The standard narrative goes like this: The last lockdown was defined by a sense of social solidarity, a coming together after the divisions of Brexit, which was then shattered by Dominic Cummings' trip to Barnard Castle. Now we're all in it for ourselves.

And maybe it's true, as far as it goes. But it hasn't been tested yet. By the time of the Cummings scandal, the weather was improving, rates were falling, and we were able to be slightly more free. Now those dynamics are heading in the opposite direction and we have a long, cold winter to look forward to. So we're going to be tested as to how we deal with it.

The shorter days feel more depressing than usual. Chances are, we're going to end up in a lockdown of sorts, even if it doesn't go as far as last time. Probably at some point we'll be prevented from seeing other households. People will quickly become concerned enough that they'll stop going out to eat, regardless of whether restaurants are technically open or not. It'll be dark and cold and lonely.

Any sense that the government would have a hold on what's going on is now gone, and that surely applies across the board. The polling is clear on the public's assessment of No.10's performance. They don't know what they're doing. They say to go out, then to stay in, they promise systems they never provide, they are a rolling political catastrophe, reacting to each day's headlines without any underlying planning to constitute a long-term strategy. Boris Johnson's response to covid was defined the moment he told people in March he'd "send coronavirus packing". He couldn't possibly have thought that was true, if he understood anything about it. It was intended to buy him a friendly headline today without thinking much about what it would do to trust in him tomorrow.

You can't trust the government to help you. They don't know what they're doing. But that was never what that moment of national solidarity in the spring was about. It wasn't a moment of unity with the government. It was a moment of unity with each other. It was about people looking after each other, people being anxious together, even though they were apart, people being united in admiration for those who still went out, because it was their responsibility – health workers, delivery drivers, supermarket staff, corner shop owners.

We're going to need that over the next six months. It'll be harder this time. The weather means even a daily walk might not be all that pleasant. Popping out to pick up supplies for vulnerable neighbours will be the last thing you want to do in the cold and the rain, but it must be done nonetheless. The initial anxiety of the first wave will likely be replaced by a crushing sense of tedium and boredom. Those locking down with others will need to very regularly check in with those who are alone. We're all going to have to be a little more like the key workers in the first wave – doing things we don't want to, safely, to help those who can't.

It'll be people helping people, because the government is certainly incapable of doing it. That sense of ourselves was unaffected by what Cummings did, or by the excuses the government used to justify it. It'll take us through the winter into the spring.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk. His new book, How To Be A Liberal, is out now.

The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

 

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