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John Bird: Like it or not, we have to help the government do its job

The writing is on the wall for too many people – we don't have time to luxuriate like we did in the old world of slagging governments off
7. Which UK town has seen more council houses sold to private landlords than any other? a) Middlesbrough b) Motherwell c) Milton Keynes

Why is this government so incapable of being firm? It’s as if they slip and slide all over the place. Making decisions and then ‘U-turning’, a term much loved by the press intent on proving how silly the government is. U-turning their way through the last few months, on seemingly all things.

Yes, I’m writing this in the heat of the moment, because that’s where we live. I’m airing the fears and worries at what is coming down the road towards us. I’m not a finger-stabber, but the cards must be put on the table.   

If you want to make hay from the ineptitude of government then arrange a very large crisis the likes of which governments and the public have never been through before. But then just sit back and watch the wrong thinking. The erroneous behaviour. And pick out their ridiculous decisions like good bystanders always do when observing events they don’t personally have to deliver on.

As the world is largely made up of bystanders and observers, critics from the edge, commentators but not doers, it is very easy to comment and condemn because you are never expected to deliver. As a bystander you don’t have to solve the crisis, so you enter into the great observer sport of spotting holes in the practice of elected decision makers. You define yourself by the failures of others. What a wonderful job you have appointed for yourself. And long may you have the time and leisure to be critical outside the field of delivery.

Unfortunately the ‘shit is about to hit the fan’, if you understand the metaphor. Your clever observations will melt like chocolate in a scorching sun. And you will have nothing to show for it. The crisis will be deeper. Many more people will be homeless due to Covid-19-arranged poverty. And your smug correctness will be shown up for the emptiness that it reflects.

In spite of the wisdom of contemporary comment it pales into insignificance before the terrible truth we are facing: that many, many, many people will be unable to pay their mortgage or their rent because of redundancy. Our true role in life now is to stop people falling into what could be a form of mass homelessness. On a level that no one has ever experienced ever before. Not even the ‘Hungry Thirties’ threw up the level of homelessness that we now face. Housing was not the big earner in the 1930s and the recession that accompanied those times. But now the economy’s ‘crown jewels’ are property, and its profitability puts enormous pressure on property owners to keep bringing in the big bucks of former times. So many small and large investors have put their future profits into property ownership that the sweat is on. The Thirties had low rents and low home ownership. Now we have a highly geared property market where simply owning meant you had almost automatic profitability.

I suggest we stop being smart-arsed and get on with saving our economy, and by that our communities and our society

No, the shape of things to come means rethinking almost everything in society. And we cannot celebrate the failure of government when it is the only government we have got. Oppositional politics is a bad joke when the economy is heading for the rocks. We may have to swallow all our class and social hang-ups in dealing with a government that seems inept. Why? Because it was elected by our chosen method, and even if we don’t like it it’s the only government that we have at the moment.

We may snigger from the position of our non-engagement. But what does it do for us? How does it help us weather the strong economic storms coming the way of those who have lost their jobs? And are therefore unable to keep their homes and families together.

Now is the time to bury the hatchet, until we can dig it up again. But to dig it up again we will have to have fought through the gale of recession.

So much point scoring is still being enacted. But I suggest we stop being smart-arsed and get on with saving our economy, and by that our communities and our society. “All hands on deck” springs to mind. Yet we still seem to be masquerading as old-fashioned democrats, as if all the time in the world was still available to us.

We have to fight for our wellbeing

How do we keep people in work? How do we keep people in their homes? How do we keep children in their schools? How do we keep the great, at-times ugly, machinery of government turning over so that social security and social services, not always well delivered, are delivered to enough people?

I wish we had time to luxuriate like we did in the old world of slagging governments off. Alas the writing is on the wall for too many people. I wish we had that former kind of surety of defining ourselves by the failures of others. And all we had to do was comment on their asinine behaviour. A spectator sport of the simplest kind. Alas the world has got a lot realer since the arrival of Covid-19. We have to muck in, get our hands dirty. Become political, not simply every time an election looms. Become involved. Fight for prosperity. 

But that cannot be done with the old tools we used when we seemingly had all the time in the world, and luxuriated in the wrongdoings of governments. We have to help the government do its job. And we have to fight for our wellbeing. We cannot leave it to the large-arses, the dodgy thinkers, the small minded and the ideologically blinkered. We just have to find a way of incorporating them in the fight back into wellbeing. 

At The Big Issue we’ve set out to do just that, through our Ride Out Recession Alliance (RORA) campaign, whose simple aim is to keep people in homes and jobs. It’s a clearing house for ideas about what we can do, and we’ve got some big names signed up. Give us your thoughts. Let’s all do something about it. 

John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue.