Opinion: Thoughts on the Here and the Now

April 24, 2020

 

Seventy-five years ago, some of our forebears fought a great battle on behalf of the nation. They put their lives on the line so that the vast majority could enjoy the freedoms that were and still are at the very centre of the United Kingdom’s ethos. The rest of the population – those who weren’t on the front line – did what they could to help but by and large went about their business in the normal way, even though their very way of life was under threat.  The nation’s leaders didn’t lose sight of the fact that some people were vulnerable though, and moved those who were away from the areas of greatest risk. The nation has never forgotten the sacrifices made by the few.

Above: the 'Mother of All Parliaments' is also much emptier than normal (M D Beckwith)

 

Thirty years ago, the citizens of Eastern Europe were also fighting a battle. This one though did not involve bombs, but walls and oppression of free spirit. In the communist normal, people did what they were told without question, needed permission to travel, spied on their neighbours, and suffered through shortages of food and staple goods. Almost every aspect of their lives were dictated by the political elite. Does this sound familiar today? Eventually the people of Eastern Europe had had enough, and the repression was defeated through collective will-power and uprisings in Poland and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

 

Today the UK – and nations across the globe – is fighting another war against an invisible enemy. We all face restrictions on our movements, we are being ordered to stay at home, in many cases our livelihoods are vanishing in front of our eyes, and yet a significant proportion of the population just seem to be prepared to accept the situation.  If we had been told a few years ago that we could not sit in a park; that we could be fined for going to the seaside; that we would only be allowed out of our houses once a day, we’d have laughed at the absurdity of the suggestions. But now it has become the norm. We are ordered to comply with new rules without question, repressed, and are fined for failing to conform.

 

Police presence in certain areas, including public parks, has seen numerous instances of heavy-handed action (Kevan James)

 

Meanwhile, the economy is tanking with some pundits now suggesting that it will take decades to recover, and that the country will face a larger challenge than that of the great depression. Businesses have already been bankrupted, hundreds of thousands have been put out of work and not all of the jobs that are lost will come back. Already there are forecasts of increased deaths from cancer as screenings and treatments are not taking place, while as the true impact of the lost jobs and livelihoods becomes more apparent the death rate from suicides is likely to increase. In the long run, there is every chance the damage being done to the livelihoods of huge numbers in the UK will cause far more damage than a virus that at worst will result in fewer deaths than occur through flu every year or be a short-term illness for the vast majority and at best will go unnoticed.

 

Why is this being allowed to happen? The nation is largely accepting it because few people look much further forward than the next paycheck. They react to today’s problems, and leave the longer-term consequences for later. And that means our politicians – those who are making the decisions – are not challenged but instead are judged on what they are doing now, sorting out today’s problems and chasing tomorrow’s headlines and not next month’s. 

 

Our politicians are aware that their every move is closely scrutinised and picked over by the media and by the public at large. Naturally they react to what is happening in a way that reflects well on them now, during the daily press conferences where they are questioned by a mainstream media that is more concerned with sensationalism than truisms. Politicians are thus desperate to appear to be doing something about the short-term problem, while ignoring or at least obfuscating the longer term challenges their decisions and actions pose for the country.

 

Protect as many people as they can now and to hell with the consequences for the long-term future is where they are at. They are, in effect, “fiddling while Rome burns”. None of them seem prepared to consider what’s best for the country’s long-term viability, because that would involve taking decisions about the short term that would be unpopular, and might even be regarded as callous. They have an overwhelming desire to look good now as the bigger problem that comes later doesn’t matter – in four and a half years when the nation is still on its knees as a result of the economy crashing, they might be voted out anyway. And most of them are affluent enough to not be affected by an economic depression, unlike the ordinary man in the street. The reality is that the nation needs to be put back to work; not in three weeks; not on some as yet unspecified date; but now.

 

With schools closed, education and young people are hindered, while many shops and other public places remain empty (Kevan James)

 

Yes, we need to take sensible measures such as washing our hands carefully and social distancing where possible, as well as protecting those who are truly vulnerable to the virus. The rest of us need to be allowed to get on with our lives – to start working and generating money again that will drive this nation forward. Yes, there’s a risk that a small proportion of those who return to work will get the virus and some will die as a result of other conditions that arise because of Covid-19. But this virus is not deadly to the vast majority. People who have lost their income – in pubs, bars, shops, restaurants, leisure venues, travel and tourism – need to be able to start rebuilding for their future if they want to. This is vital, because the government has already admitted that it cannot possibly help every family and every business.

 

Fundamentally, and tragic though it may be, we need to accept that to get through this situation while preserving the viability of the nation for the future, some people will lose their lives. Not huge numbers, not even twice as many as normal yet more than normal however. Against that, never before has it been truer that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” 

 

A vaccine or drugs are too far away and we cannot continue in lockdown. Our politicians need to face up to this harsh reality and act accordingly. But they won’t because they are placing their own self-interests and image above the future of everyone in this country.

 

 

© Andy Martin 2020

 

 

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