Labour must unite to build a better Britain after the coronavirus crisis

Dan Jarvis

Although we are in the midst of the greatest public health crisis any of us have ever faced, and the eyes of the country are understandably elsewhere, tomorrow the result of the Labour leadership election will be announced. It will be the job of our new leader, and the job of all of our party, to rise to the challenges presented by the coronavirus crisis.

The pandemic has underlined the fragilities in our economy and our society. After a decade of cuts, the government have pledged ‘whatever it takes’ to beat this disease, safeguard workers and keep our economy afloat. It is our job as the Labour Party to ensure that rhetoric is matched by strong, decisive action and clear, unequivocal guidance.

The role of the opposition is to act in the national interest: support the government when they get it right; hold them to account when they get it wrong. That must be the new leader’s and their team’s first priority. But we also have a responsibility to keep on fighting for resources so that our communities are best prepared in the fight against the coronavirus.

That is what I am doing as an MP and as South Yorkshire mayor. I am in daily contact with our local resilience forum, our directors of public health, local hospitals, police, voluntary and community mutual aid groups and with people and businesses across our region to fight for what South Yorkshire needs.

I have convened an economic recovery taskforce to support our regional economy and protect as many jobs as possible. I’m working to ensure the continued resilience of our public transport system so key workers can get to where they need to be. And I’m providing practical guidance for businesses that are fighting to weather the storm of the coronavirus.

This is undoubtedly the biggest collective challenge we have faced as a country since the second world war. We do not know how long this crisis will last, but we do know that it will change how we live our lives for years to come. Just like in the aftermath of the war, our country will need to be rebuilt.

We need to ensure that the Britain we build will be a radically fairer, more equal society and economy than the one that went before. The economic impact of the coronavirus has exposed the limits and the frailties of the market. This public health crisis has also been a crisis of capitalism. The future will mean a much greater role for the state and the public sector in delivering the basic services that all of us rely on.

It has also exposed the vital importance of the welfare state and social security. For many, this will be the first time they’re required to navigate Universal Credit and other similarly complex benefits. Those already familiar will know how callous and stressful this experience can prove. The days of demonising and denigrating those who have to fall back on the safety net of the welfare state must be over. The opportunity to build a sound, equitable welfare system must be seized with both hands.

However, the coronavirus has also shown what we can achieve when we pull together: the underlying power and potential of our communities. That hundreds of local people in my constituency in Barnsley have signed up as community volunteers to help neighbours in need, and that 750,000 have registered nationally to support our NHS, is a true testament to the fantastic community spirit of which we can be so proud.

The Britain that will be forged in the aftermath of this disease must be one based on the principles of community, solidarity and collective human decency. It has taken a global pandemic to demonstrate the workers who really matter in our economy. When that pandemic passes, there can be no return to business as usual. Our communities have faced a decade of crippling austerity; we cannot, and must not, face a decade more.

We have a long way to go to beat the coronavirus. I know that in the best traditions of our Labour Party and trade union movement, comrades the length and breadth of our country will come together to support those in need. From the new leadership to the Parliamentary Labour Party and our hard-working representatives in local and regional government, to every single member and trade unionist – we will unite to build a better Britain.

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