What is referred to as ‘real-time’ rarely impinges upon long-running works of fiction; for example, if the chronology of our world was applied to ‘The Simpsons’, Bart would be roundabout 40 now; but he remains frozen in a no-man’s land somewhere between pre-and post-pubescence because that’s his character for life. A rare instance of real-time seeping into a successful animated franchise came with the third instalment in the ‘Toy Story’ series. Reflecting the decade-long gap between II and III, Andy – the little boy whose toy-box had provided the movies with their non-human stars – has aged several years and is now poised to leave home for college. However, he remains emotionally attached to his childhood playthings and reluctantly surrenders them to the young daughter of a neighbour at the eleventh hour. Even when Andy knew it was pointless holding on to his toys when they’d simply be stuck in the attic rather than being enjoyed by another child, he still found it tough to let them go. But it can be tough letting go when something becomes entrenched even though its relevance has expired – whether childhood toys, a failing marriage…or a lockdown.
A couple of weeks back, when we experienced a sustained bout of warm weather on the eve of Boris’s revised instructions to the people, I mused on how much longer the people could be kept indoors. Many were already beginning to seep out of their fortresses, lured by the sun and prepared to gamble with the threat of arrest if it meant alleviating boredom in the open air. Why not, they thought – after all, the NHS wasn’t overwhelmed, the Nightingale pop-up hospitals were all-but empty, and the members of society who were actually experiencing the coronavirus as the genuinely lethal plague we’d all been led to believe it was would have been just as vulnerable to it had the country carried on running as normal. Nobody was going to die because a few people sat around in a public park.
Although the elderly had been earmarked as the most at-risk from day one, the fate of many was sealed with or without the lockdown on account of so much focus being given over to the NHS. Such was the fear generated by the nightmarish prospect of hospitals swamped with coronavirus casualties, anyone admitted with symptoms would be swiftly dispatched back home once through the worst in order to avoid congestion. And that’s all fine and dandy if you’re heading back to your own place – not so if the virus is still in your bloodstream and you’re returning to a care-home that is effectively an all-you-can-eat buffet for Covid-19 to feast upon.
The short-sighted approach to the care-home issue seems to me to be the single biggest cock-up in the litany of them that the mainstream media is so fond of reciting. But, hey, the Peston’s and Kuenssberg’s are having fun scoring points as their ratings are flying high, so it’s to be expected, I guess. Whether or not the Government has made an almighty mess of everything – and, let’s face it, this particular administration is not exactly crammed with intellectual heavyweights or inspiring political giants – endless comparisons with the approaches of other nations to the coronavirus, especially in Europe, seem pointless when each country has its own unique set of circumstances to deal with. A one-size-fits-all approach to this crisis just doesn’t work, not even within the borders of one nation; as I’ve said before, there has to be a point whereby recognition is given that some parts of the UK are more at risk than others, and the easing of restrictions needs to reflect this.
Giving back the freedoms taken away from the people may well be something some in authority are reluctant to do, for sure; in many respects, this troublesome electorate that goes against the political class by voting Leave and then having the nerve to kick the main Remoaner offenders out of Parliament has finally been rendered powerless and is utterly at the mercy of its overlords at last. But when one considers the economic collapse that the Government is now confronted by as a consequence of events, it’s difficult to see what it gains from prolonging the lockdown; getting society fully functioning again is in No.10’s best interests as much as it is anyone’s, and the last thing a man so concerned with how history will remember him as Boris Johnson is will want as his Prime Ministerial legacy is a Suez, an Iraq or a 2008. That’s exactly what his tenure in Downing Street will amount to if this goes on much longer, however – indeed, it may already be too late; but he’ll surely seek to minimise the damage if he can. Yes, the country’s police forces might mourn the passing of their temporary stint as Brownshirts, but a Government elected with a whopping majority and able to boast record levels of employment just five months ago is hardly likely to stand back and watch it all go up in smoke overnight.
At the moment, it feels the lifting of the lockdown – even if a gradual and protracted process – will not so much struggle to re-establish normality because of any reluctance of the authorities to relinquish control, but will be stymied by the fear the Government instilled within the majority of the population to bring it about in the first place. Scaring the people into observing the containment of Covid-19 was naturally enforced by the closure of most shops, businesses and places of entertainment; but so effective has this particular Project Fear been in its impact on the behaviour of the general public, who knows what the long-term damage could be? People might want to go back, but are they capable after two long months of this? Socially distancing in the sun is one thing; returning to the workplace and indoor public spaces whilst simultaneously trying to maintain that distance could prove to be one hell of a headf**k. There’s the danger many have become so institutionalised to the two-metre lockdown lifestyle that it could take years to properly pick up where we left off.
Of course, some are more eager to settle back into the old ways than others. Those elements of the middle-classes that lean to the left have had a good war so far and it’s no surprise they’re amongst the most vocally opposed to the lockdown being lifted. In political terms, their true ideological leader is Nicola Sturgeon, but they have to make do with the boring barrister south of the border, who at least has the backing of the unions – and the unions are another long-redundant section of society that are relishing reclaiming the spotlight, especially those representing the teaching profession. The middle-class environment might suit home schooling, but sending their kids back to school isn’t something some parents can choose to opt out of; if schools do reopen in June, they have to reopen for everybody – and the parents that most need them to reopen are being denied that at the moment. There may well be legitimate concerns on the part of teachers themselves, but the spat that has overshadowed the issue this week almost feels like another extension of the polarisation that has characterised discourse over the past couple of years. And no child will benefit from that.
It really was a case of damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t at the end of March for this Government. I don’t really think they had much option but to take the path they did; the MSM certainly wouldn’t have relented from claiming the blood of every fatality was on Boris’s hands had the lockdown not come into effect, yet it was destined to be a no-win scenario even if this administration was the most capable and talented in living memory. The U-turn over the health immigration surcharge on non-EU migrants has the feel of another capitulation to media pressure from a Government so concerned with public perception as it balances on the economic precipice that it is willing to bow to any demand if demanded loud enough. Some might argue that’s what it did two months ago. Yet however bumbling and stumbling it appears to approach every challenge, it now has another tough choice confronting it that is every bit as tough as the one confronting it two months ago. But whoever said government was easy?
© The Editor