June 21, 2020

Robin Hood and the Coronavirus

I read the other morning an ominous headline: ‘Lockdown a week earlier would have halved death toll’. Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, one of the principle architects of the UK’s response to the current coronavirus pandemic is said to have ‘acknowledged’ this possibility, according to the report,

As with so much about modern government, the truth or otherwise of the various decisions by leaders throughout the world may never be fully known. Politicians in ‘liberal democracies’ will obfuscate and confuse with evasions, half-truths and complete fabrications (a definition of ‘spin’), whereas leaders in right-wing, nationalist and autocratic or oligarchic systems may not even try to justify their actions: they may never need to.

Corona Hood

However, it is worth reflecting at this stage on the true story of Robin Hood. He was a brigand who took refuge in Sherwood Forest in Nottingham in England with a band of outlaws towards the end of the 12th century. The local magnate was an autocrat appropriately entitled the ‘Sherriff of Nottingham’ who relentlessly oppressed the local people by taxing them heavily using strongarm tactics to exact what he regarded as his dues.

Innumerable ballads, plays and more recently Kevin Costner have portrayed the Sherriff’s downfall as the result of intervention of ‘good’ in the unlikely form of the Plantagenet King Richard who cemented the triumph of the brigands over the Sherriff’s lawful authority. As you will appreciate, knowing what we do about politics, an improbable outcome. The true story of Robin Hood is that deep inside all forms of government is an unwritten contract between the ruler and the ruled. The latter will accept deprivation and loss of freedom in exchange for safety and ultimately secure, even comfortable, survival. The Sherriff of Nottingham failed to honour his side of this contract, exploited his people but in return failed to protect them from a local band of outlaws who took refuge in Sherwood Forest.

The Sherriff was consequently sacked. History does not tell us who his successor was, but we may assume that, in a case of poacher turned gamekeeper, the brigand from Sherwood Forest replaced the brigand in Nottingham Castle.

So there is mixed news in this tale. On the one hand, leaders who have failed to protect their people through incompetence, ideology or stupidity can look forward to a finite time in their leadership roles. The bad news is they are very likely to be replaced by another lot of brigands in a manner reminiscent of all revolutions throughout history.

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