One of the reasons for the public’s reluctance to follow the government’s advice over Coronavirus – self-isolating, social distance, no panic buying, etc. – may be the lack of trust they have in government just now. And that must surely have something to do with Boris Johnson’s – and, over the pond, Donald Trump’s – inveterate habit of lying, now so well-known and well-documented as to be no longer a partisan argument against them, and indeed to have become so accepted and tolerated by their supporters as no longer to be seen as a criticism. Which has obviously worked for them, in the political environment we (Brits) were in at the time of Brexit, when it played into the Brexiters’ hands and gave them their victory; but may not work so well in a genuine national (and indeed global) emergency, when the need for trust is vital in order to get all citizens to play their essential parts. A global pandemic requires transparent honesty in the world’s leaders to be able to counter it, which Johnson and Trump conspicuously lack.
Just look at them, at their televised press conferences! Ducking, weaving, hesitating, dissembling, bluffing; concerned only to say what they think will go down well at the moment, even if it has to be shamelessly denied and disowned the next day. In a circus that might count as leadership; but not at a time like this. We’re told that Winston Churchill is Boris’s hero and role model; but all he has taken from Churchill are certain superficial features of his style. It’s pathetic. (Literally: from the word ‘pathos’.) No wonder that idiot shoppers and pub-goers don’t necessarily go for it.
I’ve written about Johnson in previous posts. (Search ‘Boris’.) Most of that has been about his ‘character’, whose significance I’ve always nonetheless wondered about: shouldn’t I really be concentrating on his policies, rather than on what he’s like as a ‘chap’? It’s likely, however, that character does matter when people expect you to guide or lead them in times of real crisis. Games-playing with the truth won’t get you far when people’s health and lives are at risk.
The Tory grandees think they are invulnerable and not subject to the laws of the universe.
One of the reasons for the public’s reluctance to follow the government’s advice over Coronavirus – self-isolating, social distance, no panic buying, etc. – may be the lack of trust they have in government just now.
I think that is an optimistic reading of the kind of behaviour you point to, Bernard. It seems more likely to me that the panic buyers, violators of social distancing and self-isolating guidelines are operating as hyper-individualists: “No-one is going to tell me how to behave; I won’t be bullied by the nanny state; I do what I want and don’t try to stop me.” This attitude has been encouraged by the right – media and politicians – for almost half a century and is deeply embedded in the culture of the Anglophone countries. Imagine if Corbyn were now PM and his advice was utterly trustworthy, consistent and backed by medical experts. The misbehaviour would be just as bad.
It is also disturbing that the conservative governments in the UK, USA and Australia have not stepped in and used the powers of the state to coordinate the distribution of food to circumvent the panic buying, which has far from ceased. Similarly, it is outrageous that the state has not intervened – starting from January 2020 – to order and coordinate the manufacture of the gear – masks, gloves, and other protective clothing – and devices, such as ventilators – which are needed in this crisis. Neoliberalism is proving to be a lethal ideology. Only socialism will save us!
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