One of the few things that most people seem to know about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution is that when she asked why the people were protesting out on the streets and was told it was because they had no bread and were starving, her innocent flippant answer was ‘Well let them eat cake.’ The remark might well be apocryphal but the attitude that underlies it was common at the French Court and is equally common and dangerous in our House of Commons. We hear it again and again whenever members of our current government give public pronouncements. Queen Marie Antoinette was a member of the ruling upper class and had absolutely no idea what sort of impoverished lives the French working class were forced to endure. And sad though it is to have to face it, many members of our own ruling class suffer from the same myopia.
Boris Johnson, (Eton and Oxford) showing off on a chat show, said the best way of coping with the virus would be for us to ‘take it on the chin’ – as if the virus were no worse than a punch in the face – and then ‘let it run through the population to build up ‘herd immunity” as if we were sheep or pigs.
The unelected Dominic Cummings (Exeter College and Oxford, Director of Vote Leave campaign) told us it was likely that a lot of old people would die in this outbreak, but that it would be no bad thing. Which shows his opinion of old people. Livestock you see, that needed ‘culling’, as he put it. A lesser breed, not worth bothering about.
And now we’re hearing the same sentiment again from the Billionaire press (people like Lord Rothermere, whose father backed the British Fascists, and Rupert Murdoch who has dominated our press and TV for far too long). They castigate our teachers for daring to say they don’t think their pupils should return to school because it’s too dangerous and are scorned for not taking the same risks as our heroic doctors and nurses. While over in America Trump gloats that ‘doctors and nurses are ‘running into death just like soldiers running into bullets’ adding ‘it’s a beautiful thing to see.’ How callous can you get?
These men (and yes there are some women too) suffer from the same appalling moral flaws and the same sickening lack of compassion. They don’t believe that all men are created equal. Even though it’s 244 years since that powerful Declaration of Independence and 227 years from the execution of Louis XV1 and his pretty little empty headed queen. And 415 years since Shakespeare’s Shylock asked so movingly and powerfully ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’