Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, son of the judge, rather unexpectedly quoted Lenin last week in a Mail article berating law yers for aiding money launderers.
Permit me to follow suit by disinterring one of the ill-starred revolutionary’s better lines: ‘There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.’
In 2008, the collapse of Lehman Brothers felt a bit like that to hacks like me working on newspaper City desks. But it proved to be a false alarm – or a false dawn, for those of a left (if not necessarily Leninist) persuasion. Normal service was eventually resumed, albeit at enormous cost to the ordinary taxpayer.
Is the Covid-19 crisis the real thing? Unlike Lenin in his day, very few earnestly anticipate the collapse of capitalism. But debate has recently turned from the immediate consequences to what may well be a violent rupture in its fabric. To cite just one sector of the economy, when shops, offices, pubs and restaurants reopen, will people actually go back to them in anything like the same numbers? And is the virtual world of work which so many clerical workers now occupy going to endure – and be mirrored by a world of virtual consumption?
No one knows. Yet there are plenty of lawyers who have reason to take a close interest.
As Wedlake Bell’s Suzanne Gill observes in this week’s special feature on commercial property, any lingering cultural aversion to remote working is in the process of being thoroughly extinguished. This is likely to greatly accelerate the trend for investors to pour money into ‘alternative’ sectors such as student halls, mega-warehouses and nursing homes.
And what of retail, our largest private sector employer: a sector already battered by online shopping that is presently cloistered behind a hundred thousand shutters? As longstanding fixtures such as Debenhams fall like so many dominoes, one poll suggests that only 20% of us are expected to hit the shops as soon as lockdown ends, amid fears over money and job security.
Take a walk down your local high street in a couple of years’ time and it may well look very diff erent. Rents and leases may look very different too.