A year ago, when we had less worry about, Brexit was everything.
We were, it seemed, a dangerously divided nation — indeed, the issue was tearing us apart. Or so we were told.
We certainly saw a political realignment at the general election — and, moreover, one that leaves the question of Scotland independence as unresolved as ever. But what about all that stuff about family splits, fractured friendships and the damage done to the very fabric of British democracy?
One test of national unity is how well a country copes with a crisis. Do people come together in the face of adversity or do they turn on one another? The pandemic was, and is, just such a test — so how are we doing?
A recent report from More in Common uses comparative polling to assess the impact of Covid-19 on British society. The overall picture is that we’re a nation at ease with itself.
Compared to all the other countries in the study (France, America, Germany, Italy, Poland and the Netherlands) significantly more Britons (53%) felt that Covid-19 had made us “more caring” as a nation. 61% of us said that we’d felt the “support and care of others.”
Though we were more likely than any other country to think that there’d be further waves of the disease, we were less likely than any country (apart from Germany) to fear further division. Interestingly, we were the only country to make a distinction between the competence of the Covid response (comparatively low marks) and its fairness (comparatively high marks). 82% of Brits felt that the measures taken were “completely reasonable” and we were more likely than any other country to say that we’d personally followed the Covid rules “very closely”.
What’s clear is that, despite a common language, we’re very different from America — which, in this report, does not stand out as a nation at ease with itself.
Whatever our Brexit differences between 2016 and 2019, we stood together in 2020. In this country, the Covid culture wars are a minority pursuit.
However, these findings are no cause for complacency in Downing Street. For a start, our national unity includes a fairly unified view of the Government’s performance during the crisis. Furthermore, the More In Common survey found that no nation was hungrier for change. Only 36% of us want things to “return to normal” while 64% want to “seize the opportunity” to make “important changes to our country.”
In short, winning the war (against the virus) isn’t enough. Boris needs to win the peace too.