Building back better - why we can't go back to normal after the Coronavirus crisis has passed - Adam Price, Leader of Plaid Cymru
When we get out of the Coronavirus crisis, we can't go back to the way things were before, argues Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price. The Senedd elections in a year's time presents the best opportunity for change ever offered to the people of Wales.
As we contemplate the end of one war this weekend, we remain in the grip of another. VC day – Victory over Coronavirus – may be many months or years away, but the spirit of 1945 should give us some cause for hope. Because out of the devastation came a new-found determination to rebuild a country fit for heroes – to build back better.
Never waste a crisis, as the saying goes. But that’s what exactly what we did in the financial crash of 2007. The banks had a bailout but the people got austerity.
This crisis feels different, though. At its heart after all is not financial contagion, but life or death.
Few of us are untouched by grief. Because this crisis has affected everyone it could just possibly change everything. The choice is ours.
Coronavirus has thrown open a window and shown the fragility of so many of the things we truly value.
It has locked us into our homes, short circuited our relationships with friends and family, crashed our economy, and placed untold pressures on our health and care services, and those that serve in them.
At the same time, it has forced us to think differently. For more than a decade we have witnessed a gnawing at the foundations of our public services.
Our local authorities have seen their budgets slashed. Our care homes have been out-sourced and under-funded.
A £500 bonus for every care worker has exposed the grim reality that these essential workers have been chronically over-worked and under-paid for decades.
And the so-called “four-nation approach” – lauded with naivety by Labour – has brought to the fore how Wales is always at the back of the queue when it comes to Westminster’s priorities.
Blindly trusting Westminster when it dropped the WHO’s advice to test and trace was surely a terrible mistake. When Britannia decided to waive the rules – obsessed by its own superiority complex – we should have listened to the world, not to Westminster.
Now as we contemplate coming out of Lockdown as a nation, it’s the time we unlocked our imagination too.
We cannot simply return to what some are already calling a new normal. We cannot allow our lives to just gradually pick up, while the pandemic recedes to a mere episode in the rear-view mirror of our past.
No. The extraordinary experience which we have all shared these past weeks must become a shining light illuminating a new set of values and priorities for the way we want to live in the future.
If the crisis has taught us anything it is this: the sign of a decent society is how we treat people at the dawn of their lives, our children; at the twilight of their lives, our elderly; and in the shadow of their lives, the sick and the needy. If we care for each other, and for those who care for us, then all of us who can must contribute more, much more than we have done.
The crisis has demonstrated, too, that we have not all been in this together in the same way, equally. Those in our poor communities have been much harder hit, twice as likely to die from the disease. People in flats without gardens, families with children without adequate space, are having a totally different experience of lockdown.
This tells us, doesn’t it, that coming out of the crisis we must put tackling poverty in our communities at the centre of our politics. Coronavirus has laid bare the scandal of abandoned targets for tackling poverty. In Wales, a third of our children still live in poverty, locked-out as much as locked-down. This is put plainly unacceptable in a wealthy country like our own.
Coronavirus has cut the supply chains of our economy. It’s not just the challenge of reviving our essential transport links, such as the shipping routes to Ireland from Pembroke Dock, Fishguard and Holyhead. It’s the vulnerability of long supply chains. We will need to shorten them and become much more self-sufficient, from PPE to fruit and vegetables.
We will need to put a new emphasis on what is called the foundational economy, the local provision of the basic necessities of everyday life – food, shelter, local transport, banks. We need to make our towns and small communities much more resilient in the provision of these essential services.
Coronavirus has given us a heightened awareness of the beauty but fragility of our environment. We cannot go back to traffic polluting the air of our communities. We must make our town and city centres free from traffic and promote safe walking and cycling instead, not just for these few precious weeks but permanently.
We need a generational, transformational programme of investment in our social infrastructure – care homes, surgeries, schools, libraries and parks. If we can build field hospitals in weeks then why can we not abolish homelessness in the months and years ahead of us. If we can realise the urgency of this crisis, then why can we not act on the climate emergency we’ve declared.
A year from today we can change the tide of our recent history. These first Senedd elections could provide the basis for the most radical new policy agenda ever offered to the people of Wales. For my party it will be a manifesto that has emerged directly out of the crucible of the coronavirus crisis. It will demand a fundamental new approach. It will be a chance to declare our independence from old ways of thinking and old ways of voting. The first step on the path to that most radical, transformational idea of all, Welsh independence itself.
But policies by themselves are never enough. For the twenty years since the National Assembly was first established in 1999 there have been all manner of policies, targets, declarations, and good intentions.
What has been missing is a plan for delivery, a determination to get things done. If we want to change it, then it can change. But the change must start with us. In the shadow of this disease, ask not what you can do for Wales. Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what we can do together, for each other. We may be a small nation, but as New Zealand has shown the world over the course of these last few months, if we believe in ourselves and in each other, there is no limit to what we can achieve.