In conversation with Rt Hon David Miliband, the President and CEO of the IRC. Covid19 response: UK vs Rest of World?

In conversation with Rt Hon David Miliband, the President and CEO of the IRC. Covid19 response: UK vs Rest of World?


Tulchan Frameworks, hosted by James Harding, Co-founder and Editor, Tortoise Media, in conversation with Rt Hon David Miliband, the President and CEO of the IRC.

On the day that the US hit another daily record of new C19 cases (more than 40,000) while the UK government continued to unveil its roadmap out of lockdown, the conversation focused on the failures of the global response to the pandemic and the prospects of the Trump presidency.

The politics of anger

When populist politics encounters problems that it cannot easily solve - such as the pandemic - its exponents tend to double down. In this case, Donald Trump has demonised China; made a mockery of scientific orthodoxy; and risks plunging the US polity into the ‘democratic recession’. Having initially declared war on the virus, he has now abandoned any meaningful federal strategy against Covid-19. The context is as febrile as it could be. It is alarming that the Eurasia Group lists as its top risk for 2020 the possibility that the incumbent US President may not accept the result of the November election if he loses.

Joe Biden’s prospects

The Democrat presidential candidate’s healthy poll lead suggests that he is on course for victory - allowing, of course, for the unexpected between now and polling day, and, more worryingly, the clear and present danger of electoral fraud or an ugly legal contest over the result. Biden is proving to be an effective and unthreatening receptacle for anti-Trump sentiment, running on his record of service. The Republican Party machine has yet to develop a persuasive counter-strategy. It is important not to underestimate the force of Biden’s ambition: he sees the Trump presidency as an assault on everything he most values in the American system and ethos of public service.

America’s place in the world

The tension between global engagement and isolationism is as old as the country itself. Before 9/11, George W Bush was strongly committed to reducing America’s role as the world’s policeman. Barack Obama said that nation-building should begin at home. But it is undeniable that the retreat from the global stage under Trump - ‘America First’ - has been shockingly swift and created a context of licence and impunity in which dangerous conflicts such as the present tensions between India and China can arise all too easily.

The pandemic

The spread of the virus continues and will be felt in the coming weeks in southern Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Iran and elsewhere - areas where health infrastructure is often very poor and the underlying health conditions of the population makes them more vulnerable to Covid-19. The testing capacity in countries such as Nigeria is nugatory. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has just five ventilators for a country of over 84 million.

The global response

To a deeply depressing extent, governments have gone missing: though the present health crisis ought to be the spur to a vigorous, structured multilateral strategy, this has been conspicuous by its absence. There is insufficient money and what there is is not being distributed wisely. We are fighting a global battle as if it were a series of disaggregated national challenges. For NGOs such the IRC, the priority is to focus upon essentials such as hand-washing, fever-testing, provision of isolation units for the infected, fighting fake news, and supplying PPE. There is also important work to be done in preserving local economies; preventing violence against women; and protecting the vulnerable, especially children. What has happened during the pandemic is that the street (in the form of protests) and intermediate institutions (NGOs and business) have tried to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of multilateral, intergovernmental collaboration. Such activism, in all its forms, is to be welcomed warmly. But there is no solution to the present predicament that does not involve radically-enhanced cooperation between nation-states.