Magic wands, misdirection and shock

Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine may have its critics – but it is difficult not to think about it, at times like this.  Her central argument is that governments use national crises as a cover to implement unpalatable and dubious policies.  One need look no further than the arrest of Hong Kong democracy activists while the country is in coronavirus lockdown.  But that is China and we do things differently here?

Curious, therefore, that a government that has shown complete indifference to the reform of social care law, rushes through ‘easements’ (such a charming word[1]) to further undermine the rights of those most at risk from the epidemic – elderly, ill and disabled people, and their carers.  It then does the same for children’s services – implementing measures that were rejected three years ago when included in the Children and Social Work Bill; measures that have been condemned by leading charities; condemned by the Children’s Commissioner; and condemned by the opposition; measures to downgrade rights of children to special education, health and social care support – another welfare service that was already on its knees.  Paediatric services may be ‘eerily quiet’ – but the law has to be changed nevertheless.  It makes no sense – unless you think too much.

It seems that the Government is not alone in using the epidemic as a reason for taking action that does not (on the face of it) bear over-inspection.  It is difficult, for example, to understand precisely why the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, the Health Services Ombudsman and the Care Quality Commission have decided to shut up shop (or decided only to provide takeaways).

We can however feel reassured knowing that these are only temporary measures: temporary like the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972 (repealed on the 2 December 1999) and the Official Secrets Act 1911 (repealed by the Official Secrets Act 1989).  At least the Parliamentary debate on the Coronavirus Act 2020 took three days (compared to the one day for the 1911 Act) but this is probably explained by the fact that the 2020 Act didn’t coincide with the grouse season.

Naomi Klein argues that one of the motives for the Shock and Awe distraction of the Bush Iraq War was a privatisation agenda – with the aim of awarding lucrative contracts to valued corporations.  Although there are clear differences between the Iraq war and the current emergency, it is curious how many private sector contracts are being awarded – from NHS services to problematic school meals vouchers and much in between.

Misdirection is the essence of magic: stay confident, stick to your script, use a ‘big act’ to disguise a little one and make dramatic flourishes – waving wands and other visual distractions.  For a Government struggling to find PPE, testing kits and a plausible explanation for the scale of deaths and their disproportionate impact on poor, BAME and elderly people – pulling something out of the hat may prove to be the hardest trick of all.

[1] The Google Dictionary gives two meanings: (1) “a right to cross or otherwise use someone else’s land for a specified purpose” and (2) “the state or feeling of comfort or peace”.

Posted 8 May 2020