This last week has seen confirmation that the UK has experienced more excess deaths during the COVID-19 Pandemic than any other country in Europe. Playing second fiddle to Darth Cheeto’s “everything is bigger in America” world class shit-show is not where I expected us to be back in February when I went into self-imposed exile.
Or was it? I have to be honest I was never confident in the Tories’ ability to do the right thing under the very best of circumstances, but a viral disease that could wipe a few extra old people, sick people and poor people off the books, all the while keeping their hands “clean”?
Yes, I suppose that a part of me was already preparing myself for the disappointments I was about to be faced with, and the deleterious behaviour of our so-called leaders.
I am aware that I have form for seeing malice where incompetence and ignorance make for more likely suspects, especially when it comes to the political establishment here at home in the UK and indeed in other parts of the World as well, but there is a palpable feeling now that we are here, at this pass, that ideology brought us here, not bumbling incompetence.
Clearly I cannot reasonably accuse Bojo the Clown and his gaggle of incompetent, ideologically blinkered sycophants that we all laughingly refer to as the Cabinet, of countless acts of negligent homicide. I have no proof, there is no way to know if the conversation took an unsavoury turn behind closed doors. The thing is that my instinct tells me that it did, or at least that the conversations were all biased towards protecting money, the economy, wealth creation and relying on The Invisible Hand and The Market to save the rest of us while they leveraged their insane levels of privilege to save themselves, all the while kidding themselves that it was their talent and worth and not a series of, for them, incredibly fortunate events.
I have admitted before, somewhat unapologetically, that I had a wonderfully privileged education, and I do not want to retread that whole discussion, nor get bogged down in my own guilt and my own hypocrisy in wishing that I was in a position financially to give my children the same privilege, but I KNOW these people.
Sure enough, there are those of us that went through the Public School establishment system that rejected the ungenerous elitism of the majority of our cohort, but the sorry truth is that schools like mine breed a far greater number of fools that believe their own press - that they are privileged because they deserve it, not because of an accident of birth.
I have a small handful of lifelong friends who I met and forged bonds of brotherhood with at my school, but I have to be honest that many of the people I grew into manhood alongside have become the invisible army of Boris Johnsons and David Camerons and Michael Goves and Matt Hancocks. They are the ones we do not know by name, working away as bankers and barristers, propping up the establishment, safe in their privileged bubble, never meeting anyone with a different experience of life very often, and when they do they are quick to find attributes that belie their assumption that said person would “have fitted right in” at Sedbergh, Ampleforth, Eton, Harrow and Marlborough and the rest.
They are not people who would shy away from the opportunity to make sure that the economy was protected, that the wheels kept turning, even if a few extra people from minorities and the lower orders were the ones to take the brunt of it. Hell these are people that I know would shrug, shed a solitary tear and move on as favourite Aunts and Mothers-in-Law were carried off by COVID, just so long as the order of things was not altered too much and as long as the money kept rolling in. They are the NeoLiberals, people who think that Ayn Rand was a visionary, that the wealthy deserve to remain wealthy and that the whims of the people who control the markets should be allowed to continue to peddle the lie that the Market is independent and fair and above the machinations of people.
The entire British, post-war sensibility of class order and the absolute sanctity of the status quo (which I freely admit I have undoubtedly benefitted from) alongside the lie of the middle class meritocracy has led us to a place wherein the response to COVID-19 was actually a foregone conclusion. There are more than enough people in Britain who honestly believe that they are “not poor” solely because of their own hard work, who blindly ignore the good fortune and privilege that raised them up above the herd before they even got started, and who just as blindly ignore how close they truly are to financial ruin as the gap between them and the true custodians of wealth grows ever wider. These are the people that form the core of Tory support across the country, and they are convinced that they are looking out for their own best interests, but the millionaires that they annoint as our leaders barely even acknowledge their existence, and certainly do not see them as brothers and sisters in common cause.
And what of the Working Classes, and even the Working Poor and their apparent support of Bojo and the Tories? Well, the Tories have common cause with the racists and xenophobes who are so desperately keen to talk about sovereignty and freedom from the yoke of Brussels, but whose arguments are simple to deconstruct and when those arguments crumble, all that is left is a clichéd and grimy, small-minded distaste for foreigners served on a bed of misguided adherence to the idea that British Exceptionalism exists at all and that it applies to them in any way at all.
Alongside the Brexiteers there are the rest, an entire cadre of people who were told that they were getting an education and instead were coached to pass some examinations so that successive governments of all stripes were able to point to some tangible but largely arbitrary standard of attainment for the money spent on State Education. I do not blame them, and as I have repeatedly stated I carry a good deal of guilt over the different outcome I was gifted by my good fortune, nor do I wish to set myself above them; truly I do not see myself as superior, rather I see myself as different. These men and women who parrot ill considered lies that they have been told by career ideologues, and that bear little or no relation or resemblance to reality do so because they were never exposed to the idea of critical thinking, or offered a horizon wider than the six subjects that they were not going to fail and thus in which they were allowed to sit for examinations.
I know that not everyone has a comparable facility with academia, and that not everyone has the same level of intelligence, but I have a strong feeling that far more of the people that voted for Brexit would have voted against it if they had been offered an education like mine, an education that would actually have given them a framework in which the idea of trusting experts would make sense, and in which skepticism about what one reads or sees in the media and what comes out of the mouths of politicians is the default, not the exception to the rule. Far more of them would have been demanding that this government support them in taking more stringent measures over Lockdown and focusing all of its attention on proven clinical treatment, testing, track and trace and the research needed to find a vaccine. Instead we got wave after wave of wooly confusion until even the people who were trying their best to stick to the rules were accidentally breaking them all over the place.
The idiotic lack of concern we have seen in our relatively remote corner of the UK, when taken in context of the wider picture for the whole country, suggests to me that while many many people have taken the entire thing seriously and been sensible and cautious, there is an equally large portion of society that has been reckless and selfish, and I am more and more sure that those people are not fully responsible for their behaviour. We are reaping the whirlwind of a modern society that has been designed for political inertia and a docile electorate that is more focused on their personal goals than on working towards a truly greater good.
We have achieved the goal state that has driven social and foundational political thought for what feels like my entire life, and there is just no joy whatsoever in feeling that all of my thinking and talking and writing about this process for the last 10-15 years has been correct. The vested interests outside of government that have been lobbying and manipulating the media and the public in order to preserve their ability to maximise their accrual of wealth have now become the people actually in government, or at least their adherents have found their way into office and so now we have a powerful political class, who whether they are evil or just oblivious, absolutely value money and the needs and wants of the truly monied above human life and the quality of life “enjoyed” by the vast majority of the people living in our countries. These people have no understanding of or contact with people that are not also indescribably privileged and they are not looking outside their bubble or even trying to comprehend what it’s like to have an average salary in a place like Rotherham or Walsall or Swindon, let alone struggling by on a zero hours contract or trying to make ends meet on benefits.
Does this upset you? Are you like me, do you see what is happening and worry that your friends, your family are all far too exposed to the risk of having their lives ripped away from them by one month of bad luck? This is not the society that any of us want, but if we want security and dignity for us and ours, a group that has to acknowledge a certain amount of privilege, then we have to accept that the price for that is to make certain that not one person is left behind. We need to forge a new society wherein everyone can be sure of their basic dignity in return for engaging with society and doing their best. This idea of doing your best is not a fig leaf to finding ways to deny people with disabilities or chronic illness or mental health problems or just who are going through a horrible, acute set of difficulties the same fairness and protections as anyone who is holding down a job or making their way in the world as a freelance, artist or indeed anyone else. I am not secretly suggesting that the only way to have worth is to create wealth whether for one’s self or for others, but I do believe that doing something with your life, from focusing on making a home and raising children - which let us be clear is a gender non-specific role - to working for the benefit of others, to working in business, is a key to finding one’s place in society and living a healthy and fulfilled life. Work should not be all of who we are, except for those who choose to make it their sole focus and find joy therein, but a whole quality of our lives with time for leisure, creativity, exercise and never ending learning should be the over arching goal of our society, and these things, and the right balance to properly explore them, should be options for EVERYONE, not just the privileged few.
I do not know how we can reasonably hope to change things in this way for the better and as the years pass and I grow older I yearn for these changes more and more keenly. I look at my children and all I hope is that they might live in a World that prizes their well being as much as their ability to make money and spend money.
Perhaps this pandemic and the grotesque incompetence of some governments, which can only be explained by accepting that their priorities are completely wrong, may bring us to a place where the vested interests are no longer able to hoodwink the greater part of the population into believing the hype around the protection of the wealthy on the basis that any of us might be wealthy tomorrow.
There is such a thing as enough, we should not be shy about saying that. Protecting people whose wealth is so great that they could live a hundred lifetimes and struggle to spend their money until it was gone is a false hope for our own unlikely ascendancy; we should reject it and commit to using our privilege to raise the tide and all boats along with us.