I met John outside the local corner shop this morning. He has multiple health problems, and is living on his own.
As we walked home, he shared with me his frustrations at the way Coronavirus is progressing, and the abject failure of our government to get a grip on the situation.
John is not an intellectual, but he keeps well-informed from the television news. At the popular level, his reaction exemplifies the way the problem is getting away from politicians.
The consensus is breaking down, and political unity fracturing, as the pandemic deepens, and even goes into reverse. As a result, in the United Kingdom, profound divisions are being exposed.
We have seen a huge row develop between national and local governments, over fresh restrictions and a lack of financial support from the centre to the periphery.
Our London-centric political system is revealed yet again to be uncaring about the provinces. This, to a degree, mirrors the party dimension as well.
For example, Manchester is led by Labour, and Parliament by the Conservatives. Party politics thus reflects the geographical-epidemiological split.
Although the Tories recently won seats from Labour in the north of England (the so-called ‘red wall’), it is debateable whether this will translate into a permanent gain.
For it is clear that the heart of the Tories is not for the impoverished towns and cities of the north, their working class populations beaten down by austerity policies, and longterm de-industralisation.
Structural problems of injustice are exacerbated by the pandemic. We are not all in it together.
The consequences of the virus hits various parts of the populace differently.
Racial minorities appear to be affected by Covid more seriously than the majority white population. And this is not for any essentialist biological reason, but due to the greater poverty they experience.
As the crisis has progressed, people have also become increasingly tired of the restrictions, especially the way the regulations change rapidly: as we get used to one set of rules, they change.
To some extent, this is due to the way the virus seems to mutate. But there is also a growing sense that the government does not know what it is doing.
Although they trumpeted the fact, early on, that they were ‘following the science’, their recent actions have directly contradicted the advice from their own scientific advisers.
The latter have recommended a total, short term, ‘circuit breaker’, to close down the country, in order to slow down the epidemic.
The government, however, have adopted an ad hoc, piecemeal, series of regional partial measures, falling short of complete lockdown, differing arbitrarily in each area; which scientists think will fail.
Worldwide, there is no respite. Unrest is manifesting in demonstrations and police repression: for example, in Thailand and Nigeria.
These protests arose independently of Covid, but the underlying health emergency has given them a special piquancy.
With his mental health made worse by the crisis, John’s feelings of hopelessness disclose the rising despair, which is now taking people over.