OPINION
26/06/2020 10:10 BST

Don't Shame Beachgoers – Blame The Government

Forget Bournemouth beach. The images that should make us rage are not those of ordinary people doing their best to navigate these scary times, Chas Newkey-Burden writes.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Crowds gather on the beach in Bournemouth as the UK experience a heat wave, in Bournemouth, England, Thursday, June 25, 2020. (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)

Has Twitter become the new Daily Mail? Social media has become awash with photos of busy beaches and parks, accompanied with tut-tut comments about reckless “Covidots” endangering us all by failing to socially distance.

Paul Dacre would have been proud of this finger wagging and public shaming. “Here comes the second wave,” indignant users tell us, as they share images of strangers relaxing in the sunshine.

Naturally, many of these photographs were taken by the tweeters themselves, so you have to wonder whether they noticed the irony of them complaining of there being too many people in a park that they themselves were sitting in.

Naturally, some of the mainstream media is also pointing the finger at Joe Public. Yesterday’s Daily Mail front page led with a photo of a “jam-packed” Southend beach, telling us a “human tide” has “swamped” the Essex coast.

“So much for social distancing,” sighed the Daily Express next to a similar photo, while the Daily Telegraph groaned disparagingly of “mad dogs and Englishmen” taking to the seaside.

I’m still keeping a low profile, even as the government eases lockdown restrictions. So I understand the frustration at “covidiots” to a degree. Some members of the public have taken unnecessary risks during the pandemic and any risk-taking can put others in danger.

But aren’t we getting angry with the wrong people? Boris Johnson’s government has absolutely failed us during this crisis – right from the start. As the pandemic began, the prime minister skipped Cobra meetings and took a 12-day “working holiday”.

While Johnson relaxed in the countryside, he was paving the way for thousands to go to an early grave, according to one expert. Professor Neil Ferguson says introducing lockdown measures a week earlier could have halved the UK’s coronavirus death toll, meaning tens of thousands of lives would have been saved.

Then there are the care homes. Matt Hancock claims that the government threw “a protective ring” around them but the truth is that he released hospital patients into care homes without Covid-19 tests. At the last count, 16,000 people have died in care homes from coronavirus.

Dominic Cummings devised the lockdown rules that saw people lose their livelihoods and meant families were unable to say goodbye to their dying loved ones. Then he broke those rules and smirked when he was questioned about it in the Rose Garden of Downing Street.

If you look at the government's pandemic record and have even a fraction of anger spare to direct at beachgoers then I wonder if you’ve really understood what has happened.

Wherever you look, the government have failed us: on PPE, on track-and-trace and on communications. Every day another of their lies is exposed. When we needed leadership, intelligence and compassion more than ever we got none.

The Conservative government was more interested in business, which is why it started the lockdown late and is opening up too soon. But it’s not as if this approach is even succeeding: the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has warned that the UK is likely to be the hardest hit by Covid-19 among major economies.

Nowhere is the Tories’ failure more glaringly and hideously clear than in death figures. Official figures show that excess deaths linked to Covid-19 in England and Wales have reached 65,700. At one point we had the second-worst death rate on earth.

Let’s be clear: Johnson and his cabinet of sycophants should be in the dock. If you look at their pandemic record and have even a fraction of anger spare to direct at beachgoers then I wonder if you’ve really understood what has happened.

It’s easy to get angrier with ordinary people than the authorities during a crisis. At times of heightened tensions, even those who oppose a government can succumb to the hope that people supposed to protect us are competent and sincere. The alternative is too scary for many to sit with, so they lash out at the people, rather than politicians.

We have long been trained to point the finger at our fellow man, rather than those in powerful positions. The media and politicians have always cunningly directed our anger in the wrong direction. That’s why people rant about benefit fraud, rather than tax avoidance, even though benefit fraud is estimated to cost £1.2bn a year, compared to £70bn worth of tax evasion.

Forget Bournemouth beach, the images that should make us rage are not those of ordinary people, doing their best to navigate these scary and confusing times.

Instead, get angry at other images: of Matt Hancock sniggering on television as tens of thousands die unnecessarily because of his policies, or of Boris Johnson applauding the NHS after his failures sent frontline workers into coffins.

These men are the villains of the coronavirus. No one is keener than them for you to turn against your fellow man. Don’t do it.

Chas Newkey-Burden is a freelance journalist.