Masks, Mental Health, Mass Politics, the Illusion of greater Bottom-up Politics

Barely beyond the end of most new years resolutions and the papers are once again filled with the words of politicians. The Telegraph’s Headline of “Backlash at masks in schools as cases ease” belies the true content of the article, detailing the rebelling nature of Tory MPs, cabinet members and the like, over the prospect and now certainty of secondary school pupils being required to wear masks in classrooms.

Political dissent, especially when conveniently located under the umbrella of “personal liberty” is nothing new in politics and within the Tory party. However, perhaps as a sign of a political grasp for straws of popularity, the issue cited particularly by these MPs, at least according to The Telegraph, is Mental Health, with the overall theme of the article not focusing on the lack of need for masks due to the lack of evidence, but rather this smokescreen issue.

This is of course unsurprising and understandable in the modern political climate, with the manipulation of significant standalone problems such as mental health, climate change, inequality, &c., being brought under the umbrella of personal liberty, governmental incompetence, and bureaucratic problems, in order to launch an attack, or, as I suspect is the case for many of the MPs who have spoken out against greater restrictions, to show that they are “on our side” – to curry favour with their constituents and set out their markers on either side of the fence, weaving their lifeline should the ship of the party go down under the wave of Omicron.

There is nothing right or wrong with this, self-preservation and a goal for likeability have been stated political goals since the Vikings invented democracy. The danger however comes through the illusion of greater political impetus towards solving problems like the mental health crisis, building up hopes for a greater “bottom- up” and listening approach in politics. We all know this is rubbish, politicians jump on and off bandwagons as often as they please, tallying their own personal beliefs in “liberty” “justice” etc to issues in order to provide an escape route should they be criticised for acting one way or another, they can blame policy implementation should their actions fail to deliver, relying on their “founding principles” (largely universal ones anyway) to justify even the most horrendously misconceived piece of legislation.

Indeed, nothing has become more prominent during the pandemic, with legislation being passed in rushes through a parliament that started in overwhelming majority, yet has become more and more diminished in recent months and years. Indeed the joke that BoJo didn’t want to pass any more legislation because of having to call MP’s back during their Christmas holidays may ring more than true, especially for the likes of Steve Barclay, a strong “libertarian force” as he calls himself, and a cabinet member, who, during the debate on increased lockdown and other measures on the 14th of December 2021, noted the likely unpopularity of measures over the festive period.

This debate shows evermore the pandering to public opinion and the aforementioned illusion of bottom up politics, with Wes Streeting, a prominent voice throughout, saying with great confidence “I think we have public support for the measures discussed this afternoon”- these being largely concerning the implementation of vaccine passports and covid passes in venues, but urging, in a smooth tone that “we should not be complacent about it”, ah, what a benevolent, understanding political figure.

However fear not dear reader, this lack of true action or principles in British politics is not the “crisis of democracy” that has been heralded since Brexit, but rather, an opportunity for political growth in the wider populace. So what if ministers piggyback important issues in order to save their bacon? Greater visibility in the political sphere can do no harm for the issues that matter to people, even if the illusion that politicians are listening to them may still be miles away from the truth.

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