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1st April, 2020

Let’s do the timewarp again!

~ Richard O’Brien, The Rocky Horror Show

History likes its little ironies. There was England rolling along with a laugh and a song, having delivered, via the Brexit vote, a massive punch in the face to the left-wing middle class that runs the UK, when all of sudden, out of leftfield – or communist China to be precise – comes coronavirus to turn the country upside down – and empty its pockets.

Even the panjandrums of the Goebbelsian Project Fear must be having a wry smile. The virus is bringing about the kind of financial catastrophe they all swore blind that Brexit would visit on the nation.

In Britain a disaster tends to bring out two forms of nostalgia among politicians and journalists. The Right invokes the Dunkirk spirit and the Left concentrates on the birth of the welfare state (having nobly smashed Nazism – don’t mention Germans!): thus for conservatives the present crisis is 1940 and for leftists it is 1945.

Yes, having been completely trounced just over three months ago, beaten further into humiliating defeat even than in 1983 with the chimps’ tea party of Michael Foot’s leadership, the Labour Party and its alienated centre-left generally – that vast network of left-liberals who infest the public sector, law and media who have worked so hard to make this country the divided, malfunctioning tip it is today – have been presented with an extraordinary opportunity: to grab back ground it thought it had lost years ago. Socialism threatens to become rampant again.

One of Left’s main tactics is the deployment of non-negotiable demands: the world will be overrun by the oceans; every animal and tree will vanish; women, non-whites and homosexuals will die horrible deaths due to bigotry (of the non-Islamic kind anyway); children in poverty won’t have access to widescreen televisions and broadband internet connections unless we turn on the spending taps now and forever and build Jerusalem – with the oversight of the public and commercial services union. The Chinese virus, therefore, is a gift from the gods.

Make no mistake, the civil servants, lobby groups, think-tanks, campaign organisations, charities, quangos and NGOs that kindle leftist policy into Westminster legislation will be watching the measures introduced by Boris Johnson and the chancellor Rishi Sunak with great interest and gearing up to make sure that the virus becomes a line in the sand: the future must become more socialist than ever and ‘we can never go back’.

Labour has already demanded extra freebies from a government that has generously stepped up to the plate with financial help. This will continue. I don’t rule out a last-gasp attempt to get some form of Remain-in-disguise back on the agenda, despite the EU winning best chocolate fireguard/ashtray-on-a-motorcycle award for virus-fighting policy.

‘Physicians are like kings – they brook no contradiction,’ John Webster wrote in The Duchess of Malfi in 1612. After the coronavirus that will be more true than ever it was. There will be legions of commentators in the near future who will be employing the gift of hindsight to opine strongly on the actions of the government and using medical experts as a bulwark to their arguments, much as they have done with climate change scientists. From the start of the crisis I have taken the view that Boris and co have done as good a job as anyone could do under the circumstances. Faced with expert predictions of massive death rates and the collapse of the NHS via a mysterious virus, who among us could stare all that down? It’s a big call. Some commentators on the Right were mouthing off from the start, some whining that their children’s education would be interrupted (perhaps a cover for investment portfolio anxieties). Careerists are like that: never mind prospect of early deaths coming to thousands of families, let’s whinge about little Nausea’s private school having to close.

The indisputable fact is that the virus will cost the country a fortune, with some analysts predicting as much as a 15 per cent contraction in economic output for the second quarter of this year and unemployment doubled. Almost 500,000 claimants put in for universal credit in the nine days up to last Wednesday, according to the Department of Work and Industry. House prices are forecast to plunge 13 per cent over the year to next March. It’s a big knock with the potential for all sorts of grim fallout. But knocks happen in life: your boiler goes wrong and must be replaced etc. Setbacks must be overcome, but the virus should not become a prima facie case for rolling forward the State in all areas. Unfortunately that mentality will take some stopping, as a decaf collectivism is spreading fast. Here it is important and instructive to demarcate the difference between the state and what Edmund Burke called the little platoons. Only yesterday I switched on the television to hear a talking head speaking sceptically about the sort of ad hoc neighbourliness that has seen volunteers doing shopping and errands for the elderly and vulnerable, the sort of kindly actions that come naturally to civilisations in tumult. The talking head wanted such acts ‘guaranteed by the state’. This and much else like it on the airwaves is an ominous development: moving altruism in a crisis into peacetime collectivism, a velvet glove containing the iron fist of the State; the world, as one of the political extremists envisages in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, turned into a ‘vast hospital’. Exaggeration, you say? On the contrary, look at the police. Now there is one sector begging for post-crisis reform.

Where the police are concerned it is important to contrast the Britain that was suspended by Boris Johnson last Monday week with the eerie nation that has emerged since. Previous to the lockdown the country in general and London in particular had intractable problems with drugs and violent crime. It was clear that much of the problem lay with the police and the legal establishment themselves, to wit the cultural Marxism that dominates our public sector. Weak policing driven by leftist dogma going back to the disastrous McPherson Report in 1999 had created many of the problems.  The report’s recommendations, including the infamous clause which stated that a, quote, racist incident is an incident which one or more persons think is a racist incident, played their part in hamstringing effective measures for society to protect itself. The later decision to supposedly only prosecute dealers and not their clients – an effective decriminalising of the use if not the sale of illegal drugs – laid the groundwork for problems that have dogged us for years, caused much death and misery and the emergence of an ugly and harsh subculture that spoils urban life for many.

Now look at the suddenly energised policing since lockdown. No institutional defeatism there! Stand clear: ordinary taxpayers to torment: an easy-peasy target for our politicised police. Fire up the drones and the helicopters! Set up dedicated telephone lines so sneaks can snitch on their neighbours! The sheer glee that public services have taken in this lockdown – dreadful word – is disturbing. As is the organised clapping last week (apparently we are going to be exhorted to cheer the NHS from our front doors this week). The Left’s idea of forced family fun is revealing; where you find gross sentimentality you almost always find great cruelty. Besides which, this kind of thing has a tang of North Korea about it.

Oh you bloody meanie, the lefties will cry. I don’t think so. I have followed my government’s instructions carefully thus far and will continue to do so. I pay my taxes and I admire the people working in the teeth of this crisis for the NHS, I feel the same about the armed services. But please don’t try to scold me into mass displays of approval. It’s too close to Orwell’s Hate Week.

Let all thinking people hold on to the idea of liberty while society is suspended, because it is now under more threat than it has been for decade. Economic forecasts for later in the year are positive, and house prices will rise again, as they always do. And, since I’ve mentioned Orwell, bear in mind what the old genius said: ‘To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.’

Bovo Zeugma is writing a book about British cinema.

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