I’ve stopped watching the government’s daily Covid-19 press briefings because they make me feel like I’m stuck in a Groundhog Day film script, and I know that script by heart for it never changes. One government minister’s presentation blends into another’s, they’re like robots, emitting pre-recorded sentences that no one bothers to update.
What was I thinking, holding out hope that the government would grow a backbone in the face of a pandemic that is claiming hundreds of lives a day across Britain? How naive was I to think that the prime minister’s illness and treatment in an NHS hospital might change him for the better?
I hoped for strong and constructive leadership in a time of unprecedented crisis, but all we’re getting is the same tired slogans, set on repeat: “Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.” Every time I hear a government minister using “we’re guided by the science,” in a sentence I want to scream in frustration and disbelief. But why am I even disappointed; shouldn’t I know by now that the government, to quote the author Philip Pullman, “have not a single grain of shame”?
In a recent essay commissioned by Penguin, Pullman doesn’t hold back in his criticism of the “rickety, fly-blown, worm-eaten old structures [of power],” of the “vain and indolent public schoolboys in charge,” and “hedge fund managers stuffing their overloaded pockets with greasy fingers.” It’s the best piece of writing I’ve read in a long time. It’s more than that, though, it’s a call to arms, as Pullman commands us to “burn out the old corruption and establish a better way of living together.”
All crises bring out the best and the worst in people, and as former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman points out in her piece for the same Penguin essay series, the Covid-19 crisis “has revealed those who serve others and those who seek to serve only themselves.”
Every crisis contains within it both danger and opportunity – an opportunity for constructive change. But which way will we go? We all have a choice, Blackman says. “Do we go back to the system we had before, where individualism and ‘pulling up the ladder’ were applauded and lauded, or do we try to adopt a more caring, communal attitude, understanding that the fate of our neighbours is inexorably linked to our own?”
It wasn’t long ago that we were told by a government unwilling to spend its precious sterling on people in need, that there’s no magic money tree. The Covid-19 crisis has revealed that claim to be patently false, for where there is a will, there is a way. Put bluntly, as long as there is political will, there is money to spend.
We mustn’t allow ourselves and our political leaders to return to business as usual once this crisis is over. Lest we were blind to it before, the Covid-19 crisis has revealed the truth of a broken system plagued by socio-economic inequalities, health inequalities, and political inequalities. We can’t go back to the old normal once the pandemic is over, for the old normal only served the privileged few. Instead, we must imagine and create a new normal that works for everyone; a normal where health comes before profit; community before individualism; and equality before privilege.