So now we know what disaster looks like, let’s try to stop another one, eh?
Posted on March 26, 2020
With the quiet dignity that those who know him is the hallmark of his character, Jeremy Corbyn departed the stage at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. In keeping with the subdued propriety of the times, Johnson squeaked out a passable tribute to his sincerity and so ended a brief interlude during which many of us allowed ourselves to think that parliament might bring about a fairer society. In his parting comments, Corbyn invoked a call for compassion, decency and social justice.
Just in case you think we’ve all become a touch nicer in the face of the apocalypse, allow yourself a quick squint at the online right-wing press coverage of this low-key, civil episode. Sly references to his age abound as do the inevitable clichés about spending more time with his cat and allotment. His comments about the government’s tardiness and uncertainty in dealing with Covid 19 are dismissed as misplaced virtue signalling. His commitment to continue campaigning are met with hostile, almost jeering, indifference.
At PMQs just a few weeks ago, Corbyn was met with equal hostility by both the Tories in the House and their messengers in the right-wing media. Back then, in a land that time has since forgotten, the threat to our lives and welfare was distant and unimaginable. The planet was burning, resources being squandered and the planning and research necessary to prevent this from happening was taking second place to the god of economic growth. But, you know, really, it wasn’t going to actually happen, was it? The planet? In real danger? Get a grip, everyone.
Let’s leave aside, for the moment at least, those world leaders who don’t believe the science of climate change. We can only hope against hope that what they see before their very eyes may just change their minds for them. Let’s hope, too, that life on earth comes out of the other end of the current situation looking something like a viable project. Because when it does, in the same way that we’ve all shown that we can play nice when it matters – even if that does just involve keeping your distance from someone so that you don’t die – there are some things that need to be stamped on our minds forever.
Disaster can happen. To us. War, famine and plague were once the preserve of other people. They were probably too stupid and uncivilised and backward and so it was bound to happen to them sooner or later, right? OK, there might be freak ‘natural’ weather events which could not conceivably have been related to human behaviour, but us developed peoples, we could be pretty confident that we’d be shielded from such stuff. Couldn’t we?
I really am no grudging misanthrope, but if we learn no humility from what is happening to us at present, then we really may as well throw in the towel in the fight to consider ourselves a rational species. Fortunately, there are signs aplenty that Corbyn-like virtues of compassion, selflessness and social responsibility are there in abundance. The hundreds of thousands of people who have volunteered are testament to this, as are countless tales of human kindness and generosity.
In many ways, this is nothing new. When David Cameron, from the usual Eton/Oxford stable, urged us all to be part of a ‘big society’ he was exhibiting his usual arrogant ignorance of ordinary people and their lives. Volunteering, helping others for free, devoting time and energy to causes close to hearts is hard-wired into people’s way of living. It’s just that if you live in a pampered, sheltered bubble, you don’t come across it happening. It is this same stupefying idiocy that led to his successor and his political advisers thinking of us all as the ‘herd’.
So, now we know what disaster looks like and that should sharpen us for the one we know is on the way – unless we do something about it. What’s more, with every passing day, we know where the really important people in society are and what they do. We need to put two and two together and tell those elected to run society what we demand – and by ‘we’ I mean those people who tend the sick, teach the children, stack the shelves, deliver the goods, empty the bins, drive the buses and care for others. The important people.
We need to say that we won’t ignore the signs that we’re destroying the planet in the name of economic growth and we won’t stand by and let you do so. We need to say that there was ‘money’ there for health and social security during the crisis; in fact, there was a magic money tree after all. So use it again. We need to say that the idea that people are lazy and selfish is a lie; we’re happy to work for the common good. We need to say that if we can suddenly make ventilators instead of hoovers, we can make a million other things we really need (and, yes, I know we still need hoovers – probably).
I know what you’re thinking. All of that’s a silly dream. Well, I kind of know about silly dreams. I had one today.
I was walking down a deserted high street in the middle of a weekday. No-one was about. Devoid of human presence except for an eerie queue of people outside Tesco Express, all standing quietly and patiently two metres away from each other. Round about them, no traffic stirred the air. Where once there were shops and cafes, there was nothing but padlocked doors.
And then I woke up……..and it was all real. And if we don’t learn from it and hold our leaders to constant account, shame on us if we get fooled again.