Thursday 04th June 2020,
North Yorks Enquirer

Fear & Loathing in NIMBYLAND

  • an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, examining the great COVID-19 divide in rural areas.

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Following the years of deep division – hatred, even – over the interminable BREXIT issue, one aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought some cheer is the new sense of national unity, as exemplified by the “together apart” spirit of the ‘Lockdown’, the VE-Day celebrations and the regular Thursday evening universal clapathons for ‘our’ NHS. Or so we are told.

Sadly, it is not all sweetness and light.

I have been receiving photographs from the villages, where some residents have actively adopted an “us and them” attitude to ‘outsiders’ who dare to encroach on ‘their’ highways and by-ways. Other residents would appear to have given their tacit consent.

Villagers have been erecting signs (unlawful signs) seeking to prohibit entry – despite the fact that a casual passing leisure-cyclist, hiker or dog-walker represents no greater risk to life than the delivery of their shopping, their post or their questionable COVID-19 test-kits.

NIMBYISM in Pictures

The media, at saturation level, has made the government’s ‘Lockdown’ policy known to all, so there is positively no new information embodied in these following examples of intertribal hostility; they are simply officious.

Consider the ‘tone’ of these messages.

The intention is explicitly set out in “us and them” terms: ‘You Have No Business Here’ –Closed to Visitors’‘Residents Only’‘Go Home’ – “**CK OFF”. These sentiments are not inclusive; they are exclusive. There is no hint of “we’re all in this together”.

The word ‘please’ is conspicuous by its absence.

There is no hint of an acknowledgement that the Borough’s past and future economy is overwhelmingly dependent on, erm, visitors.

There is no suggestion that the Borough’s customary warm welcome to tourists is suspended only temporarilyand will be resumed as soon as possible.

There is no acknowledgement of the fact that the ‘Lockdown’ has brought us cleaner air or that this exceptionally sunny spring weather brings free Vitamin D to build up immune systems, all of which residents are gushing to share (not).  Where would they prefer those without the benefit of homes in the rural idyll to soak up their sunshine and fresh air? On the London Underground?

Even here in Whitby, I have heard foul-mouthed abuse hurled by locals at unfamiliar faces. Cars have been spat at and kicked. Stones have been thrown. It is like Captain Cook’s revenge.

Aside from being criminal, this attitude is extremely short-sighted. The already catastrophic downturn in footfall will have a massively deleterious effect on tourism-related businesses (and their numerous peripheral providers) for many months, if not years, to come. Coastal and rural visitor destinations will be decimated. “Down and out in Scarborough and Whitby”. That is the inevitable consequence of ‘Lockdown’.

Even that is not the most damaging. To strike the attitude of “We’re all right, Jack. Stop whingeing about your cabin-fever, your relationship-breakdown and your mental health – and keep your suffering and dying well away from us” is not an inevitable consequence. It is small-minded NIMBYISM and blind, unquestioning docility at its insufferable worst.

But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this petty tribalism, is that it is being echoed, indeed promoted, by the Town Hall – not only by Officers (whose sorry job it is to propagate the ‘official’ view, right or wrong) but also by elected members, whose job it is to monitor and, if necessary rein in, the bureaucrats. Very little of that at present, in Scarborough Town Hall (isn’t that so, Councillors?).

Insisting that “the town is not open”, our ‘Acting’ (or is it ‘Deputy’?) Leader (or is it just ‘Portfolio Holder’) Councillor Liz COLLING [Lab.Co-Op.] has been quoted as stating:

“I would have liked to hear the PM say ‘yes please travel for exercise but don’t go more than five miles from your front door’. 

Stay home works for as a message but ‘stay alert’ doesn’t, it’s too confusing.

People have to remember that there are no public toilets open, there are no cafés open, the car parks are not open.”

Even after the government’s partial relaxation of the belated and ill-conceived ‘Lockdown’, Scarborough Borough Council, North Yorkshire County Council, North Yorkshire Police, East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Humberside Policre are all strenuously discouraging people from fanning out across Yorkshire and taking in the fresh air and sunshine this (and next) weekend. They are discouraging majority (so-called ‘herd’) immunity. Instead, they are propagating an “us and them” society. Is it not understood that without human interaction there will be no majority immunity? Do they not realise that COVID-19 will cease to claim large numbers of  lives only when the great majority are no longer susceptible to infection by it?

And, for the most part, the public swallows it whole. Less than one in eight Bridlington Echo respondents feels free to express a contrary opinion – and then only anonymously.

But where does this “us and them” rhetoric originate?

Setting one sector of society (say, ‘locals’) against another (say, ‘visitors’) and using the media to reinforce this schism, is symptomatic of a governmental determination to manipulate societal relationships. It is the promotion of a ‘snitch’ society, exemplified historically in the totalitarian eastern bloc soviet states of the cold war (e.g. the Denunziant Gesellschafft of the STASI), or the equally totalitarian pre-WW2 national socialist regimes in Western Europe (e.g. the Geheime Staatspolizei – Gestapo).

Spragmentation.

Divide and rule.

Will people never learn?

It is élitist, oppressive and dehumanising. It is the clearest possible signal that we are emphatically NOT “all in this together”.

This petty NIMBYISM is the trickle-down effect of élitism. It sucks.

So, for those who have bought into the ‘Lockdown’ paradigm, I would offer a different, more inclusive message:

. . . even if you believe the guidelines are nonsensical; even if you believe that the ‘Lockdown’ was an ill-advised, knee-jerk, horse-has-bolted response; even if you believe that the ‘Lockdown’ will have lasting and disastrous consequences for livelihoods, civil liberties and human rights; even if you believe that the only justifiable ‘Lockdown’ would have been for care homes; even if you believe that all this is a cynical and opportunist strategy to railroad the nation and the world into a cashless, corporate mega-state . . .

Just be reasonable. And be polite. Please.

No harm in that . . .

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