Lockdown began in black and white. There were clear rules for the few legal reasons you could leave the house. We were to stay at home, and save lives. And by and large, Tameside did. There was a sense of community solidarity, an outpouring of thanks for the keyworkers keeping the country going, and neighbours looking out for one another.
We are now in a phase in time with many more shades of grey. We are permitted more freedoms, albeit with ongoing restrictions -to see our families, to eat out, to go to church, even to go abroad. We need to rebuild -our lives, our communities, the economy. But Covid-19 is still here.
Between now and widespread distribution of a vaccine, whenever that may be, everything is about managing risk. But here’s the problem – the risks to each individual and family are different, and each of our perceptions of the level of risk to the country as a whole differs, too. And as some as people are keen to be first in line to enjoy each newfound freedom, others are anxious.
Some craved that first draft pint in a beer garden with a mate; others are aghast at the idea of pubs re-opening. Some were keen to get their children back to learning and socialising; others felt their children remained safer at home than at school. Some enthusiastically joined socially distanced queues as non-food shops re-opened; others resolved to stay away and keep buying online. Some are worried that without consumer confidence and support, much loved local businesses may go under; others are kept awake at night in fear of a second wave of Covid-19. Both reactions are valid.
However, in this grey zone, I have noticed solidarity turn to division, and neighbourliness turn to judgement. We are barely over the ill feeling between Leavers and Remainers, yet have already moved onto tensions between the Covid-defiant and the Covid-cautious. As face masks become – belatedly perhaps – compulsory in shops, you only need to glance at social media to know that another symbol of us and them has arrived, not aided by poor messaging from the government.
Here’s the rub. Bad politics thrives on division. Good politics thrives on drawing communities closer together, no matter your age or background, not driving them apart.
We will get through the Coronavirus crisis, and we’ll get there better if we do it together. Guidelines, – while now grey and frequently changing – must still be observed. We each have a responsibility to do our bit. But we also have a responsibility to respect people’s differing comfort zones, to find common ground, and to unite. British people are brilliant and resilient. Culture wars break us down not build us up.