It would have been so easy to use London’s Hyde Park… but they didn’t.
It wasn’t just a ‘London thing’. It was a national.
Millennium Point in Birmingham, wasn’t the obvious first choice, but railway and road networks made it a place the nation could visit.
As the wind swept its way through the newly planted Cypress trees, mourners gathered, drew their coats around them. Families standing a respectful distance from each other. Tablets of white marble, stretched, in neat rows, embedded in the lawn, each bearing the name of a care worker who died during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020.
The NHS Remembrance Park.
Today is 30th January, 2025, the anniversary of when the NHS declared a level-four emergency and the health and care services swung, promptly, into action.
Five years on. A lot’s changed. Including, the government.
With echoes of what happened to Churchill, after the victory of the Second World War, the Conservatives lost the Covid-Battle, election.
In spring 2024, the Johnson government was forced into a corner and lost a vote of confidence. Public trust, gone.
The nation was exhausted by death, lock-down and following the near collapse of the economy, austerity. The situation was made worse by Johnson’s belligerent insistence that, amidst the chaos, he would ‘get Brexit done’.
Britain was broke and it showed. A grey shadow of its former self. Tory back benchers had, once again, devoured their own party in recriminations and arguments about lock-down and Brexit.
The new government, lead by Sir Keir Starmer offered not much more that optimism but it captured the nation’s need.
Borrowing from Lloyd George’s speech in 1918, to a packed Labour Rally, that filled the Manchester Exhibition Centre, three days before the first, all-electronic election, Starmer said;
‘What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for our heroes to live in. I am using the word ‘heroes’ the spirit of a humble recognition of fact…
…I cannot think that these men and women, their families and friends have been through all this; been at the door of death and witnessed it for themselves, lost the ones they loved, gave up their freedoms, seen their jobs disappear and businesses collapse…
… that we cannot make this country a land that is rebuilding, rejuvenating, renewing its purpose, a new spirit.
There is no time to lose, to make this… a land fit for heroes…’
He was swept into power.
A lot had changed, not least the NHS. Driven by need, during the pandemic, services had moved into the hands of patients, their smart-phones and computers. Primary care and hospital outpatients, with few exceptions, were digital first.
The nation’s dependency on on-line working, was recognised as one of priorities in the Starmer manifesto… broad-band declared a national utility.
In a clever move, the sector was part privatised with the government holding a ‘golden-share’. Companies obliged, by law, to provide fibre-optic broadband to every household and business, within three months.
Companies were compensated with tax-breaks and set about creating jobs that would have given John Maynard Keynes cause for a quiet cheer.
The business face of Britain had change. Rush hour traffic never got back to pre-Covid levels. People just didn’t trust public transport, abandoned cars to the traffic jams and went back to working form home. Employers insisting on office working struggled to recruit.
Shares in commercial property companies plummeted.
The changes in Britain, driven home, within nine months of the outbreak, were the sort of changes that might have taken ten years in ordinary times.
Starmer seized the moment and started turning Britain into one of the most advanced, digital economies in the world.
After the first and second world wars, everyone one who took part was decorated with a campaign medal and so it was that those providing care and ancillary services in the Covid Battle of 2020, were awarded the Elizabeth Medal for their public service.
There was less crime, fewer drug dealers, less litter and no more arguing about funding public services. No going back.
Britain was catching its breath, starting again, wiser, cleaner and greener.
As the Nightingale Flame of Remembrance hazed into the cold air, wintry sunlight broke through the clouds and the multi-faith service came to an end.
The mourners went their separate ways wondering, as today, we are wondering, about PPE shortages, mask indecision, SAGE coverups, care homes, lock-down rows, testing fiascos.
By 2026 the Royal Commission will have told us; it was teamwork that saved us, technology saw us through, truth was a victim of the virus and trust broke the government of the day.
News and Comment from Roy Lilley