We should be questioning the rules themselves more than petty infractions
Speaking as someone who lost both parents to Covid during the second lockdown, who was kept from her mother’s deathbed, and who attended a funeral for 10 surrounded by duct tape – I find myself unmoved by the Sue Gray Report.
It’s not that I don’t think Boris Johnson is unfit for office — I thought that before he took office. And of course, it’s important how government officials behave and spend money, but we’ve known about Johnson’s special brand of squalor and extravagance since Wallpapergate (and before). Nor do I approve of throwing up on walls and carrying drinks in suitcases — I’m a schoolteacher. I’d like to call them in and phone their parents.
But it seems unlikely Johnson will resign. And focusing on the parties probably won’t bring Downing Street many new enemies, either. But it will bring back the atmosphere of authoritarianism and puritanism of lockdown: the focus on rules for their own sake; the demonisation of students; the removal of chocolate from supermarkets; the tracking of hill walkers with drones; the tsking at hard-breathing joggers; the making of hospital saints and covidiot sinners.
Such strong binaries; such tides of condemnation. It worries me because I’m not sure how much it all helped my parents in the last year of their lives, and nor were they; and the more condemnation there is, the harder it is to ask.
Even writing down the question makes me want to set out more disclaimers. No, of course I’m not an anti-vaxxer. I’m fully jabbed up and so is everyone I’m related to. No, I’m not a doctor. No, I’m not a statistician. I don’t follow strange accounts on Twitter or wave graphs in people’s faces (I don’t even know how to read the graphs). No, I didn’t sign the Great Barrington Declaration (though my mum met Carl Heneghan once. He was writing an emergency prescription.) Absolutely, I wore a mask. So did my parents. We kept to the rules, and we just had a few questions about them. We wondered how it would all pan out.
The questions seem urgent, now. All around us are the tolls of the pandemic — in education, the economy, the health service, in our private and public lives — and we need to be able to talk about them with some sort of dispassion and discrimination. We need to talk about Covid as an illness, not a plague, and public health as public health, not a moral battle. We have to get over our personal conduct and the conduct of our neighbours and think about how useful it all was.
During lockdown we all went to live on the internet and imbibed its mixture of private and public. Now, it seems, we can only discuss policy in the same way. I have to introduce myself to the Covid debate by saying ‘Speaking as…’ . We are more interested in condemning Boris Johnson’s morals than his decisions. We have to do better than this. It would, excuse me, horrify my parents more than the Sue Gray Report.