That which is not good for the bee-hive cannot be good for the bees.
On Friday 11th September, the SDP put out a press release opposing new government restrictions. Some disagreed, while others were surprised at what seemed like a libertarian stance from a communitarian party.
Let me explain why I think it’s not that and why I think further lockdowns will damage our communities, perhaps irrevocably.
When the first lockdown began, support for the Government’s actions was widespread, the virus was an unknown quantity and the lockdown was sold as a delay tactic whilst NHS capacity was improved and we got to know our enemy.
I was heartened to see communities come together, neighbours shopping for each other and street WhatsApp groups formed. In our street we grew sunflowers together with varying success and I know the names of far more of my neighbours than I did before.
As we fought to maintain human contact over Easter, pictures of cups of tea, pints of beer and glasses of wine in our respective living rooms appeared on the WhatsApp group.
However as the lockdown went on, longer than most of us has expected, things began to change.
On Twitter, previously a battleground of Brexit, arguments began to emerge between pro- and anti-maskers (largely statists versus libertarians), with talk of ‘muzzles’ and those who ‘put money before lives’. Soon mothers who complained about the damage to their children’s education were being shouted down as selfish, while the self-employed and business owners who worried about their future were labelled as greedy, in tweets full of erroneous statistics about death rates.
Is it selfish to care as local businesses collapse and the local pub closes down? No.
Communities are built around people, but they need local amenities such as shops, pubs and restaurants. The local café, whether it serves posh coffee and cake or a fry-up, is a meeting place, a refuge for the lonely and a source of employment. Local shops provide a source of local information, conversation for the elderly and the money spent in them circulates back into the local community.
However the lockdown brought a reliance on Amazon, a company as far removed from community as it’s possible to be, moving money out of our communities and its tax-paying businesses.
As further restrictions were announced in the North East on Thursday, a Newcastle restaurant tweeted that two thirds of its bookings for Friday night had been cancelled. How can any business operate in such circumstances? How can they continue to employ local people? How will those people pay their rent? And when small businesses collapse and tax receipts fall, how will we fund our already depleted public services?
We set out to protect the NHS, but what an irony if our actions end up destroying it.
As communitarians we should also consider the damage we are causing to children’s education and development. Masked people in shops, an obsession with disease and hand-washing, bans on hugging grandparents and playing with friends: it’s difficult to measure the scale of mental health problems we are storing up for these children, our future citizens, along with the mountain of debt we’ve left them to pay back.
Enough is enough. At some point we must learn to live with this, to face down an enemy I suspect is not as strong and mighty as we have imagined it to be.
Perhaps there will be other viruses, perhaps they will be more deadly, and perhaps then staying away from each other might be the communitarian thing to do. But at this point, balancing the current evidence against the damage to the economy and our communities, locking down again surely isn’t good for our hive.