How Marcus Rashford’s example offers hope – Bernard Ingham

SO far during the pandemic we have seen four sides to British society.

Footballer Marcus Rashford has emerged as a force for good during the Covid pandemic.

First, the time-honoured pastime of grumbling about the Government which, to be fair, has not always covered itself in glory. Who would, trying to cope with wayward human beings in a life-and-death emergency?

Second, we have been inspired by the performance of front-line NHS staff, if not its management, the dedication of a vast array of people working in essential services, communal action and the response of a willing reserve of expertise now that a Covid-19 vaccine has arrived.

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Third – and comfortingly – commendable restraint by the majority of people who know what’s good for them and their fellow men. After getting on for a year of lockdowns, they long for relief from the tedium but know that the longer they grin and bear it the sooner freedom will return with vaccination.

President Donald Trump set a bad example to young people, writes Sir Bernard Ingham.

Finally – and depressingly – we have despaired at regular reports of attacks on essential services staff and on shop assistants who remind customers about the need to wear masks. Abuse, threats, intimidation and possibly spreading the coronavirus by spitting has been their lot, according to reports from the management, for example, of Co-op supermarkets.

To be fair, attacks on essential services staff are not new. They long pre-date coronavirus. But that in itself is a cause for serious concern about where our society is going.

In my view they are evidence of another disease which is infecting Western society as a whole – the decadence which Sir John Glubb Pasha, of Arab Legion fame, identified as the terminal state of empires.

I make due allowance for the exuberance and natural rebelliousness of the young who think it will never happen to them – and who have been told of their relative safety from Covid. They were a raving lot even during the Black Death, as Samuel Pepys recorded.

Revellers at an illegal rave last summer.

But what is beyond doubt is the change in society in my 88 years. It has not been all bad. Far from it. It is far more equal and prosperous than in my youth. Women have been relieved of much household drudgery by technology. Greater leisure and mobility have enriched lives with hobbies and travel. People no longer live with limited expectations. The world is their oyster.

But – and this is a big but – expectations have outstripped personal responsibility for achieving success. We live in a “gimme, gimme” age which, by definition, can’t deliver to order. Character, ability, application, performance and loads of luck are still needed.

The big question is whether – and how – we can repair our democracy with the necessary responsibility to secure our freedom under the law. No one can be castigated for fearing things might have gone too far when footballer Marcus Rashford complains that in this welfare state children are going to school hungry. Can this be so when obesity has ousted rickets? Perhaps it can because too often we hear of teachers coping with parental neglect to potty-train their children.

The teachers’ unions – as distinct from the majority of teachers – are another example of irresponsibility in trying to 
put every obstacle in the way 
of a return to the classroom. 
As for gas workers striking in 
the middle of a pandemic, I give up.

Our universities are hotbeds of intolerance with their mess of minorities demanding the silencing of opposition to their pet causes, prejudices and hates. If ever there was an abuse of freedom, this is it – and in the temples of learning.

Britain is not a pretty sight, though certainly no worse than elsewhere in the West. Too many people are behaving like spoiled kids who have had it too good for too long. Thank goodness the epitome of the spoiled kid, Donald Trump, is out of the White House.

Yet what we have to cling on to is the realism of the majority of the populace. They know that things are not right. Can they prevail when the nation inevitably faces a rougher ride thanks to Covid-19?

They showed their hearts are in the right place by voting for Brexit. They wish to recover responsibility for the nation’s affairs. Well, now they have got it, though in far more difficult economic circumstances than they envisaged because of coronavirus.

If we are to kill Covid-19 and spoiled brattery, then the majority, with the positive help of sensitive politicians, have got to re-arm Britain with the responsibility and restraint necessary to make our blessed freedom work. We must reverse the decline into self-indulgence.

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