What does the COVID-19 pandemic really say about British society?

In recent weeks the UK Conservative Government has had a strong lead in opinion polls, with the latest YouGov poll showing the Tories holding a 10 point poll lead over the opposition Labour Party. This is consistent with the polling trends over the last three months, with some polls showing Labour would do as badly if not worse were an election held today as they did in December 2019.

The UK has one of the highest COVID-19 deaths per million rates in the world with over 127,000 people coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic. Add to this the £37billion contract to develop a track and trace system that did not work, NHS nurses being offered only a one percent pay increase this year and a 40% decline in UK exports to Europe it is truely remarkable that the Government has a 10 lead in the polls at this time.

People living overseas who hear of this cannot make sense of what has happened in the UK. Likewise, those opposed to the current Government in the UK have taken to despairingly remark – what does this say about our country now?

In my next blog I will address the immediate issue of UK polling, which in part is due to the COVID-19 vaccine roll out, but also includes other factors which help explain current polling numbers at this time.

Coronavirus in the UK: What to Know About COVID-19's Spread | Time
NHS public health campaign in response to the pandemic

But beyond parliamentary politics, I believe the question of what the pandemic says about British society should be explored more broadly. The last 12 months have seen this country tested and challenged to an extent not seen since the Second World War. It is far too early to assess what the long term social and economic impacts of this crisis will be on either the UK or the world, but one year on from when the first lockdown began, we can start to assess the the impact this has had on society. Also, to assess the responses, both good and bad from the Government and the population as a whole.

There are many aspects to this, but at first we must understand what Britain as a nation is or at least what it is perceived to be. This is now highly contested ground and the term British means very different things to different people. The recent census for example asked people whether they identified as British or English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish or other. For some all people within the United Kingdom are British and are all are part of one country, whereas others see themselves as distinctly Welsh, Scottish or Irish or English. Underlying this are debates about maintaining “the union” and increasing calls for independence in Scotland, Northern Ireland and to a lesser extent Wales. All of this heavily impacts on the response to the coronavirus pandemic as devolved Governments has often responded differently to the crisis and in Scotland this has been used as a political tool to campaign for independence.

The next few posts will explore this issue of Britain and its response to the pandemic, starting with the political response and repercussions.

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