Further Musings: Pandemic, Brexit, Democracy and more
Information: Please note there are now a number of separate blogs concerning the present crisis on here. To access all blogs, if you have reached this point via the Home Page, just click the word blog at the top of the Home Page and voila all blogs will be revealed.
Information: A number of you have contacted me in various ways to voice agreement or disagreement with what I have written re the pandemic. These are, as I have stated before, opinion pieces and you aren't expected to agree with me. All I wish is that you engage with the topics raised and form your own opinion.
So, to begin
Are the divisions in our society widening or narrowing under this pandemic?
The Government's line, it could hardly be other, is 'we are all in this together'. Supported by the Monarchy (Queen's broadcast, 5 year old Princess Charlotte delivering food etc). 'Clap for Carers' is portrayed again as 'we are in this together'. Old British (English?) stereotypes, many drawn from World War Two, have been brushed off and put to new use, such as 'Keep Calm and Carry On', the Blitz Spirit, Captain Tom, etc.
But another set of opinions is also emerging during this crisis. This emphasises the widening gulf in our society as demonstrated, for example, by the increased use of food banks, and the comparison between celebrities filmed in their luxurious homes and families struggling in high rise flats in inner city areas. Statistics has shown that the poorer in our society are dying from the virus in higher numbers proportionately than the richer. Perhaps the most striking example of an institution aware that this widening gulf is of more than a temporary blip but represents a shift in societal attitudes is that of Eton College. The Headmaster of Eton has committed £100 million to supporting schools in deprived areas of the North once the pandemic is over. Of course, Marx would say Eton would wouldn't they, to ensure that their own privilege will endure. I disagree with this cynical take and see it instead as a genuine commitment to change having analysed the changing world.
This is not the old political division of Left and Right, Labour and Conservative, but something different. Old political allegiances are breaking up as the last General Election showed. Trust in politicians was first seriously damaged with the Expenses Scandal and was further eroded during the Brexit Referendum Campaign by misleading and downright wrongful claims, which some have thought to describe as 'lies'. In terms of the Governing Party the fact that three senior Cabinet Members, including The Prime Minister himself, were sacked from Cabinet for various reasons unrelated to poor performance by the former Conservative Prime Minister is to say the least troubling.
There have been suggestions that the lesson to learn from VE Day is that things can't go back to how they were, or in today's language there is no return to the 'old normal' and we have to find our way to a 'new normal'. But there is a whole load of difference between 1945 and 2020. In 1945 people believed that politicians could initiate change, in particular Clement Attlee and The Labour Party. As a result Attlee was swept to power in the General Election. There is no Attlee today offering a fully planned path forward, and for all the hype Johnson is no Churchill. The Labour Party with an untried leader and untried team will need time to prepare a package to present to the people, and Johnson will need to accept that many of his inexperienced Cabinet are simply not up to the job (where are Stewart, Gauke, Hammond, Grieve, etc?)
How do we square this circle?
Two prerequisites for moving towards a solution seem obvious, before the core question of how do we bind the divisions in our society are finally addressed :-
1. To get out of the pandemic we need either a reliable treatment or a vaccine, or both.
2. To get out of the current twilight world of being half in and half out of The EU, a form of political purgatory, we need firm decisions, but decisions rooted in reality and not blind dogma.
So where will change come from?
A long time ago a senior civil servant and a friend, Sir Peter Baldwin, told me he believed Revolution was coming (by Revolution he meant not blood on the streets but rather a seismic and peaceful change to the way we are governed) He went on to say that he knew nothing about this Revolution only that it would not begin in Westminster (ie by politicians) but in some obscure place like (his words not mine) Chipping Sodbury (ie a bottom up Revolution led by ordinary folk).
Maybe we can already see the first shoots of Sir Peter's Revolution. I would prefer the term Evolution. Thus I believe that the Political Party that first recognises the zeitgeist and hones its policies in accord with it, rather than seeking to ignore it, lead it, or change it, will retain or obtain power.
I am personally of the view, expressed in dramatic terms by the Head of Eton, that too much in our society has been brought to the light of day by the pandemic that there is no way back to the past but only a way forward to a new future. Big issues like air travel and smaller, but no less important ones, like rough sleepers, won't go back to the 'old normal'. The examples that could be cited in this context are legion.
And all this has built up for me into the one core question, and the question behind Sir Peter's thoughts:
How do we reform our democracy to make it, in modern jargon, 'fit for purpose'?
Democracy everywhere is being questioned as the world looks on aghast at events in The United States. There is great and present danger if democracy fails as the events in Germany in 1933 and France in 1940 illustrate. Nearer to home, in time, are the current events in Hungary and Poland.
I end with some interesting quotes on democracy:-
'Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.' HL Mencken
'A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers.' Plato
Democracy is like a tambourine - not everyone can be trusted with it.' John Oliver, American comedian
and, as an educator always optimistic that education can transform lives and thinking, I warm especially to Gandhi,
'What is really needed to make democracy function is not knowledge of facts, but [the] right education.' So, perhaps Eton does know something after all.