While I’m furloughed from work I figured I’d keep my hand in with some random writing. (I kind of have to since I recommended doing so in another of my furlough projects here)
So here’s the first. They won’t all be about coronavirus
It’s the divergence that marks out this crisis.
In practical terms everyday in lockdown is broadly the same for most of us. The same surroundings, the same routine. It’s boring but it’s easy.
But on an intellectual level it’s a different matter. There is so much that doesn’t make sense.
The pure confuzzlement of the current situation is best summed up in an on-the-money tweet I saw as the lockdown took a hold: ‘How come someone eating a bat in China led to the Brechin vs Elgin match getting cancelled?” Talk about unintended consequences.
One particularly perplexing element of the coverage of has been the cheerleading of Sweden by certain elements on the right of politics.
The same folk who spent the last five years panning Jeremy Corbyn for his lefty views now reckon the state that has arrived in 2020 after a century of socialism is the one to look to for ideas.
Certain journalists, commentators, MPs (but no scientists as far as I’m aware) are frothing over Sweden for they have not locked down. According to this version of events Swedes are broadly carrying on as normal. Something we’d all like to be able to do. However, for most of us the choice between dead relatives and missing popping out to a cafe is straightforward. Not so those lauding the Swedes. They claim that in Stockholm you can have your cake and eat it with grandad.
Nice idea. But incorrect.
While it may be true that there’s been limited legal lockdown in Sweden folk have been advised to stay at home and socially distance. So they have. The contract between government and governed in Sweden is tweaked somewhat compared to that in the UK. Most, but not all of course, are willing to pay higher taxes in return for a more substantial state. This is most notable when it comes to one of my hobby horses – paternity leave. Parents are given over a year away from work after the birth of a child, it’s paid properly and it’s up to them how they divvy it up between mum and dad. While British parents look at their childcare options and see society and economics directing them clearly towards the mother sacrificing her career, and often her mental health, to be the primary parent Swedish parents have a simple mantra when it comes to whether dad should take a healthy chunk of parental leave: ‘He’d be daft not to’. There, the economics and attitudes direct dad to do more. I’ve not seen many articles on ConHome or in the Telegraph exhorting our administration to copy the Swedes on that one.
Fact is Swedish city centres are as deserted as British ones. It’s just Swedes only have to be told once to follow the guidelines.
A friend who now lives in Sweden has observed just two groups breaking the rules there: recent immigrants, perhaps because they are less au fait with the culture, and old people, who don’t have that excuse.
And the bottom line is that the numbers are still grim for Sweden. The death toll is worse than their Scandinavian neighbours in Norway and Denmark for example. In fact it’s noticeable that as the body count has climbed so the right wing cheerleading has dwindled.
Of course that leads us down a new, odd rabbit hole of whether we can make useful international comparisons when it comes to coronavirus data. It’s a stupid rabbit hole full of stupid rabbits. Fact is over 30,000 Brits are dead. That’s appalling and the government must be held accountable for that number. There doesn’t appear to be a rigorous interrogation of where and how deaths could’ve been avoided. Hopefully there will be one soon enough. One possible outcome of that inquiry is that coronavirus is horrible, the government did its best, and no or few deaths were avoidable.
There are other possible outcomes.
Perhaps the inquiry will find that the UK would’ve done better following the Swedish example. That people would’ve done as they are told and sort of self policed. But that seems unlikely given the very people exhorting the example of a country where people trust the government and follow the rules are themselves loudly questioning both our government and the rules.
Questions must be asked of this administration and its handling of Covid-19 now, and into the future.
But if one of those questions is to reference Sweden it cannot be ‘Should we have been more like Sweden?’ Instead it must be a bigger question about culture, society, politics and inequality: ‘Should we be more like Sweden?’