The sizeable Tory rebellion in votes on ‘Plan B’ shows that something is cracking in corona politics.
Since the first lockdown, almost two years ago, social life has been assigned a merely provisional status. There is nothing in life that cannot not be cancelled at a moment’s notice – not schools, holidays, dentistry, demonstrations, Christmas, religious worship. Nothing is sacrosanct, nothing has a prior claim to existence.
Lockdowns asserted the state’s primacy over society; they declared social life to be ‘non-essential’. They often occurred with little warning, when people were in the middle of their holidays, or having lunch in a restaurant, and suddenly there was an announcement that at 12pm tomorrow all this would end. The process out of lockdown was a process of reintroducing life but now in a different form – no longer with a self-subsisting authority, but with the status of something provisional, depending on the state for permission to resume. The parts of social life were reintroduced like the sections of an orchestra, each with their own specific set of restrictions by which they must abide in order to exist.
And still, two years later, leaders want to carry on like this. They want to carry on turning social life on and off again, up and down. They take away then bring back masks. They have plans B and C, and no doubt through the entire alphabet, and they leak the contents of their considerations, so that we are aware that the future is entirely uncertain. We may arrange to see our family at Christmas, but we cannot be sure that it will happen; we cannot be sure if we can travel or not, or if we will be able to enter a pub in the New Year.
We are supposed to take our seats as spectators watching this endless serial of regulations, engaging in the prognostication and speculation about what the next rule will be. There is no certainty: when they say they will not do something this often means that they will do it. We are supposed to wait for the latest plans and then obediently follow them. We are supposed to put our lives on hold, to develop our own plan A, B, and C, and D, our own worst case scenarios, depending upon ‘what they decide to do’.
And yet something is cracking. Nearly two years on, people are tiring of it, we are wearying of the dreary show that has become what passes for politics. Nearly half of all Tory backbenchers rebelled on vaccine passports; they did not defeat plan B but they left it limp and without authority. The new mandates on facemasks on UK public transport are being very patchily obeyed. MPs now insist that parliament gets to vote on any new restrictions, rather than the usual method of publishing a statutory instrument the night beforehand.
It is the same in other countries. In France, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, many schools are ignoring the new rules on children wearing masks outside during breaktime. The children tuck their masks under their chins and the teachers say nothing.
Something is cracking – people are becoming restive, and many others are just switching off, they aren’t playing along anymore.
Politicians’ plans B and C can blow around in the wind, like useless bits of paper. They no longer have any gravity or compelling force.
We are starting to feel a different compelling force: to end this tiresome and pointless rigmarole, which turns us into the playthings of ministers and puts our lives indefinitely on hold. We need to live by our plan A again.