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This week marked 100 days since the first case of disease caused by a novel coronavirus was reported by the Chinese authorities to the World Health Organisation (WHO). In that time, the world has changed beyond recognition, with billions of people now under strict lockdown to slow the spread of the disease now known as COVID-19. What started in Wuhan has spread like a forest fire across the globe, engulfing even the most prosperous of nations in a pestilential inferno. 

The result for the United Kingdom, like in much of the rest of the Western world, has been a massive increase in state intervention in the economy. While we are confined to our homes, left wondering what the ramifications will be for the future, the deficit is once again ballooning by the billions and will need to be addressed. To ensure the nation’s long term prosperity, the legacy of the coronavirus pandemic should not be a lasting expansion of the state.

Boris Johnson, who had seemed so unassailable after his stonking victory in the general election only a handful of months ago, still cannot return to work, though thankfully is now out of hospital altogether. The nation came together, across political divides, to wish the Prime Minister a speedy recovery, with his health personifying the health of the nation at a time of crisis. 

His hospitalisation came as a reminder of the vulnerability of all members of society to the virus. Even those at the top, including the Prime Minister himself, can be afflicted. It is also the case, however, that the virus has posed a disproportionately high risk to the poorer members of our society, and the state has had a vital role to play in protecting them.   

Not all people can work from home, and generally it’s those on lower incomes whose jobs are most at risk from the economic shutdown that containing the transmission of the virus has neccesitated. Some jobs, and indeed whole industries, were at risk of total collapse without a credible plan in place. The Government’s unprecedented interventions to keep businesses running and protect jobs has been impressive, as Bright Blue has stated, even contributing to making the Chancellor an unlikely sex symbol after less than a couple of months on the job. 

The Government has made significant changes to Universal Credit too, upon which so many more people suddenly rely, though there is also room to go further as a recent Centre Write blog highlighted. The Government can be credited for leaving ideology to one side and doing what has been necessary to protect livelihoods. This economic crisis is like no other in history, and while former Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn has desperately tried to claim that the pandemic is a vindication of his worldview, the truth is very different. 

The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of supporting the wealth creators of the private sector, the productive part of the economy, without which there would not be the resources to pay for the NHS that is on the frontline in the battle against the pandemic. A resurgent private sector will be needed to bounce back from the disease and pay off the support people have received. The money the Government has mustered to support people isn’t free and will need to be paid back, which is why timing the lockdown carefully has been so crucial. 

It simply isn’t feasible to remain in lockdown for months on end, as the bill for doing so would be ruinous for all of us. What this reminds us of is the overwhelming role that the private sector plays in supporting both the livelihoods of individuals, but also the state and its services. Yes, the state is rightly stepping in to plug the gaps during the peak of the disease, but only because the private sector is the backbone of our prosperity, and that is something comrade Corbyn has never understood. 

While it would be naive to think that this crisis will not impact future policy decisions, it would be a mistake for this crisis to be interpreted as cause for greater state control of the economy or as some blueprint for a socialist future for the United Kingdom. We ought to be wary of those who have used the pandemic as an opportunity to push for radical ideas such as a universal basic income. There is still no magic money tree, despite what some might have you believe. 

It is true that when the Government must turn its attention to balancing the books again in the wake of the astronomical new spending, there is a chance to do things differently. Those on the centre-right must ensure that any zeal for reform is used to build a more modern, dynamic, and meritocratic economy with sound market principles at its heart. This is something that will be guiding Bright Blue in the months ahead.

Joseph is Research and Communications Assistant at Bright Blue. [Image: Number 10]