During these times of lockdown, social distancing and a substantial number of lives being lost due to the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, it may, nevertheless, be considered that other aspects of life remain worthy of continuing concern. These are matters that, in more normal times, would replace the headlines related to Cobra meetings, the provision of personal protection equipment, the rapid building of new hospital facilities, testing, antigens, antibodies and vaccines, and the daily countdown of the number of people dying locally, nationally and worldwide from Coved-19.
Such matters include the global ecological crisis, where the race is now on to repair the damage caused to the earth’s climate by humanity’s misuse of the earth’s resources; the never-ending pursuit of wealth and power that continues to divide the nations of the world, resulting in an abundance of wealth and possessions for some at the cost of impoverishment for many; the continuation of the immensely profitable trade in weapons of war and mass destruction that grotesquely disrupts the lives of many people living in the developing world; the viability of modern capitalism and a society that works for all age groups, rather than for the middle-aged, old and conservative. The list could go on.
Such concerns have been replaced in the headlines, at least temporarily, by the focus on the progress of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Coronavirus is now reaching into practically every corner of the earth’s surface and its destructive effects are impinging on the well-being of individual lives, families, local communities, whole nations and continents.
In the United Kingdom the primary consequences Covid-19 are to be seen in the rapidly rising numbers of people dying from the silently spreading but deadly disease. Medical personnel and facilities are being stretched to near breaking point. Scientists are deeply engaged in researching and producing a vaccine that will halt the spread of and further control the ravages of the virus over time.
On a daily basis the people of the land are given updates about the progress of the disease by government ministers, media presenters, scientists and by human interest stories focusing on the families of the those who have died – especially the deaths of those in the medical profession who have given their lives in caring for those, in hospitals, care homes and private homes who have contracted the disease. There is an intense interest on what steps are being taken to find a cure for and halt the march of Covid-19 around our planet. At the same time there is a growing appreciation of those ordinary citizens who work in essential services – epitomized in the weekly “clap for the NHS heroes”.
With some sense of the inevitable, there is a developing critique of the government’s handling of the national crisis. With a Prime Minister relatively inactive due to his being a victim of, though recovering from, the disease, there seems a lack of genuine and legitimate leadership at the top.
The rudder of the political ship is not being handled with strength and direction; government ministers, formerly critical of “experts” during the long, drawn-out debate on Brexit, now refer to the same persons as if they were saints and heroes; there seems to be an air of confusion, even ineptitude, in the manner in which decisions are taken to provide financial, medical and personal accommodation for those most affected by the spread and impact of the disease. Incompetence is a word that is being increasingly heard in the daily discussion about and presentation of the national medical dilemma and what is being done about it.
As well as political figures, in its moment of dire need, the nation is expected, as in the past, to look to its religious leaders and statespersons for a wise word, or at least something that makes some sense. But, in a nation that is increasingly secular, the words from the religious heads of the Anglican Church, the UK’s State Church, as well as from other denominations and faiths, seem to have only the same effect as a weekly sermon – well thought out and resourced, but without the impact that once there may have been. The influence of the masters and practitioners of tradition seem noticeably to be on the wane.
The same may be said of that epitome of tradition – monarchy. In the past royalty has come to the aid of a beleaguered government but, despite being eagerly anticipated and watched by a significant minority of the national population, the traditional locations, impressively staged, and cultured address from the Head of State, Elizabeth Windsor, the recent royal address seems somehow to have been temporarily sustaining but permanently ineffective.
The emotionally appealing address, with due solemnity and practiced presentation, evokes a bygone era and references thoughts and words meaningful only to an aging population. “We will meet again”, is the enduring punchline – without reference to where or when!
Perhaps there is a growing recognition that in times of medical emergency, financial hardship, emotional privation and soulful imaginings, those of ancient lineage and power that live in spacious country estates, within historic and impenetrable walls, private medicine, privileged attention, devoted acolytes and obedient entourages, in short, those who live in a world much different to the one lived in by those they regard as subjects, that the age of royal and ancient patronage is coming to an end.
Meanwhile, behind closed doors the nation ponders and waits.