The Coronavirus and the challenge of staying hopeful

Nick Lowles - 26 03 20

The Coronavirus emergency will have a severe medical, economic and political impact on society over the next few months and possibly years.

To better understand the effect it will have on British people HOPE not hate Charitable Trust will conduct a poll every month for the foreseeable future. We will have a number of tracking questions, so we can see how opinion is changing over time, but then each poll will also focus on two of three distinct themes and topics to allow us to dive deeper into people’s attitudes and better understand how Coronavirus is impacting on society. As part of our mission to make our data operation of use to partner organisations, we will invite two or three groups to ask questions that are pertinent to their work. 

We’ve just received the responses from the first poll which we will publish over the coming days. In it, we explore the issues of trust towards our political leaders and medical experts, test out conspiracy theories, examine how it should impact on the Brexit negotiations and investigate how we are relating to one another. We are particularly concerned about how Covid-19 will inflame a racist and anti-immigrant backlash. There are already numerous stories of people of Chinese heritage being attacked and certainly a far right rhetoric is emerging of both using this to whip up dislike to China and blaming so-called liberal immigration policies for quickening the spread of the infection. Our polling finds that 54% of Britons blame China for Covid-19, with just 23% disagreeing. 

There is no question coronavirus is going to radically alter how we live and the society we live in. It might bring us closer together, but at the same time it could further divide us. While we hope it is the former, we fear it could be the latter. As our polling clearly demonstrates, people are scared and looking to the Government for leadership and medical experts for understanding. But as more people die and livelihoods disrupted, how long will this last? 

The Chancellor has unveiled a huge financial package to soften the economic impact of COVID-19, but hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps even millions, will lose their jobs and be outside of help. 
And then there is the future, what happens when the disease – or at least this wave – has passed? It is inconceivable that the Government will keep the financial taps running and then many people will be financially destitute and we will all be faced with large tax rises or a return to austerity. 

Of course nothing is certain and it is pointless to predict what is going to happen, but what we can do is to monitor and track public opinion in the hope it gives us early warning of future problems. Each time we do a new poll, we will also publish a full briefing note, which we hope will go some way to doing that. The first briefing will be published on Monday.
COVID-19 risks causing the largest societal upheaval since the Second World War and an economic meltdown comparable to the 1930s. And if history teaches us anything is that it is in times like these that societies are susceptible to extremism and prejudice. We are facing difficult times now, but post-pandemic politics have the risk of being both dangerous and very nasty.


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