Standing in suburban London as a short-lived round of applause peters out, I couldn’t help but think to myself: What is the point? Notwithstanding the admirable sentiment behind Clap for Our Carers, there remains the unfortunate fact that my relatively isolated neighbourhood, to the best of my knowledge, contains absolutely zero NHS workers.
Nevertheless, following passive-aggressive comments from some rather cantankerous moralistic neighbours, I found myself clapping vigorously into the silence of a Thursday night for NHS staff that were entirely absent. As a final feeble cheer punctuated the air and everyone turned sheepishly to the warmth of their houses, amid the silence the truth emerged. The clapping is not for carers, not really, it is for ourselves.
Before anyone begins gathering their pitch-forks, torches, and 20-foot straw effigy, allow me to say this; Clap for Our Carers is a wonderful testament to human kindness. It was created with the commendable intention to express gratitude and bolster the morale of an under-appreciated and overwhelmed NHS staff. However, that does not negate the hypocrisy lingering in the participation of many.
Many of these neighbours, those most vocal in their praise, are among those who fail to support the NHS by not adhering to basic government guidelines. They flock to the park in alarmingly large groups, many returned from their chalets and couldn’t quite be bothered with all the trouble of self-isolation. Some are likely to have a mass of toilet-paper in their basement while others are forced to experiment with the versatility of paper-towels.
Ironically, Clap for Our Carers helps facilitate selfish behaviour. Participation in the well-intentioned, abnormal clap-filled display of altruism enables a personal satisfaction and serves as a public display of people who are going above and beyond necessary activity during the crisis. To do something so absent from daily life, they must be! Sadly, this self-affirming enables people to turn a blind eye to their own failure to act appropriately.
Clap for Our Cares typifies the double-think of acting poorly but behaving sanctimoniously. The mindset of performing noble gestures over suitable action has helped contribute to the severity of the current crisis. It is no secret that the NHS has been toiling in a state of crisis for years. While demands for increased support are widespread, action has largely been absent.
People are happy to grumble at dinner parties and launch twitter tirades at their chosen political nemeses, but when it comes to assuming personal responsibility, a reluctance prevails. Most dare not call for the unmentionable, the significant increase in income tax that such change would invariably require. For Tory voters, the uncomfortable prospect was rarely broached, for Labour voters the necessary personal cost was deflected with promises to secure the funding through prying away money from the money-hoarding elite and the corporate world.
The question remains whether the cheers of approval for the NHS displayed by Clap for Our Carers will usher any significant political change. The answer looks discouraging. COVID-19 has not exposed anything new. It has only confirmed the truth that the NHS desperately requires greater financial support. To the dismay of hopeful Labour supports, it seems unlikely that voting patterns will change significantly.
The government response, though initially slow, has been largely appropriate and there has been no Trumpian-scale inaction and incompetency to elicit public resentment significant enough to constitute a shift in electoral behaviour. The likes of which will likely soon be demonstrated in this year’s US election.
Most importantly, no one currently in power is truly culpable for the effects of the crisis. While it is comforting to point fingers at the government, Chinese culinary habits or rather bizarrely for some 5G Masts, such easy explanations remain elusive. Though the shortages the NHS has experienced through decades-long negligence has undoubtedly intensified the effects of the outbreak, as other European healthcare systems struggle to a similar extent, it is difficult to attribute a significant portion of casualties to such negligence. The uncomfortable truth remains that some catastrophes occur beyond human fault.
Clap for Our Carers may reveal the remedy to the current stagnation and the deferment of personal responsibility representational politics naturally entails. The movement and its mass participation has demonstrated the potential success of direct individual action. One woman’s decision to pro-actively display gratitude, snowballing into the mass display of appreciation that has long been overdue.
As catastrophic as this pandemic has been, the necessary social measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 has reminded people of the power of individual action and the profound effect it can have on the welfare of the community. As 750,000 people volunteer for the NHS, perhaps the outbreak has brought us into a new era of direct action and personal responsibility.