UK hit by storm of cynicism

The retweeted picture of the knocked-over garden chair was funny. The first time. The pictures on Facebook of blue skies over London when we were expecting a hurricane-force disaster are getting old, too. Snidey comments about the Blitz spirit and the inability of train companies to handle a bit of bad weather are already sounding like a stuck record.

That said, I’m guilty of all three of these crimes as I made my way, grumbling, to work. Because the most drearily predictable thing of all about the storm, which hit the UK early on Monday morning, is the Chicken Little approach of the nation’s institutions to any potential problem. In this case, rail companies across the south of England decided to impose a blanket ban on services hours before the wind and rain hit. ‘Don’t travel’ was the overblown message. Of course, there was always bound to be disruption thanks to trees and other debris on rail lines, but to simply give up the ghost on vital commuter services seems shocking, as if getting to work was an optional extra.

In turn, that hit-the-panic-button response only invites cynicism. It betrays an utter lack of faith in the ability of people and services to cope. We are not ‘resilient’, it seems; we are always ‘vulnerable’ - in this case, to a storm that was fierce but by no means exceptional, and unremarkable by the standards of other countries in the world.

Not only does this suggest surrender in the face of any difficulty, but it leaves us jaundiced towards really serious problems that do need to be dealt with. Our institutions won’t be able to cope, is the message. Nothing can be done. It leads us to give up on the notion of working together as a society to overcome obstacles. And that’s a much bigger problem than any storm.

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

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