To worry or not to worry by Angela Caldin
Case numbers of Covid-19 are rising again in the UK, but many people are going about their daily lives as though this was not a cause for concern. There’s a recent photo of the Conservative benches in the UK House of Commons in which the MPs sit squashed together shoulder to shoulder while their leader speaks at the despatch box. They look rather bored by whatever it is he is saying and you can see this from their facial expressions which are visible because the great majority are not wearing a mask. One of the three or four who have chosen to mask up while all around are maskless is Jeremy Hunt who was Health Secretary from 2012 to 2018. That’s a very long time to be in charge of health and I guess he must have learned a thing or two during that time to make him more cautious than his colleagues.
On the opposite benches, the Labour leader Keir Starmer and his troops have made the opposite choice and are generally to be seen wearing masks. It is accepted that face coverings are mainly intended to protect other people rather than the wearer and that, when the nose and mouth are covered, the risks of transmitting the virus are reduced. So it is a mystery why these Tory MPs would appear to have so little regard for each other’s welfare and why they feel they are somehow immune from transmission. By contrast, Labour MPs seem to show more respect and concern for each other and for the wider world.
It’s been suggested that it’s a tribal thing – doing what those around are doing, conforming to the customs of the tribe without questioning their wisdom. The current health secretary, Sajid Javid, has exhorted his fellow Tories to wear masks on budget day when more of the public are likely to be watching. It must have occurred to him that MPs should set an example and not give the impression of being immune by some kind of entitlement.
In addition, it’s reported that masks are to be made mandatory again for all staff who work in the Houses of Parliament. If they don’t wear a mask, they’ll have to leave the premises. But this mandate does not apply to MPs who are not subject to the same rules and can therefore do what they like. One unnamed member of staff pointed out how ridiculous it was that MPs were being exempted from steps which were meant to keep everybody safe. Another called it utterly absurd.
The word absurd sums it all up admirably. Ludicrous and farcical are good words too. The Tory MPs are giving the message that we don’t need to worry, while Labour MPs are saying we maybe do need to worry (unless they’re really saying we’re doing the opposite of you lot over there). In the Palace of Westminster, the memo for the staff says that they do need to worry, but the exempt MPs they mix with don’t need to worry at all. Johnson, the master of mixed messages, tells the Great British Public that there is no need to increase restrictions, but on another day warns of a difficult winter ahead.
It would be so good to see Matt Lucas again mimicking the PM as he did in his stay at home/go to work sketch. It could go something like this, ‘No need to worry; absolutely no need to worry. We do need to worry about the winter to come; a modicum of worry is needed. There’s no need to worry; you should worry when I tell you. Don’t worry/do worry.