Written by Emma Tyler – Student Writer
In March, the Coronavirus reached global pandemic status and has since lead to an unfamiliar reality that the alarmist press in Britain has labelled ‘the new normal’. The vibrant city of London has become desolate, once bubbling playgrounds have become forbidden territories, and our National Health Service appears to be moments away from combustion. If this wasn’t enough, the Lockdown has put a giant mirror in front of us all and forced upon us time to reflect. So, I asked myself ‘what has the COVID-19 crisis taught me about the country in which I live?’
My answer: Britain is suffering from a severe case of Selective Socialist Syndrome.
In a nation that has recently re-elected a Conservative government, the public embrace of ‘clap for the NHS’ is perplexing at best. From the 26th of March to the 28th of May, every Thursday evening like well-trained citizens we have rushed to our front doors and burst into applause to show our gratitude for the NHS. Oh, how we have loved the NHS during these times of crisis, and oh, how we have loved to pat ourselves on the back because of it.
It is hardly implausible to assert that the NHS was founded on socialist principles. Its central concern is the provision of universal access to healthcare, means that at 72 years old, the NHS represents our societies unwavering compassion and collective responsibility. At Northampton Academy, English teacher Mr Leafe tasked his year 7’s with writing thank you letters to the NHS. 11-year-old Alice was grateful that ‘during the global pandemic you’re here for us no matter what’, similarly 12-year-old Ellie May wrote that ‘even though you have your own family to protect, the NHS has shown determination to support our country’. Their young minds, despite being totally ignorant to the intricacies of modern politics, are acutely aware of what makes the NHS the beating heart of Britain. Financed solely by the taxpayer, the national health services’ core values are community, integrity, and the belief that every life matters. We love the NHS for the very things that make it socialist.
It is in this that I spy hypocrisy. Was it not only a matter of months ago that the nation ousted Corbyn from a position of political power because of his ‘heretical’ socialist policies? The 2019 Corbyn campaign had the audacity to dogmatise the socialist ideal that our society doesn’t have to be fundamentally unequal if we invest in our communities. Its mantra was the worn-out line ‘for the many, not the few’. The short-lived Corbynite years produced two Labour manifestos, neither were without fault, but both did undeniably centralise the importance of vital institutions like the NHS. The latter one, promising a 4.3% real-terms annual increase in the heath budget over the next parliament, and the reassurance that the NHS will remain in public ownership (alongside other nationalisation projects).
Yet in pre-corona Britain, socialist ideals weren’t quite our vibe, were they? Jeremy Clarkson spoke for a large proportion of the nation when he responded to an inquiry regarding his hopes for the outcome of the 2019 election. He replied, ‘anything but Corbyn’. He continued with a similar line on the topic of socialism, announcing with bravado ‘it doesn’t work, it dangerously doesn’t work’. Though I would like to believe as much as the next person that Jeremy Clarkson does not represent the British polity, the election results suggest that the nation had been nodding in agreement. The Labour party lost 59 seats, while the Tories picked up 47. Socialism lost; conservatism won.
So, in a country where 13.9 million of us opted for a political party that has long been selling off the assets that make up our welfare state, why the sudden change in attitude? In December, when the election rolled around, we turned a blind eye while the Tories were busy beating our government-funded institutions to death. We bit our tongues when the May administration laid down the groundworks for more than 80% of schools to have less funding per pupil in 2020 than in 2015. We covered our ears whilst the likes of Jeremy Hunt were busy rubbing his hands together and selling off the publicly-owned Plasma Resources UK (the NHS’ blood plasma supplier), for £200 million. This was all perfectly acceptable until Corona rocked around, and overnight we became a nation of socialists, believing that we are ‘all in this together’.
In my analysis, I concluded that this country has been suffering from a severe case of Selective Socialist Syndrome. My diagnosis, I believe, can be best explained through analogy. Britain treats socialism, with its presiding connotation being community empowerment and funding, like a nice woollen hat that can be taken on and off, whenever the political climate calls for it. When the blustery and unsettling winds generated by a global pandemic rushed through our nation, we shuddered at horrors that prevailed. At the time of writing, Britain’s death toll is a whopping 41,279, and the BBC has warned that the ‘world faces the worst recession since the Great Depression’. Outraged at just how cruel the world can be, as a nation, we reached for our nice warm ‘socialist hats’, and without much thought, plonked them on our heads for comfort. Through community spirit, we have been warmed with hope. Mutual aid groups have been erected, the NHS was swarmed with volunteers just wanting to do their bit, and councils have been promised more money. Corbyn himself was quick to remark that the Coronavirus pandemic has proved that he had been ‘absolutely right’ about public spending. The cash for community investment was there all along; the Tories just didn’t fancy giving it up.
But when the Covid-19 storm settles, what will be of these socialist principles? I predict that just as quickly as we had put them on, Britons will remove their ‘socialist hats’. The emphasis on community spirit will dissolve, and our national mood of self-interest will prevail once more.
Though through this process the vast majority of us have become reassured that we are all good people living in a fundamentally fair nation, the underprivileged will continue to suffer. By putting our socialist hats momentarily on, then quickly snatching them off, no real change has been made for those who so desperately need it. Sir Angus Deaton, who is leading a landmark review of inequality, remarked that ‘there’s a real question about whether democratic capitalism is working when it’s only working for part of the population’.From 2018 to 2019, 9 out of 30 pupils in any given classroom were living in poverty and the continuation of the system that stands will continue to perpetuate these inequalities. Harnessing the community spirit that the pandemic has inspired in us all, we must deal with the chasms left by austerity continually and not just in our nation’s darkest hours. I can only image what the ramifications might be for our society if we do not.