Social Dissonance

Written by Des Mannay for the collection: 'Life in the time of #COVID'.

Photo by Aron Van de Pol

Coronavirus has pushed the death toll in the United Kingdom to its highest level since official weekly statistics began 15 years ago (The Guardian, Tuesday April 14th). It's worth looking at how we got here, but also the impact of language and ideology of those in power.


The government’s Chief Medical Officer's (CMO) and Chief Scientific Adviser's (CSA), advice on how the pandemic should be tackled was watered down with advice from Prime Minister Boris Johnson's right hand man, Dominic Cummings, and also from David Halpern, the head of Johnson’s “Behavioural Insights Team”, or “nudge unit”. Halpern was interested in the potential of the pandemic to give rise to “herd immunity” through the infection of a large enough proportion of the population. Cummings also showed an interest in this, and the CSA, Patrick Vallance, even put a figure of 60% on the proportion that would need to be infected. It eventually emerged that the existing policy was likely to lead to 7.9 million hospital admissions, which would overwhelm the healthcare system, and cost some 250,000 lives.


After dabbling in herd immunity the government implemented lockdown lite; the Government eventually accepted the need for an enforced national lockdown. However, this was chaotic and full of contradictory messages. Initially Johnson made concessions to physical distancing – a key tactic to slow contagion – by asking people to avoid pubs. But he did not close them and many people, including his own father, Stanley, cheerily said they still planned to go out for a drink. Nevertheless, Johnson expressed confidence such limited measures were working and could “turn the tide” within 12 weeks. Most observers had become accustomed to Boris Johnson’s breezy pronouncements on Britain steering its own course during Brexit showdowns last year but they winced at hearing the same tone in the context of a global health emergency.


The delay in lockdown has been hypothesised by many to have resulted in thousands of more deaths than there could have been. This demonstrated the horrific disregard for life of the Conservative Party, who for so long prioritised the economy over people. When lockdown came on March 23rd, there was minimal testing and no contact tracing, resulting in the spread of COVID-19 being unchecked. This was an awful error by the Government, who could not track hotspots of the virus; and thousands of lives were endangered needlessly. By then the Government was responsible for the highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe.


The Government started easing lockdown from May 10th, leading to over 100 Covid-19 outbreaks a week. Suspected outbreaks of Covid-19 in workplaces across England almost doubled in the last week of June. Low paid and manual workers face a much bigger danger from coronavirus than higher-paid executives and managers; according to analysis of Covid-19 fatalities from the Office for National Statistics, (ONS).

When restrictions were further lifted on July 4th, what can only be described as mayhem ensued - social distancing went out of the window; with packed beaches and pubs restaurants and bars re-opening. Within days some of these began to close after customers tested positive for coronavirus. Following on from this, the Government finally announced that wearing face masks in shops will be compulsory in England from July 24th.


There should have been a huge public information campaign on how to stay safe on public transport and in shops. Instead there are vague and contradictory instructions by Government ministers who seem to be making it up as they go along. This goes beyond incompetence: deliberately creating confusion in order to make safety “a matter for the individual”. Herein lies the problem, like Trump, Johnson's core following encompasses a disbelieving/discounting/disengaging world view. In many ways, this is the dark side of 'social distancing' - looking for others to blame for the virus while they carry on as normal as a way of resolving their own cognitive dissonance.


I have long been a fan of 'We Real Cool' by Gwendolyn Brooks. I wanted to bring some of that vibrant outsider energy to our modern tragedy.




Social Dissonance

(after Gwendolyn Brooks)



We don't read books. We

give scornful looks. We


shop while we text. We

don't give bugs respect. We


give kids snarky answers. We

parents are chancers. We


won't keep social distance. We

ignore queue's resistance. We


wheeze and we cough. We

also scoff.


"it's just like flu". We

dead now - we two...




Des Mannay's first collection, "Sod ’em – and tomorrow", was published by Waterloo Press. He is co-editor of 'The Angry Manifesto poetry journal', winner of 'rethinkyourmind' poetry competition (2015), 'LIT-UP' poetry competition (2018). 2nd and highly commended in the 'Disability Arts Cymru' poetry Competition (2015). 'Gold Award' winner in the 'Creative Futures Literary Awards' (2015), 'Madder Than We Look' poetry competition (2016), shortlisted for the 'erbacce-prize' for poetry (2015, 2016, and 2019), 'Welsh Poetry Competition' (2015), 'The John Tripp and Idris Davies' poetry competition 2016, and the 'Disability Arts Cymru' poetry Competition (2016).


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