Boris Johnson has COVID-19
Boris Johnson, the prime minister of the United Kingdom and the man charged with responsibility to lead the state’s defence against COVID-19, has been taken ill by the virus: he’s been in intensive care.
The media has rallied around him. Social media is full of support for the leader of the UK, asking us to #clapforboris just as we clapped for the heroes of the NHS. The sentiments being sent his way are overwhelmingly positive, because what sort of person wouldn’t wish him well?
There are dissenters, but they are quickly condemned. A few actively wish Johnson harm, while many more express anger that he’s considered deserving of our sympathy. These people are characterised as heartless, callous, nasty — evil, even. Disliking someone because of their politics is one thing, we’re told, but to actively hate someone — to the point of not caring if they live or die — that lacks humanity, and is held as ‘proof’ that it is, in fact, the Left who are uncaring. Politics should be put aside when it comes to such things.
But politics isn’t a game. The rhetoric we hear from the media often suggests it is, and the Left are losing. You lost, get over it. I’ve lost games, frequently — when playing against my children I’m rarely allowed to win. When the national team loses in rugby or football it can feel devastating. But no one dies. No one is bullied, humiliated or forced into poverty. Politics isn’t a game.
I’d like to stress I don’t wish him any harm or suffering. That’s not who I am, which is why if I were in his position of power my priority would be to alleviate or eliminate suffering wherever possible. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the core purpose of power in a democracy — to ensure the best for as many people as possible. I’d see it as my duty to ensure the best for even those I vehemently disagree with.
And that would include Johnson’s party, because they stand for something different entirely. The Tory party exists primarily to keep power where they think it belongs. The political ‘game’ they play involves ensuring our working class, our disabled and our minorities remain marginalised in society. When the UN compare this government’s ‘systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population’ to the creation of 19th-century workhouses, you know equality and empathy aren’t high up on their list of priorities.
To have sympathy for Johnson in his current situation is certainly a positive, human reaction, and is in no way evidence you agree with his politics. But it doesn’t follow that you’re a bad person for struggling to empathise with the man. There are so many vulnerable people who have deserved our sympathy but who Johnson and his party have done their best to erase from history, and have succeeded in erasing from existence. For many the emotions are too raw to simply put to one side.
People like Errol Graham, who was starved to death after having his benefits stopped. Or people like Sean Doherty and Philip Herron who took their own lives because Universal Credit meant they couldn’t afford to live. Or Christian Wilcox, who did the same after having his disability benefits removed. This list of names is reported to run into the thousands, but nobody is being asked to clap for them. We are being asked instead to clap for the man who leads the party responsible for their suffering. If you’re reluctant to send best wishes in the face of this, it doesn’t mean you lack humanity.
It doesn’t make you heartless, callous, nasty or evil. More likely, you’re overwhelmed with empathy for those who have lost loved ones to the alter of Tory ideology, and sympathy for those responsible feels impossible.
Those who attribute such labels to those who have suffered most, simply for refusing to parrot warm platitudes, are often the same people who refuse to condemn this government for causing the suffering. Mean words are deplorable, unforgivable. Policies that knowingly result in deaths are just part of the game of politics.
And then there’s Johnson’s approach to the coronavirus crisis, specifically. Despite what we all saw unfold in Italy, his government persisted in their ‘herd immunity’ tactic — it’s been suggested that it’s still their policy in all but name. Johnson told us we should let it ‘move through the population’, that we need to ‘take it on the chin’. He warned us loved ones will die.
I’m confident he wasn’t expecting to have to personally take anything on the chin. He wouldn’t feature on any list of those considered vulnerable. He jovially told the nation of how he shook hands with multiple COVID-19 patients when he should have been implementing the lockdown. What he meant by ‘take it on the chin’ was that vulnerable people would die for the good of the economy. I have close members of my family who are on that list, and I take his words personally. So do many others.
The early deaths of our grandparents, our parents, our compromised siblings and children are not ‘taking it on the chin’. His special adviser Dominic Cummings has been reported as believing our priority should be to ‘protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad’. This man is one of the most trusted within Johnson’s inner circle.
They allowed over a quarter of a million people to congregate at the Cheltenham festival, leaving other sporting events like the Wales-Scotland rugby union match to be unilaterally cancelled at the last minute (after Scottish supporters had already travelled to Cardiff.)
Downing Street refused to take part in an EU scheme to source ventilators simply because of Brexit, preferring to go it alone. They later backtracked and blamed a mix-up over an email — the classic ‘we’re not callous, just incompetent’ excuse.
As a result, the UK (along with the US) is expected to be one of the worst hit countries on the planet.
I want to again make it clear that I do not, and never will, wish harm on anyone. He has family, loved ones, and I haven’t got it in me to have those thoughts. I certainly don’t have it in me to implement the sort of viscous Tory policies he has, consciously setting off a chain of events that have resulted in suffering and misery all across the UK.
But he isn’t the only one with people who care about him. The same can be said for the tens of thousands who have suffered at the hands of the party he leads, and I don’t believe he’s shown them even an ounce of genuine sympathy.
Compassion and empathy are not finite, but time unfortunately is. If I’m to spend any of it on a doorstep clapping, it’s far more likely to be for the victims of senseless suffering, or those who work tirelessly to help, rather than the architect of so much of it.