There is something very touching - deeply moving - about the weekly Thursday communal clap. There’s something very British about it. Ordinary people up and down the land coming together (virtually of course), to bang their wooden spoons on their potlids, let off a few fireworks, play their trombones, but above all just clap and whoop and cheer to say thank you to those who are putting their lives at risk combatting this dreadful virus. It doesn’t actually achieve anything, of course, except for boosting our collective morale. It’s we Brits ganging together in the face of an enemy to show that we are not downhearted; we are not dispirited; we are not defeated. Far from it. We’ll show this silly disease what we think of it. After years of political polarisation and dispute, we are at one in this - together we will beat it.
It was good to see the PM back in Downing Street on Monday, and I thought his little statement was courageous and clear. He’s gone through a tough time experiencing Covid-19 for himself. He looked death in the face and saw it off. There is a palpable feeling of relief that he is now back to lead us through the difficult weeks which lie ahead. And what wonderful news about the birth of his baby boy, I wish them all well and send my warmest congratulations.
All government, especially at a time like this, depends on the people as a whole - or at least an overwhelming majority of them - coming together in agreement that we will take a certain action. It may not necessarily be in our own immediate best interests; but we accept that it is for the good of the country as a whole. We would so much prefer to be back at work, shopping, going to the pub and the football match. Of course we would. But we realise that if that is to be our end goal, then we need collectively to go through some pain in the meanwhile. That social contract has worked well so far - most people have readily accepted that, dislike it as we may, lockdown is necessary to win the war.
That same spirit must underly any possible easing of lockdown. Those who are calling for it to be lifted totally and immediately, are risking tens or hundreds of thousands of lives. Yet those who advocate remaining in total lockdown more or less indefinitely, or perhaps even tightening it, are ignoring the economic reality that that would create such a catastrophic destruction of our economy that it would take a generation or more to recover from it.
So what I would hope to see coming from the PM now that he is back at his desk, is a road map towards some degree of lessening of the social distancing and lockdown regulations. It’s a political decision, and only he can make it. Scientists on the one hand will be urging caution - predicting all kinds of death and destruction if we get it wrong; economists on the other hand foresee disastrous damage if we do not kick start our businesses. It’s a tricky tightrope for the PM to walk; and whatever happens you can be certain that he will be criticised for what he does. It’s one of those situations which you simply cannot win.
Collective agreement will survive if we can see a few baby steps towards getting back to normal. We need an ultra-steady hand on the tiller as we navigate the treacherous waters back to dry land.