Can we Build Back Better taking inspiration from the iconic War of the Worlds character?
At the beginning of the pandemic, one of the books that went right back to the top of the bestseller list was War of the Worlds by HG Wells. Its descriptions of the end of the British Empire, with the then unthinkable devastation that British soldiers had meted out on other cultures and foreign cities being dealt on the familiar streets and suburbs of London. This apocalyptic vision was just one of those antediluvian dystopias that people seemingly needed to refer to in order to process what was happening.
As the ‘normal’ processes of life have been overturned for millions, the demand that we do not return to the status quo has grown in popularity. The slogan Build Back Better or variations of it has been adopted by groups across the political spectrum. But just as with the character of the Artilleryman in War of the Worlds, what we face is not the construction of a new utopian society. These hopes are as doomed to failure as his pathetic trench into the distant sewers. In our war, the Martians, the ruling elite, the 1%, in the UK actual nobility, have not and will not be defeated or replaced. The world that will be rebuilt will be in the model of the first, but it seems already that many of the freedoms that we took for granted will never be restored. The war machines of disaster capitalism stalk the countryside, scooping up billions of pounds of misappropriated government funds, profiteering on a grand scale from non-existent PPE and failed track and trace programmes, continuing to exploit and bleed dry the survivors of an entirely avoidable disaster.
Some people, mostly the middle classes, have had an unaccustomed taste of freedom of a sort. They have been liberated from the daily grind of the commute, being able to spend more time with their families. They have had greater autonomy in the daily working lives. They are not so keen on surrendering this way of life if asked to return to their battery-chicken offices, crammed commuter trains and buses, to plastic sandwiches and over-priced franchise coffee.