“The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary”. (1984)
What we are seeing in the UK is a peculiar, low fat version of Orwell’s dystopian vision. Now it is the five minutes love.
Following the lead if the Italians, who in their strict Covid lockdown started the craze, the UK has instituted what is the Thursday clap. But what was once a symbol of support has started to take a more sinister aspect.
Initially the clap was an opportunity for those who wished to show support for the health workers, the doctors, and nurses, but also the porters and hospital cleaners how much the nation appreciated them. People, took to their gardens, doorways and balconies on Thursday evenings at 8 pm to applaud, and bang the odd pan or kettle.
All was good humoured and friendly, and the workers being applauded were bowled over. But in following weeks, as the list to be applauded grew to include shop workers, shelf-stackers, bin men, street cleaners, in fact pretty much anybody not sacked, fired or furloughed is the recipient of the applause. The Prime Minister stood outside No 10, the Prince William, Kate and the little princes, celebrities, from A to Z list, the works..
Week after week the clap continues, it is now accompanied by fireworks in some places and infamously the senior police officer in the country, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, led hundreds of police officials and others on Westminster Bridge as fire brigade barges sailed by, firing off their hoses like the Queen’s jubilee. (Of course raising a rash of resentment as the film showed all these police officers, the same ones who are arresting thousands for possible breaches of social distancing rules – were all seen to be, yes you guessed it, ignoring social distancing rules).
But with official support from all the media, printed and broadcast, TV advertising, government and religious bodies, the weekly ‘Clap for Carers’ is turning sour.
First there have been attempts to hijack it for political reason, left wing activists are trying to turn applause of appreciation into a rallying call. Filming themselves shouting political slogans, and now and far, far worse we are seeing the public shaming of people who fail to appear on their balconies.
Writing on the social network, Musmsnet, one woman wrote,
“Last week, after a rough night with DS (darling son) I fell asleep after he went down and missed the clapping. A post went on our community Facebook group actually naming and shaming me.
“I was mortified. The post said everyone else turned out and I showed the street up and if I can’t spend a minute showing my appreciation. I don’t deserve to use the NHS if I or my family get ill”
“I just feel like I’m a total outcast on my previously friendly Street now”.
This is pure Orwell, and very worrying. Some of the responses to the post came from horrified medical practitioners, and others. One responded,
“I cannot stand how every biddy and buddy in the street has turned into the Corona Police. As if it’s not bad enough we’re being told what to do by the higher powers like a bunch of monkeys (put a rainbow in the window, clap at 8, stand in the queue, dare ye not sit on the bench…) it’s a thousand times worse when Dave from 3 doors down who you had never laid eyes on prior to the 23rd of March, is now the self-appointed boss of the neighbourhood. Our community groups have been outing people for cutting their own bloody grass”.
There are still people who love freedom in the UK, but increasingly it feels that the establishment is allowing a latent dictatorial tendency to come out amongst our fellow citizens. This is only a short step from the police report lines which police forces up and down the country have put on their websites, encouraging people to report on their neighbours.
Traditionally a stern tut of disapproval was enough, today it’s social ostracisation or a size twelve boot through your door.