Comment

Christmas is cancelled and fortress family feels under attack – Boris is testing our patience

The new six-person rule could keep families apart - and blaming the young won't bring us together either

Flaming Nora, we weren’t expecting this, were we? Certainly not, given the amount of old flannel we’ve been fed by a blustering Boris Johnson, whose attempts at statesman-like gravitas are uncomfortably reminiscent of the bathroom flood disaster in ‘Paddington’.

Has he any grasp of the damage he has caused by peddling us false hope over Covid-19 lockdowns? Or the fury we now feel at discovering we’ve been duped?

Since March, we have obediently submitted to edicts curtailing our freedom for the greater good on the understanding our sacrifices would be temporary.

As what looks suspiciously like a second lockdown looms, it’s hard to escape the conclusion we’ve been infantilised, patronised and disfranchised.

In the US, Donald Trump has been getting it in the neck for admitting he deliberately played down the seriousness of coronavirus at the start of the pandemic, which is a morally indefensible dereliction of duty.

Meanwhile, our own elected leader has proven to be either a dissembler or a fool. Most probably, most depressingly, both at once.

As a result, I’m not sure who still trusts a word that comes out of his mealy mouth. I’m certainly disinclined.

Here’s a brief aide-memoire in case you’ve forgotten – and let me draw your attention to the fact that in each instance, the devil isn’t in the detail but the conspicuous lack of it.

In June, our gung-ho Prime Minister reassured us that we had “turned the tide” on Covid-19. Brilliant, we thought.

In July, a bullish Boris promised that it would all be over by December, and that a normal Christmas was in prospect. Thank God, we sighed.

In August, his considered verdict was that local lockdowns would be the answer to any further outbreaks. That sounds reasonable, we nodded.

And now, not a fortnight into September, he’s outlawed gatherings of more than half-a-dozen, drafted in a load of Stasi snitches – sorry, I mean Death Marshals… – to police us, and has summarily turned Christmas into Christmiss.

This is because almost everyone we know, love and desperately long to see will be missing. Turkey and all the trimmings for two parents, two kids – but which set of grandparents will win the draw?

Nobody appears to have canvassed older generations on whether they would rather risk the ravages of Covid or nurse a broken heart when they realise they haven’t made the cut and will have to watch the Queen’s Speech alone and lonely.

This latest announcement adds up to far more than a numbers game or a few cancelled get-togethers. It was about the loss of hope, a sense of powerlessness and the stymying of our plans for the future. And that is part of what makes us human.

In a New York Times essay from 2017, entitled We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment, University of Pennsylvania academic Professor Martin E.P. Seligman tells of a psychology experiment into mental processes that shows people think about the future three times more often than the past, and even those few thoughts about a past event typically involved consideration of its future implications.

I’ve met and interviewed Prof Seligman, an evolutionary psychiatrist who says homo sapiens should be called homo prospectus, because it is contemplation of the future that creates civilisation and sustains society.

“When making plans, people reported higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress than at other times,” he writes. “Because planning turns a chaotic mass of concerns into an organised sequence.

“Although they sometimes feared what might go wrong, on average there were twice as many thoughts of what they hoped would happen. While most people tend to be optimistic, those suffering from depression and anxiety have a bleak view of the future – and that, in fact, seems to be the chief cause of their problems; not their past traumas, nor their view of the present.”

Cue our collective despair and tsunami of mental health issues. How can we plan for anything, big or small, when the blizzard of mixed messages is Alice in Wonderland bewildering.

One minute, it’s our patriotic duty to go to the pub and Eat Out to Help Out; the next, we are being scolded for failing to stop the spread of the virus by being out and about too much.

Daily tests are trumpeted as the ultimate solution to Covid just days after peevish accusations that we, the public, have been taking too many.

Workers are being urged to return to big offices while six is otherwise deemed the maximum safe number for any group.

Care home residents are desolate without regular visitors, which is badly impacting their health and wellbeing. Yet visitors are being kept away to avoid impacting on their health.

And all the while, fortress family feels under attack – which is sorely testing public patience.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has pointed the finger at young people for spreading the virus – “Don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and passing it on…” – and established a narrative that their misbehaviour, especially house parties, are at the core of a rise in infection rates.

If young people feel unfairly vilified, they will have no incentive to obey social distancing rules. We are supposed to be all in this together, after all.

It also begs the question if interacting is so terrible, then why on earth are universities accepting any students at all this term? Banning Freshers' Week doesn’t equate to binding vows of abstinence or celibacy.

Oh, and as for the advice that any student displaying Covid-19 symptoms should stay put on campus, rather than head home, the Government may as well kick that suggestion into the long grass before the nation’s tiger mothers tear it into shreds. I can’t name any parent who would let a wobbly, unwell 18-year-old child, away from home for the first time, languish in halls when they could whisk them away without endangering anyone.

Or is Hancock going to repurpose and readvertise the likes of Imperial College and Manchester University as “fee-paying Nightingale hospitals with superior library facilities”?

It is time to remind this Government that the unseen enemy here is the coronavirus, not our teenage children and young people.

We accept measures have been – belatedly – put in place to safeguard the elderly, but it is wrong to shut us out from the decision-making that affects our loved ones.

Setting generations against one another will backfire because blood flows thicker than party affiliations. In times of crisis, our instinct is to take care of our own. Just ask Dominic Cummings.

But to plan ahead, we need to look forward. A shame, then, that this government is so intent on pulling us back.