While organisations and individuals are continuing to adapt to a new and acute physical health threat, experts on social cohesion are also beginning to run health checks on civil society more generally. Last week, Cumberland Lodge hosted Professor Graham Smith, Tessa van Rens, and Will Tanner, for a webinar on polarisation and whether it is being diminished or augmented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout a lively discussion, the panellists highlighted the need to understand polarisation in light of pre-pandemic social divides and drew attention to both the opportunities and risks inherent in a virus that has already spread from individual immune systems to the ‘immune system’ of society at large.
One afternoon in the 1950s, a man is listening to The Boat Race on the radio. He is partaking in an activity so quintessentially British that it is of little concern to anyone outside the United Kingdom. But the man is not listening in Oxford, Cambridge or London. He listens on the island of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean Sea. Britain is his self-described ‘mother country’, and he is, himself, British.
This picture, of the man in the Caribbean tuning into radio waves from London, was painted with vivid affection by his grandson, Martin Forde QC, during the ‘Race in Britain’ conference. This anecdote went straight to the heart of the event: who is included in our imagined community of fellow citizens, and who is not?