Nick Cohen Nick Cohen

Coronavirus panic buying is turning Tories into socialists

If Brexit did not do it, the panic buying has trampled to death national myths patriots once cherished. We now see that ‘quintessentially English’ does not now mean a reserved character with a stiff upper lip joining an orderly queue. But a demonically possessed shopper lunging towards the last four-pack of loo roll.

Conservatives can find one comfort, however: the crisis is upholding their view of human nature – or at least it appears to be. Covid-19 is giving life to Margaret Thatcher’s sociological analysis. ‘There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.’

That’s about right, isn’t it? I know that many good people are doing all they can to look after their neighbours and strangers. But the Darwinian instinct to ‘look after ourselves’ and our families is taking over. The needless mobbing of supermarkets as millions decide that social distancing can go to hell, has put shoppers’ lives at risk, and (although no one appears to think about them) shop workers’ lives at risk too. Much finger wagging has followed from moralists. As a suspicious journalist, I doubt their sincerity and want to check their kitchen cupboards for hoarded food before believing that their genes are less selfish than anyone else’s.

Of course, when fear takes hold the war of one against all begins. If this mess of a government briefs it may lockdown London and then does not lockdown London then, naturally, panic ensues. Yet here is something no one expected to see. Now that millions are proving their commitments to society are faint at best, Conservatives are turning into socialists.

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