When did paternalism start? When did wealthy people decide that they knew better than poorer people what it was that poorer people needed?
Was it from the times of classical civilisation onward that the assumption grew that the patricians had a right to determine the lives of the plebeians? Was it the church that fostered the idea that society was hierarchical and that poorer people hadn’t the wisdom to take decisions for themselves? Was it the policies of successive Liberal and Tory administrations in Victorian England that created a tradition of the state telling ordinary people what was good for them?
It is one hundred and fifty years since the 1870 Education Act made schooling compulsory. It was supplemented by the 1902 Act and the 1944 Act. After decades of popular education, surely people are deemed to be sufficiently informed to take decisions for themselves? It seems not.
There are political elites who are still determined to take decisions affecting ordinary people. Whether it is the bohemian bourgeois elements on the Left, or the old fashioned Tory paternalists on the Right, there is no shortage of people who regard it as their role to tell others how to live their lives.
The term “new normal” has been coined by people among the elite who have decided that ordinary people shouldn’t return to ordinary lives. Shaped by middle class environmentalism and elitist attitudes towards working people, it is a prescription for the sort of world that affluent people think working people should inhabit.
Most working people live modest lives. They don’t drive big saloon cars or SUVs. They don’t live in large detached houses. They don’t fly on foreign holidays two or three times a year. When it comes to carbon footprints, those of modest people who live modest lives are a fraction of the size of the middle class proponents of change. When it comes to the transmission of viruses: who is most likely to travel to meetings around the country? Who is most likely to gather in airport lounges? Who is it that can afford to travel to sporting events?
People don’t want a new normal, nor are they likely to tolerate it. People want their ordinary lives back. “I want my normal life,” said the lady at the checkout in Sainsbury’s this evening.
The chance to live a normal life does not seem an excessive demand. If there are people who want to live life in a “new normal” that is their choice, but don’t expect working people to follow their example. Patrician, paternalist, politician, in contemporary parlance, a new normal will bring pushback.