Covid-19 has led the British state to intrude on the lives of its citizens in a way previously unimaginable in modern times. The prime minister closes businesses overnight, bans leaving home, even regulates who can meet ‚’ with barely any outcry.
This is not the state we would want to see in anything except the direst of emergencies, but in this and other ways the crisis has reminded us ‚’ and in many ways the state itself ‚’ of what it can do when needed.
The NHS has proven able to create huge capacity at short notice and to keep running in the most difficult of conditions. Though maligned, the government machine has proven able to build testing capacity, support early and large-scale vaccine ordering, and to reimagine welfare support to individuals and businesses.
This is a far cry from a longstanding vision of a slow-moving, limited state. What if we can keep that ambition and agility moving beyond the crisis? There is a political consensus that much of the state setup is not right for the modern era: it needs reshaping to handle care with an ageing population, to make welfare work for the 21st century, and to manage the era of automation. Bigger than all of these is the need for the state to coordinate our response to the climate crisis that could otherwise consume us all.
Coronavirus has shown us the state can expand and contract rapidly ‚’ including doing things it has never done before, such as the furlough scheme or creating testing centres. There will be a window, even if a brief one, to seize upon that to tackle our longer-term problems.