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Opinion

Time for hard truths: A Christmas ‘golden ticket’ won’t fix this crisis

Positive as the promise of a Christmas with friends and family may be, it’s not the way forward writes Big Issue editor Paul McNamee.

The fight for Christmas is a curious concept. The argument has gathered momentum in recent days. It says take a hard lockdown now, with the normal apparatus of life closed off for millions of people for weeks, then you can enjoy family time together on December 25. And then potentially another lockdown.

It doesn’t make sense.

The idea that Christmas is one day, an afternoon, of warm-hearted gluttony, sleep in front of the TV, a fraught moment with your extended family and arguments over a quiz doesn’t quite fly. For one thing, I haven’t mentioned the essential nature of Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special.

Christmas is now. This is Christmas. Christmas is all the lead up to the day. It’s the lights coming on in streets. It is shop assistants shaking their heads as Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody plays for the eighth time that day, helping Noddy Holder get another kitchen extension. (Though, that said, it’s a great song. There is joy in it).

It is being sent out to search for cloves (no, not that! WHOLE ONES!). It is comparing the Christmas ads of well-known brands to check the cultural barometer of how we live now. It’s, if we’re lucky, being out and among people. It’s restaurants packed with punters who may only drink once a year. It’s work-dos and lists and plans and a sense of anticipation. It’s the last-minute dash for the last-minute gift.

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It’s The Big Issue going big for month, our vendors embedded like at no other time on Britain’s high streets.

It is absolutely not just one day.

Clearly, there is a huge desire this year for people to see loved ones whom they haven’t seen for a long time, for kids to simply breathe the air of grandparents, never mind get a dreamed-of hug. We all want to step over the threshold of homes that have been barred from us by an invisible forcefield of fear.

There are still two very clear sets of people within the population – those who are fearful of the virus and those who aren’t

But there is something that sits badly about putting all focus there. For those locked down and out of work, particularly in the hospitality and the retail trades, that day of pause will come after weeks of dread.

And anybody who has been distanced from care homes and prevented from seeing their nearest and dearest will not believe that this will safely change for one day, certainly before a vaccine.

There are still two very clear sets of people within the population – those who are fearful of the virus and those who aren’t. Given that we have passed the toll of 50,000 Covid deaths in Britain, those who are fearful have good cause. Suggesting that we can now look to a happy Christmas and that things will be OK will no doubt make them anxious. They may feel pressure to comply, even if they do not really want to.

It would be better if government found a way to get beyond the cycle of lockdown, reopen, lockdown. The fact that the people aren’t more angry at what looks like a flagrant disregard for process by the Westminster government that finds them funnelling money to friends and allies for systems that aren’t properly functioning says a lot about the positive stoicism of the public.

Positive as the promise of a Christmas golden ticket is, it’s not the way forward.

Focus, hard truth from those in power and clear planning will help us all navigate the waters ahead.

And some Slade.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue 

@pauldmcnamee

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