Last Friday the Government launched a mass ad campaign under the slogan “All In, All Together”. Every national and daily regional newspaper carried a wrap-around cover with the message: “Stay at home for the NHS, your family, your neighbours, your nation, the world and life itself”. On each back cover the ad doubled up as a poster featuring a rainbow along with the tagline: “Staying at home for Britain”.

Online homepages were similarly captured. And weekly titles owned by national groups will run the wrap next week, though independent newspapers such as HIP have been cold-shouldered.

Newsworks, which represents itself as the marketing body for national newspapers and negotiated the terms of the campaign with the government, describes it as a way of delivering government communications “in an intimate, human and compassionate tone that readers can relate to”. 

Cabinet minister Michael Gove enthused: “Newspapers are the lifeblood of our communities and we need them now more than ever. Their role as a trusted voice and their ability to reach isolated communities is especially vital at this time. With this campaign we are both saving lives by providing essential information to the public, and supporting cherished local institutions.”

So: the government gets to load its lockdown policy with appeals to higher morality: we all want to save the world, don’t we? The moguls of the newspaper industry get a financial lifeline just days after warning that they stood to lose £50m or more from the blocking of commercial ads on digital sites by advertisers recoiling from ubiquitous Coronavirus coverage. Isn’t that win-win? Except that the role of independent newspapers in a free world is not to sell the government’s message, but to hold it to account. 

The question of whether our family, our neighbours, our nation, the world, and life itself are actually aided in the long run by so many people staying at home is surely at least worth asking without moral pressure. And it’s also worth asking to what extent we’re really all in this together.

Hastings Supports Our NHS receiving a PPE delivery, heading for local surgeries
PICTURE: Alice Denny

The lockdown is not just the inconvenience of being kept isolated in our homes, all the tougher for the many in Hastings who lack space and comfort indoors and out; nor the loss of basic consumer freedoms; nor the abandonment of the myriad social, cultural and sporting activities that customarily enrich our lives. Deprivation of these all at once feels harsh, but should (we can reasonably hope) be temporary. Isn’t it acceptable, set against the efforts and sacrifices of doctors, nurses, care home staff and others on the frontline fighting the pandemic?

Maybe so for the politicians, scientists and other public sector ‘experts’ who, having devised this policy and urged that there is no alternative, remain on full salaries, wielding unchallengeable authority. Clearly some businesses – the supermarkets, the online retailers, some medical suppliers – are making serious profits; some others have received sufficient hand-outs to tide them over; employees furloughed from a PAYE payroll have had their incomes largely protected. 

But how many lives of our family, our neighbours, etc, are actually being saved from the virus, and how many are either being lost or at least seriously impaired longer term by the effects of the lockdown – in terms both of visible physical and mental health (see other feature articles in this issue) and of the economic fall-out? 

Take a walk through the town of Hastings and St Leonards (don’t stop and sit down, though – you may be fined), where nine businesses out of ten that would normally be gearing up for the summer tourist trade are idle, and a high percentage of its labour force has been laid off without protection beyond the online portals of the universal credit system; where buses and trains ply their routes with barely a passenger on board; where gardens, sports grounds, community spaces lie desolate and untended.

So yes, we are all in it together, because we are all going to pay for it for years to come – if not in adverse health effects, at least in depressed wages, higher taxes, and a further inevitable squeeze on public accounts (including, quite probably, financial support for the NHS itself) to recover the sums that the Chancellor is now splashing out. Where is the “essential information” about those consequences, Mr Gove?

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