UCL Political Science: Covid-19 Symposia

The morality of governing under Covid-19

Episode Summary

Governments around the world have taken dramatic action in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, restricting liberty to a degree not previously seen in peacetime and causing economic, social, and physical harm to many of their citizens. How should we judge whether such interventions can be justified?

Episode Notes

This episode will examine that question through a variety of political theory perspectives. Is it useful to think of a trade-off between individual liberty and collective security? Is it helpful to assess responses to the current crisis through the analogy of war? It will also look at the impact of the response to Covid-19 on particular groups, including women and vulnerable minorities, and ask how their rights are best protected in these times.

Speakers:

Episode Transcription

Interviewer:               Alan Renwick   

INT:      Hello, and welcome to this podcast symposium on the politics of Covid-19 from the Department of Political Science at University College London. My name is Alan Renwick and I’m your host for today. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives. Understanding the social, economic and political impacts of Covid and how we respond to them is vital. So, the PS Online podcasts are here to help us make sense of what’s going on. Last time, we looked at how Covid-19 will change the way nations govern their economies and societies. Today we’re looking at the morality of governing under Covid-19. The actions that governments around the world have taken in response to the pandemic have restricted liberty to a degree not previously seen in peace time. So, how can we go about judging whether such interventions are justified? Does democracy still matter at a time when we might think we need to follow the science, not let the ideological or self-interested drives of politicians dominate? And what should we make of the fact that Covid, or more particularly, our responses to Covid, appear to have particularly adverse effects on some women and other disadvantaged groups? Well, I’m delighted to be joined to discuss these matters by three of my wonderful colleagues, Dr Avia Pasternak, Professor Richard Bellamy and Dr Maki Kimura, who all teach and research here with me at UCL. Welcome to you all. And before we get started properly, let me just ask each of you, what’s one thing that you’ve learned – could be about the world, could be politics, could be about yourself – what’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself as a result of Covid-19? Avia?

AP:       Thanks, Alan. I think the one think I have learned is how important the state actually is in our lives. I think this is something we can forget in our everyday lives. We think we can avoid politics. We think politics maybe is just for politician, but times of emergency like this tell us, show us, how delusional the idea we can avoid politics really is. So, on the one hand we see how powerful the state actually is, right. It can stop the economy if it chooses to do so. And secondly, we see how crucial it is to our very health, our very lives, that the state uses its powers with competency and efficiency. 

INT:      Fascinating, important thought. Thank you, Avia. Richard?

RB:       Mine’s much more personal really. It’s that I think I’ve discovered that I really prefer actual reality far more to virtual reality. [Laughs] Particularly when it comes to teaching, giving papers. The actual physical presence of people, even though we can see each other  here in this Zoom experience, is something where you get a certain feedback which is much more valuable and something I’d come to miss.

INT:      Yes, I think we can all relate to that. And Maki?

MK:      Well, one thing I learned from this crisis is how crisis like this wasn’t social and political inequality, and unfortunately, the government, which we expect to alleviate this inequality, can actually exacerbate. 

INT:      Yes, a thought I expect we will return to over the next little while. So, thank you for those introductions. Let’s get cracking. The format is that each of Avia, Richard and Maki will present a core idea in a couple of minutes and then we’ll explore that through discussion. So, Avia, you’re going to kick us off with some thoughts on how we can judge whether actions taken by government to tackle Covid-19 that are in themselves harmful are justified?

RES:      Yes, so, I think we all understand the policies of social distancing that have been imposed on us come at a high personal cost. We lose our personal freedoms. We lose our access to our social connections. Some of us have lost our jobs, our economic security. So, a question for us is how to determine at what pace and how soon such restrictions should be removed? And of course, a precise answer to this question depends on a lot of factors on the ground and can change from one country to another, but I think we can identify a sort of a general ethical framework, when thinking about how to balance the various considerations at hand. Here I think the most useful approach is the one that we find in the work on the ethics of war. Now, this might come to you as a surprise, after all, just war theory aims to explain when killing the soldiers of an enemy state is justified, and in contrast, the policy makers that deal with Covid-19, what they try to do is save lives rather than kill people. But crucially in both cases, what the state does is it imposes harm on some people in order to save other people, or if you like, it imposes defensive harm on some of its citizens in order to save the lives of others. So, I think the general principles that we use to examine when defensive wars can be justified, can also be used to assess the policies of social distancing. So, what are the three principles? What are the principles that we use? So, we have the principle of necessity and that principle tells us that defensive harm is justified, only if it is necessary to avert some serious harm. The second principle is the principle of success. So, the defensive harm we impose should have at least a reasonable chance of success in achieving the goals we want to achieve. And finally, we have the principle of proportionality. The harm we impose to achieve our goal must be proportionate to the harm we think it would prevent. So, in essence if we want to assess a certain policy of closure, I think we need to answer three basic questions. Is it necessary to fight the pandemic? Does it have a reasonably high chance of success in doing so? And is the harm it imposes proportionate to the benefit we think it will yield?

INT:      That’s great, Avia, thank you so much. So, we’ve got those three kind of abstract principles there. The principle of necessity, success and proportionality. Let’s try to make those a bit concrete. Maybe it would be helpful to start off with an example from the situation of war itself. Can you give us a concrete example of applying those principles?

AP:       Yeah, of course, and I want to emphasise that these principles are widely used by philosophers and they also serve as the legal framework in which we assess wars in general. And you can think of them as helpful in assessing whether the decision to go to war is justified. So, think, for example, about the decision of the UK to join the US-led invasion to Iraq in 2003, which goal was to protect the US from weapons of mass destruction. Was this decision justified? So, the first principle tells us that we should ask if it was necessary to avert a real threat to the UK, and in hindsight, we know that the answer to this question is negative. There wasn’t a real threat from Iraq at the time. And we also, after a public enquiry, have come to believe that the process by which the decision was made was faulty. The decision makers in the UK should have know the harm is not real. So, the decision to go to war was unjustified on the framework that we generally use.

INT:      Mm. And so, this framework, for those of us who are not political theorists – I’m not a political theorist – is this, the just war framework, is it generally accepted? Is it contested? Are there arguments about it?

AP:       The just war theory is generally accepted, yes. There are a lot of disagreements within, amongst political philosophers, ethicists and within legal frameworks about how specifically to interpret the various principles of necessity, success and proportionality. And you see in the case of proportionality, this could be—you can see how many interesting questions arise here. How do we weigh the various benefits and harm? How should we weigh the harms that are imposed on soldiers versus the harms that we impose on civilians? So, you can see how there are very, very interesting debates there. But as a general framework, it is certainly one, I think, that is widely accepted. 

INT:      Mm. So, let’s get into those difficult weighing questions in relation to Covid-19. We’ve had some great questions submitted to us by students in advance of this podcast and one of them was, how is it moral for the Prime Minister in the UK to not impose mask requirements, like other countries have done, which have much fewer deaths and a decline in deaths and cases? So, we’ve seen in the UK that we’re now advised to wear a face mask or face covering of some kind, but the government isn’t telling us to do so. And I guess that’s one of the really big and important policy questions at the moment. Should government be telling us to cover our faces when we’re in particularly enclosed public spaces? How does the framework

[10:00]

INT:      help us get through that kind of policy question?

AP:       I think that’s a great question and I think I’ll offer my thoughts on that. So, when we look at specific measures, such as whether or not to wear masks, such as whether or not to open the economy, as policy makers they raise both empirical and normative questions. So, if we go back to the three conditions I mentioned, the  necessity, the success and the proportionality conditions, if you look at the necessity and success questions, I think that much of – I’ll answer to the question – much of it will be informed by empirical facts on the ground. So, in the case of the face masks, the first thing we probably want to ask is, are face masks necessary in order to avert the spread of the pandemic, or at least some portion of it? We might also ask, how likely are they to succeed in doing that? So, these are empirical questions, which I don’t have much to say about, but these are the questions we will need to think about. Where normative thinking does a bit more of the heavy lifting, is where we come to the question of proportionality, because here we need to balance between rights, between the autonomy of people and between the harm that not taking the measure will bring about. So, in a way, we need to weigh between different types of basic social goods, and that’s where I think political philosophy teaches us, can give us some advice. And one of the things, I think it points to is that we should be very careful in thinking about the type of harms we put into the proportionality equation. So, recall what our target is, in imposing the lockdowns, in wearing face masks, our target is we protect the lives and health of vulnerable citizens. And life and health is some of the most fundamental needs of human beings. In order to achieve that goal, we restrict freedoms, so, we restrict freedom of movement. We tell you that if you get out of the house, when you get out of the house, you have to have these uncomfortable face masks on you and so, on and so, forth. So, when we assess these two sides of the equations, I don’t think we should treat all of these costs and benefits as equal. In my view, some harms are just too trivial to be counted at all in the proportionality equation. So, yes, when I go out with my mask, I suffer the discomfort of having my glasses fogged up and it is really annoying.

INT:      And you kind of feel a little weird and stupid as well, don’t you?

AP:       You feel weird and stupid, you can’t communicate well with people. These are things that are important to us, yes, if they  make going outside much less comfortable. But I still think that they are trivial discomforts. Okay, they are trivial in comparison to the good of saving lives and health of other people. I would call them some kind of luxury goods and these kind of luxury goods, they just don’t need to be counted at all when we think about the response to the pandemic. We just have a duty to accept them. 

INT:      So, does that mean it’s just a straightforward calculation in this case, that yes, of course, the government can impose face masks?

AP:       I think if it can be shown that the face masks are effective, absolutely, the government can impose it and I think we all have a very strong duty to wear them, regardless of whether the government imposes them or not.

INT:      Okay, Richard, what do you think?

RB:       I sort of was thinking about proportionality, and how precise it could be made. So, usually it’s been said to suggest that one shouldn’t use any means to achieve a certain end, it’s got to be justifiable by the end. Does that mean that some means would never be applicable? We sometimes suggest that. And what about in something like the Covid case where the end is the kind of health of the nation? Surely, we might sort of say almost any means is able, is justified to reach that end. Our prime minister likes to cite the Latin tag, the health of the people is the ultimate good, as it were, and I wondered what you thought about that?

AP:       Some of the fundamental questions in political philosophy about what is our general approach to ethics? Should we care just about consequences? Should we care about the rights of people, the more rules we have to follow? And I think probably when we come to policy  making, the answer is always a little bit of both. We can’t have a too strict approach on either side. So, on the one hand, I think we’d all agree there are certain things we just should not do. So, if we thought that the crisis would be solved by, I don’t know, kidnapping some people and doing secret experiments on them, we would all feel very uncomfortable of that and regardless of the consequence, we’d say, this is just not something that we as a democratic country can allow to happen. But on the other hand, I think that this pandemic does put a very stark term, that we do need to make calculations of cost when we think about lives, especially when we think about the costs of closing down the economy. For many people these are not just economic costs. At some point this will be the, the closing down of the economy, will start seeing its effects in terms of the health and life of people who have been deprived of their jobs, of their access to healthcare and so on and so forth. And at that point, we do need to start making difficult balancing considerations. 

INT:      Maki, I know you’ve got concerns about the use of the metaphor of war in this kind of context, which we’ll get to a little bit later, but what are your thoughts in response to what you’re hearing from Avia at the moment?

MK:      Obviously there are various reasons why I have a bit of a problem of using the metaphor of war, but one of the reasons is, for example, that if you use the metaphor of war, it’s more reactive than proactive. So, maybe we can’t deal with what’s happening in terms of the pandemic, and dealing with the crisis, the rate of infection and the death rate, but at the same time we can not really address the root causes of why this had happened. 

AP:       I think this is a very good point, and I want to emphasise that perhaps the war analogy is not very helpful, but I think the defensive harm analogy is quite helpful. Because I think it does emphasise the fact that we are harming our fellow citizens and we are imposing quite serious harms on them, especially the more vulnerable people of society. We need to think very carefully about whether this harm is a justified harm. I think one of the reasons why harm might be justified if it is done for a good purpose, such as defending the life of others. So, in that sense it’s a useful metaphor.

INT:      Yeah, we’ll get into, more into that issue of the metaphor of war later, but let’s move on now to Richard. And Richard, you’re going to defend the value of democracy even in this situation of crisis. So, take it away, Richard.

RB:       Politicians in the UK and elsewhere have sought to legitimise their handling of the Covid-19 crisis in two main ways, by following the science, and by acting through law. Well, both are important, but neither is sufficient. We need to guard against such arguments being used to sideline democracy, insisting a politician seek democratic authorisation for their policies and be democratically accountable for them, should they fail. It’s important, not only for their legitimacy but also to provide incentives to ensure the measure they adopt are efficient, effective and above all, equitable. Experts need to be on tap but not on top. They may offer conflicting opinions while different sort of expertise need be drawn on. Moral and pragmatic judgements also have to be made as to whose advice should be followed and how. That is the democratic duty of politicians. Why so? We all have right the government should consider our interests equally when framing any collective policy. Democracy seeks to ensure that is the case by giving all citizens and equal vote. This incentivises politicians to seek those measures with the best chance of being of general benefit to the wider population on whom their re-election depends. Of course, this requires the media and opposition parties to play their part in asking ministers challenging questions and suggesting compelling alternatives. It also assumes that citizens take an interest and bother to inform themselves. Requiring governments to rule through and within the law might be seen as a way of overcoming likely shortcomings of the democratic process. It can constrain governments to follow due process and treat all citizens with equal respect and concern. It can also allow minorities whose needs might otherwise be neglected, to gain a hearing. However, the law tends to only have such qualities to the extent it’s embedded in the democratic system.

[20:00]

RB:       Moreover, judges may disagree on how to weigh the rights [s.l. in full 20:03]. We need the rules of law, but that can’t mean the rule of judges. Politicians can’t offload the responsibility for their decision onto others. 

INT:      Thank you for that, Richard. Now that was fascinating. You said there that experts need to be on tap but not on top. And one of the arguments you offered for that was that it’s needed  for legitimacy and legitimacy’s quite a complex concept. But I guess it’s related at least in part to the degree to which people trust the system, that they are part of, and yet, we know from the opinion polls that people trust scientists much more than they trust politicians. So, is it really the case that having politicians in charge, making these decisions promotes the legitimacy of those decisions?

RB:       Well, of course, it may not in the sense that if people felt there was an absolute correct answer how to solve this crisis, they might want somebody to solve it for them. But the fact is, that there isn’t. Medical scientists often disagree about things, part because it can be unclear, for example, it’s unclear to what extent face masks do stop the spread or don’t, partly because when you put on or take off your mask, you may actually infect yourself as a result. And you also have to balance different kinds of expertise, and there are moral judgements involved. So, it’s important that the discussions that we have are informed by the science. So, we don’t want politicians to ignore what scientists might agree on, or to do things which there’s no good reason to do. But in the end, they’ve got to come clean and maybe trust in politicians would grow if they did come clean, and say, look, I’ve got different forms of advice here, all of which is put forward in good faith by scientists and I’m now going to make a political decision as to what to do, which I feel is good, is the best thing I can do, balancing all the different bits of advice and the interests concerned, for the community. And that’s only something that a politician can do. It’s not something that you should ask an expert to do.

INT:      Why not?

RB:       Well, because I don’t think it’s a necessarily—it’s not an issue where there is expertise, as it were. It’s as much a pragmatic and responsive issue as anything else. So, that’s one of the things we want people to make for themselves, and in a way, politicians are reflecting that, or they’re incentivised to reflect that. 

INT:      So, that point about politicians’ incentives is also really important here, I think. So, you said your approach assumes that citizens take an interest, and bother to inform themselves, and  think that your argument is so long as citizens taken an interest, then the incentives that politicians face in trying to get re-elected by citizens, lead politicians to come up with policy decisions that will promote the general good. But do citizens pay sufficient attention to make that mechanism work properly?

RB:       Yes and no. So, one thing that citizens do really know about is how policies impact upon them. So, in one sense, part of the information to experts and [inaudible 23:59]. Jeremy Bentham said that the electorate might not know how to make shoes, but they knew when the shoe pinches. That’s important feedback that they give. They say when the shoe is pinching. But I think it’s also sometimes they may need to know the shoe is pinching for a good reason, or a valid reason anyway. For that they do have to inform themselves, and I think, although it’s a responsibility of citizens to do it, they’re more likely to do it if politicians themselves make that information available to them and don’t treat them like ignorant people, so, they treat them like adults able to make coherent choices. Then I think citizens are more likely to step up themselves if they’re being treated as mature adults rather than as people who are just ignorant.

INT:      Avia, do you want to come in?

AP:       Yeah, I wanted to come in exactly on that. Thank you, Richard. So, you have been one of the people who have argued against judiciary review most forcefully in recent literature and I wanted to quiz you a bit on your views, specifically with regard to Covid-19. What would you say to the worry that if we let politicians listen to the public, in the way that you propose, then we are risking undermining the rights and the protections of minorities within the state? So, just to give a very quick example, I happen to be in the US right now, and there’s a serious worry that if we let the politicians follow what the people say, then the protections for Covid-19, especially as they become to be shown to target already disadvantaged communities, already racially disadvantaged communities, then the majority is just not going to care enough. And that’s where we need the court. We need the court to make sure that the right of everybody are equally protected. 

RB:       So, I think the problem is that the court often tends to reflect the nature of the population at large, it’s difficult for it not to and so, of late, the American court has not necessarily been the greatest at supporting the interests of minority groups. But I think there’s also a more difficult issue here and that is, there might be a number of different types of minority that the court has to, whose interest the court has to take attention to. I think whilst it’s important, one of the advantages of judicial review is that a particular case gets brought before a court and therefore it sees how this generally justifiable policy might adversely impact on a particular individual. So, that’s a way of signalling your proportionality issue. It sort of says, hold on, you may have forgotten that in pursuing this generally worthy aim, it can have this unfortunate effect, and it’s a way of publicising that. But at the end of the day, I think the decision on that balance has to be made by the politicians themselves. It’s more like a fire alarm, if you like. It makes the politicians aware of things, but I don’t think there’s an expert answer to it, that the courts can necessarily offer, because there may be different rights in play. How can we trust the politicians to act on valid information and information which is going to be in the interest of all of the population? And my argument would be, we do it through forcing democratic accountability upon them. So, what we want is for them to sort of, not come and say we’re following the science, but rather sort of saying, well, look, as the minutes of the SAGE committee, the committee which coordinates scientific advice for the government, at present, as you can see from their discussions, we’ve had a debate about different types of advice that we might follow and we’ve looked at their impact on different sections of the community. And this is what we’re planning to do, and this is why we justify it, and they should be forced into this justification, by, for example, an opposition. So, it’s very good that Parliament is now back working, albeit virtually and that what we’ve got what many people think is a very effective opposition leader, who has a long training as a human rights lawyer, who is asking very pertinent questions of this kind, in order to force the government to deal with difficult issues, like, for example, why it is that some of their policies are having a disproportionate effect on black and minority ethnic populations, for example. That has been something that Keir Stammer has brought to the attention of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister and forced the media therefore to focus on. 

[30:00]

INT:      Great, thank you. I think many of us would like to hear more about Richard’s views on judicial review and so on, and of course, we can by reading his books and articles on this subject. But for now, we had better move on, because there are many important themes for us to discuss here. Last but not least, we turn to Maki and Maki, you’re going to argue that our response to Covid-19 has been harmful often, particularly on women and vulnerable groups.

MK:      The stay at home measure assumes home is a safe place for everyone. However, for many people home is a space of danger and insecurity and the victim survivors of domestic violence, often women, are one of those groups who suffer more from the government policies. Globally the lockdown has also affected women financially, as they are more likely to be in insecure work, without the protection of formal employment and in particular, those from ethnic minority backgrounds, like migrants and refugee women, are experiencing greater hardship. The metaphor for war has also strengthened [s.l. militarised 31:18] masculinity. That means dominant and aggressive forms of masculinity and heteronormal activity justify the use of violence, suppressing gender and sexual equality and rights LGBTQI people have often been abused as vectors of this disease and in countries where diverse gender identities and sexual orientations are not protected, they have been arrested and persecuted. Everyone may have been affected by Covid-19 pandemic and the government measures to tackle it, but we really need to understand the [inaudible 31:59] impact this had on those who were already socially disadvantaged and more vulnerable. The final point, the metaphor of war, also masks and justifies the fact that militarism has been suspended by many governments, including democratically elected ones, this crisis has clearly demonstrated that militarism and weapons do not make us safe nor secure, but actually put many people’s lives under threat. Billions spent on military are billions that could have been spent on health and social care. What kind of decisions that we expect our democratic governments to make to protect people and which security is it that we would like them to emphasise?

INT:      Thank you very much, Maki. You’ve introduced three really big and important themes there. So, the first on the impact of lockdown, then on the effects of using the metaphor of war that we talked about a little bit earlier and thirdly on public spending priorities. So, let’s just focus on the first of those to begin with. Can you just take us through some of the evidence on ways in which lockdown has affected women more than men?

MK:      MK:      So, obviously I gave the example of domestic violence. Obviously, the victims of domestic violence are not always women, but more likely, more likely are affected by domestic violence and lockdown has significantly affected women in terms of accessing refuge and appropriate services. But at the same time, this crisis has increased the number of incidents of domestic violence. For example, even in just European countries there’s been a report, there’s been a 60 percent increase of emergency calls, so, that is one of the examples. And another example is, as I said earlier, that the women are more likely to work in informal sector and have insecure employment. There’s been a lot of report that men are more likely to be the victims of disease, so, I’m not denying that men have been affected by Covid-19, but at the same time, there has been obviously a scientific report that this can be explained by physiological differences between men and women but also can be explained by social gender norms between men and women. But I really want to focus on how this kind of gender inequality has been farther impacted by this pandemic.

*INT:      Yes. Avia, how do you respond to that? I guess it fits in quite a lot with what you were saying earlier about harms and how we weigh different harms in looking at policy responses. *

AP:       Maki sheds an important light on sometimes the society, we might just be blind to certain kinds of harm in light of existing ideological prejudices and that the proper weighing and balancing of harms and benefits shouldn’t concentrate on the harms that that caused to dominant groups in societies only, but also to the harms that are caused to vulnerable groups across gender lines for example. I think, I wonder if Maki would agree with me though, that when we do these questions, the ethics of self-defence framework helps us in at least organising our thoughts around this. So, I completely agree with Maki that we should put into our proportionality equation calculations, the harms that fall of the type that she described along gender lines, but I think that this is just part of the thinking process that we’re doing. We should not ignore on the other hand, the harms to citizens, to the rest of citizens in society, the very real harms that a lack of lockdown policy would impose on them. So, I assume we are in agreement here, Maki, am I correct? 

MK:      Yes. Obviously, what my question is where we think about proportionality and harm, whose harm that we need to take in account and these kind of things that we really need to think about? We cannot generalise harm. Citizens are not in one unity, so, we need to consider whose harm that we are considering and what kind of proportionality that we need to take into account. 

AP:       Yeah, I agree with that and I also think that we should be very wary in the societies as we live in them, unequal and non-ideal as they are, that we have to recognise that we will have a tendency to ignore certain types of harm and that I think we cannot expect citizens who are already disadvantaged, to just take whatever the state demands of them to do and to accept these very, very serious burdens, when they feel that they’re own interests are not properly being taken into account. So, I suspect that if people feel, a certain part of the population feel that the harm falls disproportionately on them, they will be very reluctant to accept them and to comply.

INT:      Richard, do you want to come in on that?

RB:       Yes, I suppose there’s a certain paradox here, isn’t there, in the sense that the government has often justified its policies in terms of protecting the vulnerable and yet, a number of vulnerable groups are women, as you have said, but also the elderly in care homes have actually been disproportionately affected by the policies. Or perhaps not so much by the policies themselves as by the way they’ve been implemented very often, for example, with the elderly in care homes, by not giving them adequate access, to the hospital not taking enough care ensuring that they could get adequate GP assistance, that there was protection amongst the caring staff and presumably about women not ensuring social workers were checking up on vulnerable groups and so forth.

MK:      I often use examples of women as sort of vulnerable groups, but I completely agree it’s not just women, but also in elderly groups, but also as I mentioned earlier, those people, those communities who are displaced. We also need to take into account what kind of different impact that they actually had experienced through this crisis. 

INT:      It would be great to follow up these thoughts further. Those are really, really important themes, but the clock is always against us and just before we finish, I really want to get in one more student question, because we’ve only had one so far. Another of the questions we were asked was, has the government now set a precedent in dealing with extreme health crises? And I guess that could have many, many dimensions, and perhaps what’s most interesting for us in the politics department is have we developed ways of doing politics and policy making in this crisis that are likely to stick over the long term? So, are we likely to do politics differently in future from how we did it before this crisis began? Richard, do you want to start us off on that?

[40:00]

RB:       Well, in trying to say not to do it as we’ve done it in handling the crisis, which hasn’t been a great success. Or perhaps one thing has been a success and that is that having parliament go virtual, allowing the leader of the opposition to actually get an answer from the Prime Minister, maybe that’s a good way of doing things and a general commitment to transparency to having informed decisions from experts that inform decision making. Maybe those things aren’t so bad either. 

INT:      Well, hopefully in four weeks’ time we’ll be exploring some of those thoughts further with Meg Russell, a great expert on UK parliament. Maki, what do you think?

MK:      What I think is obviously the government have learned how to deal with this kind of emergency situation, but at the same time, what I’d really want us to take away from this experience is how to avoid going through this kind of experience. So, I think we really need to think about how policy should be developed to avoid, preventative measures rather than reactive. So, we need to think about how, for example, I mentioned in my statement about how we should spend on more social care to protect these kind of things happening in future.

INT:      Yes, of course, the question of whether that will actually happen is quite a different one. Avia, what are your closing thoughts?

AP:       Thank you. Yeah, I think it’s a good question and I want to say two very brief things. One is, I think there is a precedent here and I think that we’ve learned that the state can do things when it wants to do things, and it can do pretty radical things when it sets it mind to do them. Of course, this crisis will pass, but there’s another looming crisis ahead, already here in fact, climate change crisis and we’ve often said that our states just don’t have the ability to deal with this type of problem. But now we see actually it can and we can expect it to. And the other very quick thing I want to say is that it’s not just the state that has started behaving differently, it’s us citizens as well. There’s been amazing examples of local, mutual aid organisations, where people just come together and start looking out for each other and start helping each other. There’s been an amazing example of civic engagements and I really do hope that we will continue to see it in the future, whatever crisis awaits us ahead. 

*INT:      Those are some wonderfully uplifting thoughts with which to close. Thank you so much, Dr Avia Pasternak, and also Professor Richard Bellamy and Dr Maki Kimura. This podcast is the second in our series this term, looking the politics of Covid-19. If you’d like to listen to the first podcast from a couple of weeks ago, or sign up for future episodes, search online for UCL Political Science and go to PS Online, or search on your podcast provider for UCL Political Science Covid-19 Symposia. Next up, available from 4th June, we’ll be following up on some of the themes that we have explored today, looking at Domestic Repression and International Order – the plight of human rights after Covid-19. And if you’d like to submit a question for that, please do so on our website. You can do so anytime before 28th May. But for now, from me, and from all of our guests here at UCL Political Science today, goodbye *

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