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Corona Diaries: taking the mob out of rule

April 5, 2020

Something very strange is happening to me. No, I’m not growing green scales. Nor have I started speaking in tongues.

The strange transformation is that this week I managed to sit through almost an entire session of the BBC’s Question Time. Normally, after five minutes I go into auto-immune collapse. I start cursing the speakers, muting the sound of the rent-a-crowd, and chewing the carpet as the obligatory Brexiteer or English Defence League audience member spews clichés fed to her by the Daily Mail like a slot machine that’s paying out a jackpot of cyanide capsules.

The new, socially isolated Question Time is actually watchable. Some might say that without the audience applauding like Kim Jong Un’s praesidium at every golden utterance from a panel member pumped up like an angry pit-bull, vying with the others on the podium for the most bloodthirsty applause line.

Take away the audience, reduce the size of the panel to two or three in the studio spaced at the correct distance and a couple of online members, and lo, the panellists are having a discussion, not a shouting contest.

In the same way, Kier Starmer, newly elected leader of the British Labour Party, making his opening address in a short and simple video, was far more impressive than he might have been in front of a delirious crowd of “invited” party hacks going into raptures at his every pronouncement.

And government ministers, doing their 5pm coronavirus update without even the physical presence of journalists seem more human and less demagogic than they might otherwise have been. Some are far too human for their own good, but that’s another discussion.

Contrast these scenes with Trump’s baying mobs, and even the roaring, heckling rabble that the British House of Commons becomes when it scents political blood.

The Roman mob, the factions of Constantinople and the chuckers of sticks, stones, eggs and tomatoes that succeeded them down through the ages have hardly been likely to inspire wisdom or reason in those whom they despised or adored. Adrenaline is as infectious as a virus. It helps you win battles but not arguments.

Perhaps this feeling says more about me than the current crisis. I’ve never liked crowds because I sense that those who inspire them are manipulating me. Happy crowds are OK, and so are solemn ones. Music concerts, weddings, funerals and parties are fine with me, because they’re normally there because of love, or at least appreciation, of something or someone.

Demonstrations, marches, political rallies and even sales conferences may have a positive intent, but appeal to our basest instincts as often as our best.

However, since was more than happy last year to see huge numbers of people turn out in opposition to Brexit, and in 1989 I rejoiced at the sight of the Ceausescus realising that they’d lost the Romanian dressing room, I guess that makes me a bit of a hypocrite.

Anyway, for better or worse, the power of crowds is temporarily at an end. And in keeping with the spirit of reason and empathy, up pops Her Majesty the Queen, who will be addressing her subjects at 8pm this evening.

She’ll probably get better ratings than Trump in his daily virus briefings, but I fail to understand why we need widely-propagated trailers telling us what she’s going to say. The BBC in its 10pm news last night even went so far as to quote directly from her address. Why? Can’t we wait for tonight?

She’s not delivering a political speech whose contents are pumped up by the spin doctors (as in “the Prime Minister will say…”). She’s the National Granny, whom most of us deeply respect. We know without being told that she will talk about togetherness, values and hope. She will thank the NHS and all the other heroes of the pandemic. She will end by saying God be with us, or some such blessing.

Sadly, I’m afraid, most of will say “aah, that’s’ nice”, have a warm feeling for five minutes, then get back to our gaming, boozing and box sets.

Still, I’d rather have this dignified, gentle old person as our head of state and voice of the nation than any of Trump, Putin, Xi and all the lesser charlatans and chancers that she has to suffer whenever they come to our country for state visits.

Happy Sunday everyone. Enjoy the sun if you can, but make sure you don’t arouse the ire of the viruspolizei or find yourself featured in a photo posted by vengeful harpies on Twitter.

From → Politics, UK

One Comment
  1. Andrew Robinson permalink

    Hi Steve! I take it you are an “I before E except after C” fan with regards to the new Labour leader. Weird, huh?

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