Discussing the cataclysmic events of 2020 and 2021 should, in my eyes, be an Olympic sport. You can ponder public health, the NHS or even slip into a conversation about which vaccine you received. Yet, despite these obvious changes to the way we live our lives, I’ve noticed a dramatic shift in societal consumption of politics. More specifically, how the pandemic has and will change politics for an entire generation.
When I cast my thoughts back to the Spring of 2020, a picture floods my mind. Daily walks, iced coffee in the back garden and of course Boris Johnson’s daily five o’clock briefing. What began as a way to inform the public about COVID-19 became a national television event. Some even called it ‘the highlight of (their) day’. Along with this came the endless carousel of advisors and doctors. Chris Whitty, Patrick Vallance, Matt Hancock and Rishi Sunak were just some of the names thrust into the public sphere.
For the first time, government advisors were part of our daily lives; or you could even say, an Orwellian friend informing us of our (few) liberties. So many of us could reel off the names of certain secretaries; a daily presence of political figures meant that it was more accessible to be politically aware. To ignore politics became an impossibility.
Inevitably, an increased government presence meant that Boris Johnson’s leadership was placed in the limelight for scrutinous questioning. But, looking at statistics from before the pandemic, the voting intention from February 2020 shows that 47% of voters would vote Conservative – a 17% lead over the Labour party.
When compared to figures from August of 2020 after five months of pandemic leadership, only 40% of voters would choose the Conservative party whilst 37% would opt for Kier Starmer’s Labour party. This begs the question. If not for Coronavirus, would the Conservative party have kept their momentum going from the 2019 general election? Leading with 365 seats (162 ahead of Labour), Johnson’s party annihilated the opposition – which, at that time, was led by Jeremy Corbyn.
Yet, despite this unprecedented lead, COVID-19 turned the political world upside down and divided us even more. What used to be Conservative VS Labour has developed into a new battle: conformists VS rebels. There is no better example than the endless mask and vaccine debate. Footage from December 2020 showed thousands marching in London protesting masks and vaccines; their banner reading ‘The more we comply, the worse it will get’. What struck me about these protests was the distinct lack of political identification these people had – it’s almost like they are forging their own political ideology.
Despite the Prime Minister stating: ‘Jab by jab this life-saving programme, unparalleled in our history, is getting us back to the things we love’, and rival Kier Starmer urging the public ‘when it is your turn to get the jab, do so’, the protests didn’t cease. The most recent altercation took place on the 9th of August of this year when anti-lockdown and anti-vax protestors stormed the BBC’s Television Centre in London. This was a surprising turn of events. Not only because England removed all Covid restrictions on the 19th of July, but also because confidence in the vaccine is widely known and accepted by government officials.
Of course, without the pandemic, the terms ‘anti-mask’ and ‘anti-vax’ may not have entered our daily vocabulary. What this past year has shown us (good or bad) is the sheer power of the independent thinker. In the past, we may have been able to overlook a small anti-vax campaign but when thousands of people stand in Trafalgar square screaming ‘Freedom’, it is quite hard to ignore.
Consequently, the events of the past two years will weigh heavily upon the next general election. The children who were 15 and 16 when Covid began will be able to vote. While other factors may influence their choice, the pandemic and how schools were managed may inevitably sway their vote. Case studies showed that the ‘higher workload is leading to anxiety’ amongst children – inevitably impacting their future career and educational goals. This means when they look towards a potential government, they may hesitate to vote Conservative purely because of the experiences they had during 2020 and 2021.
In that case, which party would they pick? Would they choose Labour by default or forge a new, independent path?
Perhaps in the future, when we’re old and grey and look back on the legacy of Covid, we can discuss the many lessons we learned in the most destructive pandemic of the 21st century. Even though the pandemic isn’t over yet, it has left its mark to create a political revolution whereby the emerging independent voice has gained traction on a national scale. Whilst we may not like it or agree, COVID-19 has ignited the spark of the underdog that will be hard to extinguish.