Politics and Pandemic certainly mix.
The coronavirus, something far from people’s minds only this time last year, has swept across the globe leaving a path of devastation that is unfortunately far from over. But it has also had another effect: increasing people’s interest in politics.
The emotional and financial impact this is going to leave on so many families and businesses affected is something that is impossible to not acknowledge.
On a societal level, what our daily lives look like has drastically changed and inevitably this will bring a change in thought patterns. It is fair to say that for a large proportion of the population their thoughts have never been so consumed by Boris Johnson’s speeches or the problem of PPE shortages.
The increased government involvement has been compared to a wartime government, but in truth this is not the same as a war. War is essentially a manmade evil, this arguably is not. For the first time in some people’s lives they are realising that there are things entirely out of their control. Things that completely alter societal norms.
There doesn’t need to be a war for the country or even the world to suddenly rely more heavily on the decisions and actions of those in power. Will this experience make people who previously took an impartial stance on politics take a harder look at those who are handed power?
Just four months ago we had a general election where two-thirds of the electorate cast their vote. The turnout at elections is never much higher than this. Many feel demoralised by politics and others seem to think that whoever is in power will have little bearing over their lives.
It would be interesting to see if those who did not vote in December would now go back to cast their votes, knowing what will come. Most of the time, politics will generally have a minimal effect on personal lives, but an event such as this shows that politics is not really about the individual but the collective. In the same way this virus spreads from person to person, the effects of decisions made by our government ripple out, affecting each person’s life differently. No one is exempt.
Politics is rarely seen as a life and death issue, but it is. Not just during a global pandemic. Not just when there is a war. But every time funding for the NHS is diversified or cut. Every time the benefits system declares someone fit for work when they are not. And every time nothing is done to increase the availability of desperately needed affordable housing.
The government would often have us believe that they are doing everything they can, but this is subjective. Are they doing everything they can to protect the people or are they doing everything they can to protect their reputation?
Saving lives is the focus of this pandemic but so is saving the economy. As of Sunday, the government has advised those unable to work from home to return to work, provided the required social distancing measures are in place. This will disproportionately affect the working classes.
The government needs construction and manufacturing to resume to support the economy in these financially trying times. Suggesting it is safe for these workers to return could mean pressure from employers to do so, and fear that if they do not, jobs will be lost.
The advice to not travel to work is also rather empty and unrealistic for many. What about the families without a car or those with one car per household? These are very common scenarios which Johnson seems to have ignored as they fail to fit his perfectly colour-coded exit strategy.
From the lack of preparation when it was known that a pandemic was coming, to the fuzzy and haphazard strategy currently in place to return to ‘normal’ as soon as possible, will this change people’s appreciation of the value of politics? Will we begin to feel that engagement in politics is not something that is optional or reserved for certain elite groups, but something that is crucial for everyone to get involved in to ensure we have the right people making the best decisions when it counts the most?
People may be justified in continuing to feel powerless and apathetic. We live in a democracy but one with vast imbalances in terms of income, opportunities and social status. There may be a heightened interest in politics at the moment due to the unique need to follow the latest government guidelines. But once the pandemic has subsided, will people’s interest in politics subside too? Might they not feel deflated and powerless, thinking the imbalance can never be rectified? Or will we feel inspired to never allow our voice to go unheard again, knowing just how important it could be when it comes to matters of life and death?