A terrible sickness stalks the land. No, not the Covid but — shudder — British exceptionalism.
Apparently, the entire Cabinet’s come down down with it — after all, what other reason could there be for the government’s response to the current crisis? Trapped in a Blighty-fixated fever dream, it’s quite clear that our leaders have lost the plot.
Luckily, The Guardian has realised what’s going on. Its columnist Fintan O’Toole was the first to raise the alarm, perceiving the influence of “a fantasy of personal freedom as a marker of ethnic and national identity.” More than mere “rhetorical self-indulgence” this delirium has “helped to shape official policy towards the Covid-19 crisis”, he reckons.
Naïvely, I thought it was something to do with following the official scientific advice, but no — it’s down to some Anglocentric hallucination. Or is SAGE entirely composed of retired Colonels from Frinton-on-Sea?
O’Toole goes on to remark that “Covid-19, as Johnson himself discovered the most awful way, doesn’t make exceptions”. Yes, that must have come as a terrible shock: there was the PM, secure in his conviction that Homo britannicus is biologically immune to infection, only to catch the thing himself!
But did BoJo learn his lesson? A few days later, The Guardian felt compelled to publish an editorial which condemned the government’s policy response. As to what propelled these missteps, the authors were in no doubt: it was “fantasies of British exceptionalism”, of course.
The editorial points out that there’s been “no official word” as to why the death rate is lower in the Republic of Ireland (“which has followed WHO advice”) than it is in Northern Ireland (“which follows UK advice”). Well, no wonder HMG’s keeping quiet, because we all know what and who’s to blame — i.e. “the delusions of national character that too many members of the government… suffer from”.
A convincing case, I’m sure you’ll agree. Except there’s one thing that bothers me — statistical comparisons also show that London has been hit harder than the rest of the UK. Would The Guardian care to venture a theory as to why that might be? Has the capital been compromised by a sudden outbreak of raving patriotism?
Alternatively — and do forgive my baseless speculation here — might it be something to do with geography and the varying extents to which different places were exposed to global chains of transmission? Yes, there might just be something in that.
It’s one thing to take a stand against xenophobia, but quite another to become paranoid in one’s anti-nationalism. In any case, the truth is that Britain is exceptional — and so is every other country in the world. That’s why we have countries and why there are differences between them.
For instance, one of the things that makes Britain different is just how much its liberal Left shrinks away from any suggestion of Britishness. Compared to, say, their French or American counterparts they really are… exceptional.