A lockdown legacy one suspects those spellbound by the Chinese model didn’t anticipate was the fact many workers whose school-university-workplace conveyor belt hadn’t prepared them for an unscheduled interlude became converted to the unexpected absence of orders. After a lifetime of being told what to do and what to think by parents, teachers, lecturers and bosses, the drones were abruptly left to their own devices and abandoned by the authority figures they’d been meticulously taught to be subservient to from day one; they were initially as dazed and confused as North Koreans would be if deprived of the image of their glorious leader beaming down at them from every skyscraper. Big Brother was dead – or at the very least had been reincarnated as a scaremongering presence on TV and online informing us that any deviation from lockdown regulations would mean the blood of a thousand dying grannies would be on everyone’s hands. We now took our orders from medical experts on the Government payroll. Yet, at the same time, there were still all those scarily empty hours stretching ahead without edicts from Boris, Chris Whitty or…ahem…Neil Ferguson.
Bewildered wonderment at the familiar soundtrack of traffic congestion being replaced by birdsong overnight was routinely remarked upon, though this was swiftly usurped by a discernible panic on social media. Endless Facebook groups sprang up as those who had never experienced a sustained break from the norm were confronted by the sudden shock of having time on their hands that didn’t involve a foreign holiday or airport delays; they’d been taught a break from the 9-to-5 grind was restricted to the well-trodden path of the annual migration to overseas destinations for a fortnight; actual unlimited time in the home environment wasn’t in the script, so what to do? The wake-up call this imposed exile from the traditional workplace routine provoked was longer-lasting than that anticipated by those who masterminded it; when they gradually got a grip on the pandemic and the powers-that-be encouraged everyone to resume commuting, the reluctant embrace of this return to the previous pattern left the overlords in a state of panic, resorting to threatening fines and promises of an economic apocalypse if advice were spurned.
Of course, transferring responsibility from employers to employees was a good buck-passing tactic that was endorsed by our incumbent PM when in his role as Chancellor, but the arrogant assumption that the workforce would simply revert to type following an unplanned taster of an alternative to the preordained programme was naive and short-sighted. Sure, the plebs on the bottom rung of the social ladder were expected to carry on regardless – those who had kept the economy functioning as ‘key workers’; but Amazon delivery-men and NHS staff dependent upon weekly rounds of applause as recognition of their service were not necessarily guaranteed to switch to default mode once the official tributes had been paid by those whose virtue had been signalled. The expectation that such a cataclysmic interruption to working lives upon which so much of society’s structure and functioning is reliant would prove to be a mere blip and all would magically resume once it was safe to step back outdoors was as short-sighted as expressing surprise that the cost of food – especially dairy produce and pasta – has risen astronomically post-lockdown. The disruption to the social ecosystem was bound to leave ruptures in the foundations, and they’re everywhere.
It’s noticeable at the moment there are numerous employers bemoaning the lack of a ready workforce to fill gaping vacancies in the hospitality industry; if they happen to be in possession of a particular political viewpoint – and many are – the blame is invariably apportioned to Brexit. A fair few of those in media circles promoting and supporting this theory were amongst the most vocally rabid advocates of constant lockdowns whenever infections rose above a certain level in the wake of restriction easing. Such figures whose jobs were easily adapted to the Zoom model didn’t give a flying f*** about the destruction of the hospitality industry or the effect of lockdown on the workforce back then; and now the wider ramifications of cafés, restaurants and hotels being mothballed for months on end are becoming evident, they’re bleating on about bloody Brexit again. Yes, the reason why there are 200,000 jobs waiting to be filled in hospitality is all because we can no longer depend on cheap migrant labour due to our departure from the EU. Simple. However, the hospitality industries of Spain, France and Germany are curiously experiencing similar staffing shortages at the moment, yet as far as I’m aware all three remain signed-up to the great European project; even the US is facing the same problems, and Brexit as a cause has even less relevance there than here.
Coincidentally, the one thing all four nations mentioned shared with the UK was the enforced closure of industry during lockdown – especially hospitality. In Blightly, the furlough scheme covered some (albeit not all) of the wages hospitality workers were earning pre-lockdown, and the time on their hands the workforce received courtesy of the Covid master-plan enabled many members of it to wonder whether the pittances they were working long, exhausting hours for were worth returning to once it was all over. Unsurprisingly, a huge number of them came to the conclusion that they weren’t. But they came to that conclusion when they had time to catch their breaths for the first time since beginning their working lives, the moment their bosses closed the doors of their workplace; and that was a factor of lockdown, not Brexit. Whilst Brexit remains the ultimate blame-game bogeyman for all of Britain’s ills, lockdown is almost given a royal pardon, particularly by those who were its loyalist cheerleaders. Indeed, some are even belatedly admitting it went too far – even Rishi Sunak.
The stigmatising of anyone who questioned or queried the wisdom of lockdown regulations as a pariah-cum-traitor during the bleakest periods of the pandemic has now been quietly glossed over by many of those who were doing the stigmatising. There has even been talk of a ‘pandemic amnesty’ by some, and that naturally means we skip over the necessary public inquiry into the damage done and everyone with genuine blood on their hands is first in the queue for the hand sanitizer, the brand known as ‘whitewash’. The over-zealous enforcement of social distancing we all saw at the time, which was a gift to society’s plentiful supply of Jobsworths and straightforward sadistic bastards, was nothing short of a disgrace at its most extreme and unnecessary – from police dispatching drones to name and shame dog-walkers in the wide open spaces of the Peak District to the insensitive officiousness of preventing distressed mourners embracing at funerals to the ‘Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition’ gate-crashing of religious services to the utterly unforgivable barring of family members from the deathbeds of loved ones. None of these outrages should be swept under the collective carpet as the guilty seek to cover their backs with the get-out-of-jail card of an amnesty, anymore than the seismic impact of lockdown on both industry and the workforce can be seamlessly transferred to Brexit.
Anyway, an amnesty won’t return us to where we were before; we’re already well on the road to the next fun-packed episode, currently being bombarded with promises of a new Age of Austerity, one that will make the Austerity ushered in by the Con-Dem Coalition a decade ago resemble the Bacchanalian excess of a Freddie Mercury birthday party from the 80s. The kamikaze rush for ‘growth’ attempted by Liz Truss, the woman Private Eye has referred to as ‘the Lady Jane Grey of Prime Ministers’, perhaps demonstrated just how devoid of solutions those who created this absolute bloody mess in the first place truly are. And even if we spurn the industries they destroyed, our lives are still in their hands.
© The Editor