I have a guilty secret. The other day I caught up with a re-run episode from 1990 of Top of the Pops on BBC4. In case you haven’t realised, they’ve been repeating every single show of the cult series from 1976 onwards and yes, I admit to watching most of them.
Now that I’ve got that confession off my chest, let me tell you why this is important.
One of the songs featured in this latest show was ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ by Del Amitri. I’d forgotten how splendid it is. But the lyrics did strike a chord with me about how this year has been dominated by things being cancelled, delayed and slowed down by Covid.
Having put our lives on hold for three months of lockdown (and more for those shielding) we were encouraged to go shopping, eat out and spend money. This, many of us duly did – especially in August when we hungrily used up our Eat Out to Help Out discounts and drove our way around unsuspecting tourist hotspots in the UK for our staycations. We knew in the back of our minds that a ‘second wave’ might come but as recently as early September Boris Johnson was telling us to go back to the office, school and university. This again, we did to get our lives back on track.
Within weeks, we find ourselves staring down the barrel of months of restrictions, lockdowns and even Christmas looks in jeopardy. More Government u turns, changing advice, new tiers to understand and all with that nagging fear that if we picked up the dreaded virus we might not be as lucky as others.
Back to that song. The lyrics tell us that despite lots of activity nothing really changes. They tell us to drink up, lock up our workplaces: ‘The needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before and we’ll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow.’
This is my concern over what is happening. That despite all the announcements, curfews, policing and constant updates to rules we couldn’t quite remember anyway, not much is radically changing. We still have high infection rates, we still have hospitalisations and we still have people who ignore the rules.
However, something else IS happening. A pent-up pool of mental health issues is swirling around and getting deeper. A pent-up pool of frustrations at the never-ending situation and a pent-up pool of unemployment, only made more palatable in the short term by the furlough scheme. Eventually if ‘nothing else happens’, those jobs will be lost and the huge national debt will have to be repaid by higher taxes. Rishi Sunak has already said this – it’s just a case of when.
Am I alone in thinking we should have one clear set of messages and advice for the wider public which are not massively invasive, whilst protecting the most vulnerable, and then stick with those? Keep them the same for a longer period of time but keep the economy open as much as possible so that our collective wellbeing is taken seriously?
How much damage to mental health is occurring? How much hidden domestic abuse and neglect of children?
The Government’s tactic of dividing the country into tiers has so split our society as to reveal the deep seated and real chasms which operate now between north and south, urban and rural and of course the different nations. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all doing their own thing. Andy Burnham is flying the flag for Manchester, whilst Boris Johnson is left looking powerless and indecisive. Parts of the North which have had restrictions for months are still seeing large rates of infection – so the strategy hasn’t worked. A case of ‘nothing ever happens’ again.
Consistency please! A Government which is at least competent and sticks to one message. I don’t want the ticking time bomb of loneliness and isolation caused by this crisis to turn into a deluge of problems. Restricting our contact with others can only be tolerated for a short time – and my judgement is that people are ignoring and will ignore the rules they find too harmful. Were the Welsh police really checking people on trains to see where they were going? Yes, they were and it’s too draconian!
After all, as the final words of that song say…’and we’ll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow’. Let’s make sure that isn’t true – there is an alternative.
Cllr Paul Hodgkinson is Group Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Leader of the Opposition on Gloucestershire County Council. He is the councillor for Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach. He tweets @paulcotswolds