THOSE of us who are spared to live beyond this contagion will be moved to recount the tales of human nobility that made it more bearable. It’s easy to become cynical and dismiss the Thursday night clap as an exercise in sentimentality all too quickly commandeered by Conservative politicians to deflect from their previous neglect of the NHS. Yet, I know some NHS workers who appreciate the simple fact of being appreciated. It’s entirely possible to signal your support for all those working to keep the lights on while being critical of government failures.

Several themes have emerged from this lockdown that point to the essential callousness that lies at the heart of modern Conservatism. We accuse the likes of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Priti Patel of being impervious to the plight of the vulnerable during the lockdown. This, though, is a mistake. These people are simply adhering to first principles of Toryism, and coronavirus is simply casting them in a harsher light. They’re not being cruel; they’re being Tories.

Did anyone ever seriously believe that Patel would suspend the immigration bill just because it’s become obvious that among the lockdown heroes are many foreign workers? Was Gove ever going to agree with the teaching unions to think twice about sending children back to school in the face of concerns expressed by teachers about their own safety? One over-arching theme has persisted almost from the beginning of lockdown – the eagerness of the UK Government to blame sections of the workforce and the citizenry for the spread of the virus. To an extent, some of us hand-wringing liberals who have been blessed with an easier existence, have been guilty of this too. Thus, we mock and express our outrage at those who break social distancing rules or who gather to protest the restrictions of lockdown. When you have a large house and well-behaved children in a stable family unit; when home-schooling comes easy and Zoom quizzes can alleviate the tedium, it’s easy to forget that, for many others, these months have been a mental and physical ordeal.

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You might feel appalled at how many people seem willing to risk their own health by gathering in numbers and seeking an early relaxation of the lockdown rules. Yet, many of these people have been facing threats to their mental and physical wellbeing their entire lives because of government policies. They and the communities that house them are accustomed to being the first targets of spending cuts and austerity measures.

Coronavirus is merely one of several existential threats to their peace and wellbeing. Long after the pandemic has passed and we’re swapping lockdown tales over Chardonnay and crepes in G12, they’ll be dealing with all the other contagions that stalk their normal existence: early death syndrome; child poverty syndrome and multi-deprivation syndrome. Do you think they give a flying toss what we think about their lockdown recklessness?

The National: Boris Johnson

Even so, it’s still possible to be startled by the breath-taking hypocrisy of those who favour capitalism as the answer to unlocking prosperity.

We’ve all heard them in recent days as they suddenly discover that they care about the plight of the UK’s disadvantaged children. As they rail against the teachers for “refusing to open the schools” they cite the damage this will do to those children at the wrong side of the attainment gap. Have you ever heard so much shite in your life?

These people have never expressed the merest ounce of empathy for disadvantaged children or expressed concern at how benefit changes and austerity disproportionately target them. Now they are channelling their inner Charles Dickens in expressing concern for their mental and educational welfare.

DR Zoe Norris, a GP from East Yorkshire, was interviewed on BBC Breakfast yesterday. She has two children and her husband is a teacher. She had this to say about the way that the UK Government and their glove-puppets in the scarecrow press cut and paste any passing narrative that suits their agenda: “As a doctor everything we try and do is guided by evidence. And the thing about coronavirus is that the government is looking to a small study in Australia which has had only 100 deaths. We’ve had 34,000. This doesn’t count as evidence.”

She added that vulnerable children have been supported to attend school since the start of lockdown and that our efforts as a society should be focused on reaching them and making initiatives like the food voucher system work.

“There’s no benefit to them in opening the floodgates,” she added.

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The other one that makes me laugh is the favourite fiction of the entrepreneur class. It comes tumbling out when the talk turns to a return to work. Taking a break from posting pictures of their lockdown dinners and how pretty the Glasgow skyline looks at sunset, they search for their favourite Facebook scientific snake oil specialist.

You’ll have seen them posted on your WhatsApp groups telling you that you’re far more likely to die of a bee sting than Covid-19 or that the key to economic recovery is to allow a stampede back to work so that they can return to the business of making money; paying their workers washers; threatening them with instant dismissal unless they can prove fourth-stage cancer or gangrene, and hiding their profits in offshore, pirate jurisdictions.

Curiously, these people have also rediscovered a long-dormant empathy for the mental health of their fellow men and women. “If we don’t ease the restrictions and get everyone back to work, lots of people will die and get depression because of the economic fall-out.” Did ye, aye? Roughly translated this means: “Lots of people will suffer when people like me sack them, bully them and cut their wages before closing the company and opening it up under another name to avoid paying customers.”

And then comes the most pernicious one of all: that, let’s face it, the disease mainly targets old people and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups. Not so long ago they used to say this about the victims of the Great Famine in Ireland. It echoes the sentiments of General James Wolfe, five years after he’d taken part in the slaughter of the Highlanders at Culloden in 1746.

Observing that Highland soldiers could prove useful in battle against the Wabanaki Confederacy in Nova Scotia, he said: “I should imagine that two or three independent Highland companies might be of use; they are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall.”

In the months to come these same sentiments will be deployed often. We should be vigilant lest we find ourselves mouthing them too.