Haircuts, holidays and hugs

News reaches me of a far more egregious breach of lockdown restrictions than the thousands protesting Black Lives Matter at the weekend.

An old lady, in middle England, who had her family – daughter, son-in-law and teenage grandchild – round for a roast dinner at the weekend.

Now, the crowds marching through various city centres are one thing. From a purely pandemic point of view they presented a far from ideal scenario. But of course there’s far more to what was going on at the weekend than just the health crisis. I have huge sympathy with the man on the news who said “Being a black man is a threat to my life expectancy so… coronavirus – come at me.”

But ultimately the marches were largely attended by folk who are young and urban. People whose risk from coronavirus is relatively low, who tend to be relatively engaged with social justice issues and who might be expected to follow the Covid rules but perhaps less strictly than others.

Far more telling, and more dangerous, if we’re concerned about a second spike in infections is the grandma in middle England.

Bristol

She’d fit the model of the sort of person who doesn’t just vote Tory (she lives in a safe seat) but who is used to obeying the rules set by Tory governments. She may even have tutted at the pictures of Edward Colston tipping off Bristol docks when she sat down to watch the weekend news having waved off her family after serving them food she’d cooked and spending time in an enclosed space with them.

If the stats show an uptick in Covid cases in a couple of weeks think of her rather than the BLM protestors.

I don’t repeat the tale of the old lady flaunting the law to criticise her just as I wouldn’t criticise those joining the BLM movement. But she’s a canary in the coalmine of public opinion.

The fact she’s driven to break the Covid guidelines speaks to a wider problem with the government’s approach to coronavirus.

She wants to see her loved ones. Those in charge show little sign they get that.

Shops

It often feels that the most vital parts of easing lockdown are allowing people to go to pubs and shops.

Yet this is an administration that constantly carps on about common sense, albeit usually to mask decisions that are directly and obviously in contravention of common sense. Dominic Cummings taking his family for a drive to test his eyesight the most obvious example, and it’s going to take some beating.

Common sense is too vague a term to be any use. I prefer to think of it simply as being human, of knowing other people.

The three key elements this administration ought to address if it is to keep the electorate sweet and prove it’s in touch with normal people are haircuts, holidays and loved ones. Not necessarily in that order.

Flailing

I hate getting my hair cut. Have done since I was a child. Being wrestled into a special seat at the local salon whilst wailing and flailing is probably one of my earliest memories. But I’d love a hair cut right now. It’d represent a little chink of normality and having a neater barnet would generally improve how I feel about myself. That’s true of lots of other people. Confidence in the government would come coursing back were it to announce a plan to open hairdressers as soon as possible and, crucially, how it’ll ration appointments. (I prefer a 24 alphabetised day plan with appointments on each date only open to people with surnames starting with a particular later. Nadhim Zahawi would have to wait till the end. If he had hair.)

Holidays are tricky of course. As with everything at them moment safety must come first. But it’s entirely reasonable that everyone wants a break after the last few months. That might not be possible. In which case the government needs to front up and tell us that. It’s worse to indicate we might be able to get a holiday then take that hope away – ie, do exactly as they’ve done to the nation’s primary school children by suggesting they’d be in class before September before turning round and telling the under 10s actually they can’t hang out with their friends after all. Not cool. Not cool at all.

If there is a way to make holidays happen then explain the plan and work towards it. What are the chances of air bridges to other countries? Can we all holiday in Ireland? Or does the government fancy nationalising Travelodge and doling out a week away to everyone? That last one sounds far fetched but remember the Tory administration has already nationalised, er, wages.

It’s important to get PPE and cleaning chemicals to hospitals and care homes. But it’s entirely reasonable to state that health is about more than just lack of physical illness. A week away and a haircut would undoubtedly improve the population’s wellbeing. Can sanitiser and masks be funnelled to hotels and hairdressers?

Human beings

Of course the thing that would improve the nation’s outlook more than anything is the opportunity to see loved ones and hang out with other human beings.

That’s why that grandma fed her family illegal roast potatoes. 

That’s why Robert Jenrick popped round to his parents. And so did Dominic Cummings. And scientist of doom Neil Ferguson had his girlfriend over. 

Broadly in business if you look after your employees the bottom line will take care of itself. So too if a nation cares for its citizens it’ll tick over economically.

Downing Street’s apparently established a mini committee to ‘save summer’. The one thing that’d save 2020 for most of us is the opportunity to see those we love beyond our own four walls. 

Give almost anyone the choice between a new pair of shoes and their grandson they’ll pick the latter. Same goes for a choice between a pint of Guiness in their local versus a cup of tea at their friends house.  

Love

At risk of sounding a bit easy listening – what the world needs now is love. The government that clocks that and facilitates it will be rewarded. (As ever, see Jacinda Ardern’s popularity in New Zealand. It’s not just because she seems nice, it’s because she’s competent and in tune with her voters.)

But our current UK administration is a long way from that.

They vow to get the economy moving again when what we want is more basic than that – to be able to move closer to those we want to hug.

It adds to the impression that this is an administration focused on public opinion yet out of kilter with its electorate. The politicians seem beholden to behavioural insights yet blind to actual behaviour.

They love three word slogans yet remain oblivious to the alliterative triple whammy that’d improve the nation’s morale and quality of life – haircuts, holidays, hugs.

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