Britain is swinging between two extremes. On the one hand, there’s a silly Blitz spirit being invoked in response to the coronavirus pandemic, while on the other, there are demands that cringing deference be paid to a cruel and incompetent government, which has wasted several weeks instead of preparing for the pandemic.
First, the definition of the word ‘obeisance’.
a movement of the body expressing deep respect or deferential courtesy, as before a superior; a bow, curtsy, or other similar gesture.deference or homage:The nobles gave obeisance to the new king.
Last week, I read an interesting article by The Guardian’s Nesrine Malik, who wrote:
There is an odd piousness that infects the public and the media during times of national crisis. Overnight, our leaders are imbued with qualities they previously did not possess; in Boris Johnson’s case, with qualities he is notorious for not possessing. His pandemic management plan, one released with little supporting scientific evidence, is not to be questioned. It is to be followed and, if you like, praised. For those particularly susceptible to fetishising those in power in troubled times, it is to be hailed as not only clever, but a sort of counterintuitive genius. In Britain this is how we like our heroes – boffiny underdog types who retreat to their self-built labs at the bottom of the garden, and emerge with a panacea.
In these conditions, a leader is laundered of historical recklessness and proven incompetence. Any minor adjustments in behaviour become major corrections. There was a point towards the end of the government’s post-Cobra press conference when it became clear to me that Johnson was struggling to get through it all with a straight face, without making a quip. He ummed and aahed, fighting his compulsion by making vague noises. He almost pulled it off, but fell at the very last stretch, saying that the aim of the plan was to flatten the peak of the infection, to “squash that sombrero”. He then left with a hurried afterthought of a message to the stricken: “We will get through this.”
Johnson and his team’s hagiography is already being written merely for coming up with a plan, not because it works, but because in times of crisis our exceptionalism becomes embodied in our leadership. We are keeping the country open as the rest of the world does the opposite because we have cracked it.
Things have moved on since that article was written and, last night, it was announced that pubs, bars and restaurants would close. This, however, prompted complaints from the usual quarters about freedoms being lost, some of which have been couched in World War 2 Blitz rhetoric, while others, like this one from Brendan O’Neill was simply idiotic.
Britain without its pubs is not Britain. It just isn’t. It becomes something else. Something worse. Something less free, less convivial, less human.
Yes, we all know that Covid-19 is a serious disease and we all agree that huge amounts of government resources should be devoted to tackling it and treating those infected by it.
Below this, O’Neill reaches for Orwell in a feeble attempt to justify the continued opening of pubs
But to halt everyday life, even pub life, in response to it? We didn’t do that during the far worse 1918 flu epidemic. Or during the Second World War. Or when the IRA was bombing actual pubs. We carried on. The pub continued. It had to. It’s the space where people meet and debate and fall in love and read their newspaper. As George Orwell said, forget the booze — though that is essential — what a pub really embodies is ‘atmosphere’.
O’Neill simply isn’t much good at thinking, and for all his complaints about ‘freedom’, there isn’t a single word about how public places like pubs, cafes and other places where people gather, are sites of possible infections. Like all anti-intellectuals, O’Neill believes that if you can’t see the threat, then it doesn’t exist. We should simply channel our inner Blitz spirit and carry on selfishly drinking while infecting those around us. O’Neill’s plea could go something like those stupid ‘Keep Calm’ posters which now emblazons tea towels and t-shirts.
Former UKIP MEP and anti-intellectual, Godfrey Bloom also invoked World War 2 nostalgia with this ill-considered tweet.
Bloom was actually born 4 years after the end of the war and, in any case, this is a false equivalence. A virus is not the same as the Luftwaffe’s bombs and is arguably far deadlier because of its relative visibility and its ability to replicate itself inside cells. Perhaps what O’Neill and Bloom are really trying to tell us is that they’re piss heads.
Apart from the World War 2 nostalgia, there’s a hardcore of Tory politicians and their media hangers on, who have been complaining that there isn’t enough deference being shown to Boris Johnson and his hapless ministers. We’re supposed to shut up, stop complaining and pay homage to our glorious leaders. Here’s Dan Hodges complaining about shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who rightly criticized Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s economic measures as not going far enough.
He was joined by Mrs Gove, who enjoys a few bottles of wine of an evening and then takes to Twitter to embarrass herself. This tweet ploughs roughly the same furrow as Hodges’ tweet. No surprise there, they both write for the same appalling newspaper, the Daily Mail.
Someone called Ash Hirani thought he’d emulate his Tory heroes with this tweet
Some Labour politicians are just as bad. Here’s a tweet from the Leader of Crawley Council.
Poor Wee Lamb is completely oblivious to the fact that Sunak’s measures don’t cover the self-employed and casual workers, and the government wasted several weeks pursuing its Social Darwinian ‘herd immunity’ notion. Perhaps this is the kind of opposition politicians that the likes of Hodges et al on Fleet Street want: unquestioning, uncritical and offering only token opposition. He would do well to read up on the history of the party of which he purports to be a member.
As Nesrine Malik observes, now is not the time for deference. I would add the criticality is vital to ensure that we not only get through this public health emergency, but ensure that workers of all kinds are financially protected, and that the government is properly held to account. Such things have escaped the attention of our selfish idiotic commentators. who would much rather wallow in World War 2 nostalgia, suck up to authority and whine about not being able to knock back oceans of booze under the slippery rubric of ‘freedom’.