I had to pinch myself the other day, on hearing that culture wars were once again leading the news bulletins. Was I still living in the real world, or had I woken up in some kind of parallel universe? While the economy goes to self-induced hell in a handcart, we find ourselves arguing about what Nelson Mandela would have thought about removing a statue of Cecil Rhodes from the façade of Oriel College, Oxford…
I imagine this is just the beginning. Far from bringing us closer together in a wartime spirit of solidarity, the pandemic seems to be only driving us further apart.
But not all comparisons with the war are invalid. The country is facing a degree of fiscal ruin that does indeed bear some comparison with the costs of a major war. How this is all going to be paid for is an issue of infinitely more importance than the future of our colonial statues, or what Dominic Raab might think of the bended knee symbolism of the Black Lives Matter movement.
It is the disadvantaged in society who will be hit hardest by the continued closure of our schools, the annihilation of large parts of the hospitality, entertainment and retail industries, and the tsunami of debt sweeping in on us. Yet rather than how to get out of the mess we have created for ourselves, the national conversation instead seems stuck in taking offence. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable. We apparently prefer anger-inducing distraction to facing up to harsh realities.