The 8pm clap from Westminster Bridge on Thursday. Flashing blue lamps from rows of emergency vehicles and officers standing shoulder to shoulder mingling with the assembled crowds to offer their own tribute to the NHS. The Police Commissioner was leading the throbbing mass to boot.
And at a stroke, we witnessed the most public flouting of social distancing guidance since the whole corona mess unfolded. This gang wasn’t just sneaking out under the radar along a rat-run for some non-essential items. They were glorifying their participation in a collective breach.
Clearly a bridge too far, but you see, when it comes to gratuitous virtue-signalling, the police have form. They are known to us, Sarge. They’ve got sharp things in their pockets that are going to hurt us.
We’re well versed in the cynical, rhythmless dance-flouncing at Notting Hill Carnivals and the dog-eared, rainbow livery of the Pride meat wagons. It’s about trying to enforce from the inside on the back of a one-way favour flow.
But this was different. This was exaggerated, socially close proximity at the heart of the most densely populated part of the UK. And in case you were going to miss it, they turned on the flashing blue lights.
These were the very people who had been flying drones over villages, searching supermarket trolleys, pouncing on dog walkers, and even prosecuting a woman for an offence that didn’t even exist in law. Yet on Thursday, hundreds of their non-essential journeys converged onto a single location. And their reasonable excuse? To stand and clap.
This was strategic and right in the face of the nation. To let you know that despite the last four weeks of backlash directed at their ineptitude, they’re still in charge. And you’d better not forget it, my son.
There’s not a damned thing anyone can do about it, but policing by consent is ebbing away.
Meanwhile, hardcore criminals in London likely bridged the momentary gap in cop coverage with a 10-minute supermarket sweep of villainy with so many of the ‘stretched’ police resources attending to their happy-clap ‘essential activity’.
You know, watching the flaccid weekly ritual does bring home starkly what peer pressure does to you and why our parents always flagged it as Achilles heel number one.
It makes you forget all the rules and factual information that underpins considered decision-making. It’s an overwhelming and all-consuming desire to belong. A burning desire to be part of a crowd.
It’s got strong pulling power, while virtue-signalling creates momentum to push. Combined, and moving in the same direction, is there any wonder that those craving self-aggrandizement will be flinging their still-breathing corpses onto the bandwagon?
If you clapped once, then fair enough. But the sincere bods appreciate the work of NHS staff and know that they’re grateful. And then they leave it there.
The patient zero in the viral pandemic of virtue-signalling is craven groupthink with a desperation for the approbation of the crowd. The show-offs at whom we collectively roll our eyes whenever they pop up to perform and simultaneously drain our will to live.
This social malaise is furthermore a form of camouflage. While your audience focuses on your fine words, they won’t be looking to closely at the real you. In days gone by, people were thought as virtuous when they did things. Nowadays, you can dispose with constructive deeds and ride in the slipstream of word-fuelled imagery that you sculpt of somebody else.
It’s self-actualisation by proxy.
I saw a Facebook post yesterday where a clapper had reported the precise clap-participation of her street even down to the reasons why two neighbours hadn’t joined in. You can only assume that she had later doorstepped them or at least had investigated the absences. Or the guilty parties’ children had ratted them out to the local WhatsApp grass group. Another commented that her street ‘could do better’.
This week, our street was like Belfast in 1971. We should be thankful that metal bin lids have been consigned to the past, even if absurdity hasn’t.
Though the spirit of touting hasn’t yet died.
That long queue you saw the other day at Tesco wasn’t shoppers – it was the naughty kids in line outside the Headmistress’s office.
And there’s a lesson in this for us all.