Welcome to this week’s Renew briefing highlighting another set of roller-coaster antics that are leaving satirists redundant and the journalists of Private Eye wondering where to take their material next. Firstly to the long-awaited 19th of July - or 'Freedom Day', which came and went at the start of a week (despite having some of the highest number of daily Covid cases in the world) which saw an astonishing set of events by anyone’s standards. We had everything from billionaires launching themselves into space in fittingly phallic rockets (compensating much?) to the hokey-cokey inclusion/exclusion of the Prime Minister in a 'pilot' to undertake daily testing as an attempt to avoid self-isolating after being in contact with the Covid-positive (wait for it), Secretary of State for Health. This plan was apparently scrapped in favour of “sticking to the rules”. However, this newfound governmental adherence to said rules was short-lived when the PM apparently didn’t fancy isolating at Number 10 and retreated to Chequers at some point, with the press office being suspiciously vague and somewhat inconsistent on exactly when that point was. Which, if true, means that the PM breached Covid rules by travelling elsewhere to isolate. Not an ideal way to spend the eve of 'freedom day'.... but I have no doubt that there will be absolutely no accountability or responsibility taken.
Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand - because if they don’t, chaos ensues. Which feels very much like what we are experiencing as a country. Freedom to stop wearing masks - which has been a relief for many but an additional stressor for others. Many local businesses where I live have canvassed the views of their customers and staff and have chosen to maintain some level of Covid risk-reduction, such as staff continuing to wear masks, asking customers to mask-up when moving around, and sticking to reduced capacity in venues. Some venues are finding themselves unable to operate due to the high numbers of staff self-isolating after being 'pinged' by the contact-tracing App with last week up to half a million people being told to isolate. Such was the concern that plans have been put in place to exempt NHS staff from the need to isolate to ensure they can attend work to care for the rising number of patients, which kinda begs the question - what’s the point of the system in the first place? This position has been updated to clarify that the relevant 'pinged' NHS staff can refuse exemption from isolation if they wish - freedom to decline exemption when the responsibility of work calls, but with the knowledge that they could be putting the patients they are treating at risk - but if they don’t they could also be putting patients at risk due to staff shortages. A sort of Schrodinger’s self-isolation arrangement - the perfect metaphor for several utterly broken systems that make risk impossible to manage effectively.
Risk is something that human beings are proving to be astonishingly bad at assessing, particularly when it comes to addressing the big stuff - climate change, leaving the EU, etc. Take climate change - events of the past week have seen devasting floods in parts of Western Europe with Germany sustaining the loss of over 160 people, killed by our collective inability to manage this looming behemoth of a risk. Because individual humans struggle to manage large-scale long-term risks, we need to have effective systems in place to do this for us and we need the people leading those systems to pay particular attention to a number of key things. Firstly those leaders need to have the best interests of humanity as their driving force and focus. Secondly, they need to recognise that systems never operate in isolation and that if the aims of those systems are not to serve the best interests of humanity, then they are going to collide and result in chaos (see the whole of society, right here, right now). Whilst I accept there are things that individual humans can do to reduce their impact on the environment, individual action will not be enough - we need wholesale system-level action and we need it fast. This is why we believe we need a new approach to politics, an approach that prioritises the best interests of humanity based on the best available evidence.
The best available evidence would suggest that we should probably focus on getting our acts together here on earth, however, there seems to be a current trend for heading spaceward, with an elite set of multi-millionaires/billionaires seeking to leave the atmosphere. I mean, given the temperatures in the UK this week, they may have a point, but their antics are literally compounding the problem. The Amazon founder Jeff Bezos caught my attention as it seems he approved a rocket design that defied all attempts to avoid innuendo given its 'anthropomorphic' shape. Why the world’s richest man would prioritise building a penis-shaped rocket and heading to space rather than using that money to actually make a difference to the rest of us humans left behind on earth is utterly beyond my comprehension. This is in stark contrast to the approach of one of the world’s richest women, Mackenzie Scott (formerly married to Bezos) who has signed a pledge to give away most of her fortune. She is prioritising historically underfunded charitable causes focusing on racial inequality, the arts, education, women-led charities, and work to support the bridging of divides between different religions - you know, the stuff that actually matters to the continued thriving of humanity. Jeff absolutely has the freedom to do what he wants, but Mackenzie has chosen to accept that she has a responsibility to humans and to the system that enabled her to become so rich and is taking a far less phallic approach.
[I could have talked about a whole range of other things that have horrified me this week, including government plans to jail journalists who embarrass them - the absolute cheek of this has even managed to rile Piers Morgan - the government are embarrassing themselves and if journalists had done more to expose this during the last 10 years, we would be in a far better place - I’m looking at you Laura K….]
With freedom comes responsibility. Does your political party take this concept seriously? Because if it doesn't and you are looking for something new, get in touch...we’d love to hear from you.
Have a great week
Carla and the Renew Team