17:17

Toughening up

There has been much talk about wartime spirit of late - common danger faced with a heightened sense of community. The one thing that hasn’t happened yet, in the wartime analogy, is an acceptance of many more deaths than would be usual. That may change - and quite soon as the costs of the lockdown become increasingly apparent at personal, business and national levels. 


This hardening of attitudes would be normal. I remember watching the film The Cruel Sea with my parents-in-law who had both lived through WW2 - both in uniform. There is a scene in the film where two friends from a naval ship, go ashore to visit the sister of one of the men. The other is  engaged to the sister. When they arrive at her house it is no longer there, destroyed by a bomb. They visit the ARP station to find out what had happened. ‘I’m sorry,’ says the warden, ‘a direct hit. They wouldn’t have known a thing about it.’ ‘Thanks,’ replies the fiancé and they walk out with a stiff upper lip. I turned to my parents-in-law, incredulous. ‘That would never happen today’, I said, ‘people would be sobbing and need counciling.’ As one they replied. ‘No, not at all. In wartime everyone toughens up very quickly. It takes a few weeks and then death becomes normal. You wouldn’t be able to cope unless it did.’ 


Will we get there soon? Another month of lockdown and attitudes will be changing fast. The young will be more sanguine about taking their chances (they always are) and the elderly and vulnerable will have to continue to protect themselves while the majority go back to work - at a certain cost. Politicians are going to need to be finely attuned to the public mood and the debate needs to be open and in Parliament. Ministers by then will be exhausted and also out of touch with the mood on the street - which means that Parliament will have a crucial role to play, maybe the most important in recent times. Let’s hope MPs are up to it.

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