Written by: Kimberley Mannion
Most of us, no matter our political views, are in the same place right now – lockdown. Similar strategies to tackle COVID-19 have been implemented across the world by leaders of varying political leanings, but nuances in their approach, however small, make for interesting reflection, particularly when matched up with said political leanings.
Let’s start where it all began – China. The high levels of state authority of the Chinese Communist Party perhaps made it easier to become the first country to enforce draconian lockdown measures, with citizens more accustomed to the state having more control over their lives to begin with. The Director General of the WHO, somewhat controversially, praised China’s response back in February, when the virus still seemed like a faraway problem to the West, while many Westerners were sceptical of measures that would violate civil liberties. At the earliest stage of the virus, the need for a lockdown would have been a far harder concept to grasp in a Western country like the UK or USA. It may go down in history then, as lucky, in a way, that the virus was born in China – their government’s high authority made it easier to implement the type of lockdown needed, and bought the rest of the world time to realise it.
Across the world, talk is now turning to how we come out of lockdown, and transition ourselves back to some kind of ‘normality’. In the UK, debate is growing over whether the plan of an app to trace people who have been in contact with those infected is an infringement of civil liberties. It seems unlikely then, that we would accept what is currently happening in Russia, as tens of thousands of facial recognition cameras are already fitted across Moscow, sending instant alerts to police of anyone recognised breaking lockdown. Russians are already living in a political system in which so much power is asserted to one individual, the main political objective of whom many would argue is simply to accumulate power for himself. This policy would obviously go down differently in the UK, where it’s seen as acceptable to film police officers, swearing at them, and put it on twitter, compared to a country where that kind of behaviour would likely send you to prison. There was outrage alone in the UK, remember, in the early days of lockdown, when Derbyshire Police used drone cameras to film and shame dog walkers in the Peak District.
Political principles of multilateralism or unilateralism have been hot topics over the last several years, with Brexit, and then the arrival of Trump to the White House. The last decade was clearly a turbulent one for the EU, and it now faces yet another test. Since Italy and Spain were established as the two worst hit EU member states, tensions began over the richer northern countries like Germany having to foot the bill of the debt the poorer South would inevitably rack up over the crisis. Breakthroughs seem to have been made, however, with substantial European Central Bank funds being made available, it seems the EU are determined to protect their economies, and, politically, not to further dishearten what was already one of the most Eurosceptic countries – Italy – with a lack of support and trigger another political explosion.
The most fundamental example of political divides over response to the virus can be seen across the Atlantic, via the Republicans v Democrats in the US. Polls consistently show Democrats are more concerned about the virus than Republicans, with the latter seeing it as less of a threat than what is being portrayed. With the leader of the party frequently shutting down reporters by telling them they deliver ‘fake news’, instead of answering their question, it is not surprising that Republican supporters have lower trust in the media as well as scientific experts. In his politics, Trump can be described as populist, claiming to stand up for the people against the elites, of which the media and experts are a part. Many of those who voted for him would have done so in disappointment in the stereotypical political class who they feel let them down in the Iraq War and the financial crash…so why should they trust them in this next crisis? States with Republican Governors were slower in imposing restrictions on public life and Republican state Governors have now even begun to ease restrictions, ahead of the federal government’s advice. Some Democratic Governors however have also started to lift lockdown, in Colorado for example; suggesting this is not a simple left/right issue. The larger US system as a whole, like many Western democracies is built on consumption, and the economy is clearly a huge factor, probably more so for Republicans, but for the country as a whole.
It is not possible to say ‘left wingers think this is the best approach to the virus, and those on the right say this…’. The situation of a global pandemic in which we find ourselves is unprecedented, and everyone, regardless of political view, shares the objective of trying to get out the other end as unscathed as possible. Scientific experts are finding fame in the media, but in the end, politicians are the ones with the power, and in this situation they are making life or death decisions impacting everyone. It is simply the way our world is that everything comes back to political views and decisions, pandemic or not.