need to democratise all bits of the state – House of Lords, Bank of England – we need collective power to take down the power of the few,” says Blakeley. “Many feel like the elite doesn’t care about them, and they are largely right. As it stands, planning takes place undertaken by states, big businesses and financial institutions in the interests of the wealthy.”
Images of inadequate free school meals for pupils now learning from home went viral this week, leading to the discovery that this government has, yet again without any tender process, given a contract to a company, Chartwells, that was run by one of its donors. And, in an outright cruel move, they also froze the pay of key workers who are feeling the brunt of the virus, such as nurses and junior doctors. Blakeley believes the opposition leadership could be doing more.
“There are a lot of good young MPs who have been elected recently – Zarah Sultana [MP for Coventry South] for example – who are already taking a bit of a leadership role in that movement,” says Blakeley, before reinstating her argument for democratisation. “But it’s important that we have greater levels of democracy in the Labour Party and within the left movement. I think that’s one of the main reasons why people always ask, ‘Where is the British AOC [US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]?’ And it’s like, how are they supposed to come up in the Labour Party when there aren’t democratic structures that will facilitate it?”
With coronavirus redundancies hitting those aged 16 – 24 hardest (the age bracket fronting 60 per cent of total redundancies) and many of the creative industries inadequately supported – clubs, for example, are on the brink of “extinction” – pessimism is understandably at an all-time high.
“It’s the conditions that generate pessimism, which are also the conditions that are likely to generate the resistance, which is a source of optimism,” says Blakeley. “It’s easy to look at what’s going on in the world and think, ‘Oh this is terrible, this is shit, there’s nothing we can do about it,’ but if people feel as if they don’t have any power, and believe that there is no hope, then we are consigning ourselves to repeat history over and over again.”
But as seen by the Manchester student halls occupation and the current national rent strike, as well as Marcus Rashford’s #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign, which ensured 1.3 million British children accessed free school meal vouchers over the summer holidays, the people are fighting back.
Blakely agrees: “It’s a question of whether people can organise to shift the balance of power in our society and to build a better world, which will determine what happens next. Nothing is set in stone; it all depends on how people react to the changes that are happening around them. That choice is what gives me optimism for the future.”