One of the unmissable features of the COVID Pandemic is that the world responded to it not as one, but as nation-based. Perhaps, one day the governance of the world will be the domain of global institutions but it is palpably clear that the Nation-State has been the world’s default position since biblical times and prevails today despite the socio-economic qualities of our ‘Global Village’. The only exception to this would appear to be the Multinational Corporation, where the individual employee is subservient to the corporate mission statement. Although the Multinational’s self-serving activities have a global impact on certain matters – tax, the environment, Apple Corporation’s refusal to change its device algorithms etc – they are, in effect, rather acts of disobedience than the taking of a governmental position. Perhaps the younger generations, of whom I wrote last time, may set us off on a path that will take us in different directions but, for all current practical purposes, our continuing personal identification with territories defined by geo-political borders strongly indicates that it will be a long time before our everyday world will be governed directly by any other than nation-based governments.
Though governments may appear to adopt a life of their own – most ostensibly, in the case of dictatorships – ultimately they come into being, exist and fall by dint of collective individual assent & dissent. And though the individual may curse and scratch and scream: “Not In My Name!” from the rooftops, their role in the collective is undeniable. The individual will invariably claim that they are powerless but the fact remains that they do have options to act within the collective, and choosing not to act of them is in effect an act of cooperation, or more pertinently not an act of non-cooperation. For this reason, I strongly believe that – though, we may wish to deny it – our national governments are a true reflection, if not exactly of ourselves then of the collective – in other words, the country that we are a part of.
The individual’s role in their country’s national response is more a factor than many will wish to believe. This statement is easier to accept when one looks at the few ‘success stories’ – such that the methodical & disciplined response of Germany to the crisis which reflects well on the sort of country it is and of its individuals. Nevertheless, the population of such countries as The United States & Brazil also bear a responsibility, as individuals, for their nation’s abysmal responses. Or to express this, as per the title of this piece: we get the governments we deserve. Even if there would be sufficient space to critique government responses to the COVID pandemic, on a country-by-country basis, I certainly lack the competence to do so. But, taking the country that I do feel I can speak to: the way the UK government has responded does reflect on us as individuals, by dint of the political contracts we have entered into. And, I’d suggest that in respect of the following 5 unholy shibboleths that we hold to, as individuals and as a country:
- ‘The Sun never sets on The British Empire’. No, not any more! We have not adjusted to history. The line of zero-longitude may pass through our country, but we are not the centre of the world. Yet our leaders still receive a willing audience when they claim that because we have National Health Service that will be ‘the envy of the world’, that we will be able to give COVID short thrift and that we will develop a track-and-trace system that will be a world-beater.
- The UK is a great democracy. No, it isn’t! In the mid-1960s, when I took The British Constitution to ‘A’ level, though it was clear to me that our institutions were palpably undemocratic, we were taught that such thoughts were overwritten by the unchallengeable claim that our country operated via the so-called ‘Unwritten Constitution. Accordingly, we’ve put up with The House Of Lords & a First-Past-The-Post political system that is a prescription for Prime Ministerial dictatorship. Which brings us to the Johnson government currently that is leading us through this pandemic.
- The UK has one of the world’s leading economies. No, not exactly! Our GDP, which still appears somehow in the World’s Top Ten, is a ‘Kakonomy’ – a term first coined by Gloria Origgi as defining an economy that produces low-quality outcomes: such as is evidenced by our poor per-capita GDC, lowering living standards and an overdependence on the service and financial sectors. Interestingly, from the point of this piece, Origgi claims that a Kakonomy produces such outcomes because we are lazy. The sort of laziness that results in our inability to keep to social distancing rules, perhaps?
- The Civil Service is fit for purpose. No, it ain’t! It is beyond me how many major f***-ups take place in this country – £squillions wasted on failed IT projects, the overrunning of & overspending on major infrastructure projects and, in this pandemic, a slew of misconceived & costly misadventures – which we just shrug our shoulders at or, at best, set up a Royal Commission to look into. The Civil Service may operate at the behest of its political master – but it’s not their bequest. As a result the ‘Sir Humphreys’ somehow live on in today’s civil service, managing to avoid the scrutiny of the public gaze. The recruitment and practices of the Civil Service need a root-and-branch overhaul; sadly, of late, it’s Dominic Cummings who has been saying this most loudly.
- We are a cosmopolitan & fair society. Really? You only have to look at Brexit as to how fractured we are as a country. The self-entitled property-owning Remain-voting citizenry is as much an element, in its own way, of The Establishment as any other class- or race-derived section of our inhomogenous nation. The class system is alive and well in the UK. Our Achilles heel is ‘appearance’. We are very good at appearing to behave in an egalitarian way. It is perfectly clear that there are significantly disadvantaged sectors of our country when looked at from many geographic, social or economic angles, that are in the policy-making margins. In this respect, I have a deal of understanding of the difficulty of the government of constructing a pandemic message that is acceptable to a populace where the individual pays lip-service to a whole that not only doesn’t exist, while at the same time not identifying with huge swathes of it!
The UK government and its people are complicit in their denial of the above; indeed each appears to feed off each other. The more the UK’s population laps up the government claims of pandemic responses that are ‘World Class’ and eats up the government’s plaudits for its civic compliance, the more apparent it is that many policies are misconceived and doomed to misfire. Ultimately, what you get from your government does reflect back the sum of the individual values of the society that put it there – an equation that holds true for many aspects of life, in the end ….
And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make
Sing along with The Beatles here