July 2020 - Rector's Ramblings

How do you weigh the divergent interests of a nation’s people? How do you hold together different convictions and self-interests? How do you, as Government, not only act fairly but have attention to the need to be seen to be acting fairly? And, in the last of these questions, how do you survive the suspicion that you might be more interested in your public reputation than in the forging of policy?

Well, no-one should be envying the power of Government at this excruciating time. It is not possible to get it right, whether in objective or subjective ways. There is no right answer. Policy involves speculation. And policy that proves to have been less than wise, invites painful criticism. It is hard to find praise for one’s actions in a crisis. It is a relief that many of the normal conventions of political feuding are sensibly put on hold for the duration of a prolonged spell of national emergency.

I observed much the same last month, in our online edition. At the beginning of July we find ourselves in a comparable position; and Government finds itself as challenged by its circumstances as ever before.

Yet there is some movement, tentatively brought about by shifting policy. It is arguable that we, together with most western nations, have moved on from a strategy that has accepted that almost any constraints are allowable for the protection of human lives; onto a revised strategy that says now the time is right to place economic recovery, those benefits of human interaction on mental health and morale, and the need for a slow-slow dismantling of the Edifice of Fear, above a wholly directive requirement ‘thou shalt not’.

We move into the realms of EN-couragement, rather than DIS-couragement, and of returning to an expectation that people will make decisions regarding their own lives wisely and kindly, with the recovered sense of our interdependence, and the humble acknowledgment that realistically we are running out of goodwill at being told-what-to-do.

Now there will be people who feel well-served, and those who feel badly-served by the policies that have issued from Westminster. That is natural; but I think also it stems from an old-world way of thinking: that at any one time we may rant and rave about our own interests, but are not required to embrace the new-world realisation that we really are ‘all in this together’. That new mindset is no easy thing, though personally I think it is wonderful and overdue. Hard, though: in that it produces at one moment the sweetest blessings, and then in another the most painful friction.

I have heard in the last few days, a myriad of different outlooks. Notable, for me at least, has been the overspill of anxiety at being couped-up, and the particular ‘madness’ in the hearts of mainly young people. I have also heard terrible stories of economic pain, and the inability of families to survive without paid work. We have all seen, too, scenes of anger on our streets, translating the necessary and urgent message that ‘Black Lives Matter’, into some very ugly scenes of civil conflict. ‘We are all in this together’: and that makes it all the tougher.

But in actual fact, the truths that we have glimpsed in the early weeks of lockdown are to be a resource to us; not just a sad forgotten memory. Acts of neighbourliness, uncharacteristic care and attention, heroism in the field of public service, and shared restraint, have been of our making into a better people.

Yes, these better values have not been lived-out universally. There is too much fear, cynicism, disregard and bullishness for that to be otherwise. Yet, these fresher, brighter instincts have been in the ascendancy; and, for all the hardships, we have been a better nation in lockdown that outside of it.

Now comes the time, though, to explore what it may be like to step forward, with some of these good things still in our hearts.
That means not-knowing that every step invited of us will be wisely chosen; not-knowing that Government, or ourselves with newfound freedoms, will invariably make the right call. Yet it also means taking the good things we have learned into a world that is (presently) un-locking; and being thankful, grateful, wise, enriched, inspired and passionate … that .. we are ‘all in this, together’.

Andrew Doye

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