It is very much normal to want to move on, to let memories fade, to look to ‘the present’ or ‘the future’, after a period of trauma. Sadly, we may meet new perils or dramas that consume our attention, arouse our anxiety, fuel passionate feelings – leaving our earlier wounds and vulnerabilities unaddressed. When Kipling’s words ‘Lest we forget’ were recruited for use in remembrance services for the fallen of World War One, these realities were very much part of the motivation. People knew of the risk that we would forget what had happened, neglect attending to the trauma faced by so many, the deaths, the losses, the grim realities. They wanted to resist that risk, to remember, to give due attention to these things and their consequences.
Our current situation underlines this situation vividly. Our wish to move on from the worst of Covid, the sheer exhausting experience of living through it, the constant anxiety, is understandable. The cartoon dramas of the end of the Johnson prime ministership, the Conservative leadership election, the thankfully brief Truss catastrophe, offer us plenty to distract us, to redirect our attention. Such distraction is not just from what Covid meant for the world, but also from other massive challenges like climate change, Russia’s war on Ukraine and its wider consequences, an international financial crisis, the brutal drivers of migration and asylum seeking across the world.
Escapism, denial, distraction are all normal. Normal, and very dangerous.
So, lest we forget:
- Covid is still with us, unpredictable and potentially dangerous, despite vaccination and post-infection immunity. Long Covid is a real and serious problem.
- Many of us, especially the most vulnerable in our society, have yet to recover from the effects of lockdown, isolation, anxiety and, yes, neglect during those years.
- Children, and young adults, whose education, socialisation and creative exploration of the world crashed during the worst of Covid, are in need of help.
- Vulnerable older people are still facing the effects of loneliness, of being locked away, for so long.
- Many people who were already suffering from mental health problems are now in more need of help than ever.
- Many of us have faced traumatic bereavement and loss.
- Everybody working in the public sector – those who are there to provide the basics of a civilised society, to protect us from all sorts of risks, to create a framework for a functioning nation – is facing demands greater than the human and other resources available to them. This was already so after years of austerity, and is now even more true given the new levels of need after the worst of Covid.
- Many thousands of NHS staff are exhausted, a lot of them badly traumatised.
- The cost-of-living crisis, which was very serious even before the damage done by Truss and her cohort, threatens both ‘consumers’ and businesses
- Poverty has grown alarmingly, for the very vulnerable, the unemployed, and for many working people
- And yes, the dangers from climate change and those other world problems are worse than ever.
I want to see an explicit recognition of these collective challenges, thoughtful consideration of how to respond to them, and a properly thought through and managed plan, whoever is in power in our country to address them. I want to see the back of toxic ideological arguments that are at heart about how best to realise myths of triumphant individualism and self-interest.
What I don’t want is an ongoing vicious family feud, with those involved leaving the rest of us, especially teachers, nurses, social workers, doctors, other public servants, to cope with holding reality in mind. What makes it even worse is the cynical expectation, the outrageous demand, that this reality be addressed with neither the resources nor the support required.