John Harris

Journalist & Author

Powerless, rudderless and adrift: Covid-19 has crystallised how England feels | John Harris

A sense of exclusion and abandonment is as central to people’s experience of this crisis as it was to the Brexit vote

Ten days or so ago, Leicester was an overlooked but fascinating city trying to find its way through the Covid-19 crisis in much the same way as everywhere else: whatever its problems, a diverse, vivacious place where people can trace their backgrounds to over 50 countries around the world. Since a first visit in my early 20s, I have grown very fond of it. During the general election of 2015, when on an assignment to follow Nigel Farage around Lincolnshire, I made a point of staying there en route, solely to remind myself of the England that his politics of nastiness and grievance did not speak for, and of a future that, even as the clouds of Brexit gathered, still felt like it might be within this country’s grasp.

And now? As anyone famous will tell you, residence in the headlines tends to reduce people and places to cheap and nasty cliches. And so it has proved. Rather than pointing to appallingly mixed messages from the government, too much coverage of the city’s outbreak has focused on supposedly irresponsible people flouting social distancing rules, while reports of “language barriers” among the local population and the city’s exploited garment factory workers still having to go into work during lockdown have led in some cases to racist poison on social media.

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