When Covid-19 and the lockdown first hit, there was a magical outpouring of willingness to help, support people in communities, think greener and kinder. We relished the fresher air, the new things we discovered on our daily walk or run, we appreciated nurses, carers, binmen, transport workers, supermarket staff. As the year draws to a close however, this positive spirit has dissipated, drowned out once again by Brexit bickering, selfishness and poisonous front pages. The source of this ugly behaviour? The poor political leadership we have been shown through this year.
Let’s take a look at the seven deadly sins of 2020:
Pride – famously comes before a fall. In this case the fall is an imminent plummet off a very steep cliff edge into a complex trading environment we aren’t prepared for. But English exceptionalism is promising us it won’t hurt because we’re British and we’re better than all the rest.
Sloth – in Boris Johnson we have an extremely lazy Prime Minister. Granted he may be suffering the lingering impact of his bout of Covid-19, but a hard day’s work to Boris seems to mean taking part in two fish wielding photo opportunities rather than one. Theresa May was notable for her work ethic and need to understand the fine print. Her successor has never been a details man – why bother when bluster and confidence will do you just as well?
Reports in the summer had Johnson taking two to three hour naps and travelling across London to play tennis with the American ambassador. Even the highest level politicians need to mind their wellbeing but given his performance on the job one can only wonder in horror at the consequences if he’d skipped the racquet sports with Woody and we’d had an even less fit PM at the helm.
Wrath – is there anything as angry as a libertarian in lockdown? Impassioned speeches from the likes of Sirs Desmond Swayne, Iain Duncan Smith and Charles Walker might suggest not. But unlike the free market economics they support, there is a trickle down effect from Covid-19. And there are increasing numbers of bereaved whose grief may well also have turned to anger.
Lust – Pictorial comparisons have been made between a saluting Boris Johnson and Benny Hill, both also sharing an eye for the ladies and penchant for playing the milkman. In early 2020 it was allegedly common knowledge in Westminster that Carrie Symonds was expecting. Given that she’d been cohabiting with the PM for some months it’s unclear why it was necessary in the name of ‘decency’ to keep the story under wraps until divorce from the long-suffering Marina was finalised. Rumours have swirled on Twitter about a further affair with a musician and Jennifer Arcuri ‘revealed’ the shocker that yes, technology lessons was indeed a euphemism. The ‘highlights’ of this premiership could be speeded up to a soundtrack of Yakety Sax.
Greed – 2020 was the year to be in PPE, but it’s telling that the most lucrative contracts have gone to the rich and well connected rather than to experienced, established companies. Byline Times and the Good Law Project have investigated and exposed much of this ‘chumocracy’ – both sources are well worth a thorough read.
While closed cafés with no customers provided meals from their own pockets for overworked NHS staff, the likes of Gabriel Gonzalez Andersson trousered £21m for ‘facilitating’ PPE deals. Even in a highly competitive marketplace, it is hard to imagine how one man provided so great a contribution to the process that it warranted such a price tag.
Envy – many in the UK have gazed at Jacinda Ardern’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic on the other side of the world with green eyes. Jealousy is an ugly quality but we can do little in the short term about improving our leaders until we successfully move from the current first past the post to a fair electoral system. Only that way can we prevent a repeat of a series of tiny margins translating into an 80 seat majority.
Gluttony – lockdown Britain saw many of us eating more snacks and cake and drinking more alcohol as a reaction to the boredom of furlough, the stress of home schooling or the horror of no real-life social life. While pubs were closed or curfewed for the rest of us, the House of Commons bar kept serving booze throughout; parliamentary outlets were eventually barred from selling alcohol by the Speaker on 15 October.
Meanwhile as job losses bite food banks struggle with ballooning demand. The Trussell Trust reported a 47 per cent increase in the number of emergency food parcels needed (March to September 2020 compared with the same period in 2019). Marcus Rashford’s campaign for holiday school meal vouchers was met by deaf ears at Downing Street not once but twice.
To paraphrase Lady Bracknell, to make one u-turn on hungry children may be regarded as a misfortune; to make two looks like callousness.
So 2021 is almost upon us and it will bring many challenges: more Covid, lockdown weariness, increased food prices, more job losses. Perhaps with the clean slate of a ‘done’ Brexit we can hope our government can approach these challenges with some honour and humanity. Why not write to your MP with some suggestions for New Year’s resolutions that draw on the positive impact of the pandemic?
Postscript: Not one of the official seven sins but perhaps the deadliest for democracy is lying – but that is a whole other article.