The British media has heavily praised Captain Tom Moore, calling him a ‘national hero’, but it is our civic duty not to blindly accept this narrative.Twitter Captain Tom Moore

Cpt Tom Moore is walking 100 lengths of his garden for NHS Charities Together because our fantastic NHS workers are national heroes’ - so reads the overview of his JustGiving page. There is no denying that NHS workers are ‘fantastic’ when considering the daily sacrifices they make amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Captain - now Honorary Colonel - Moore’s rallying statement exemplifies the spirit of togetherness that has taken hold of the entirety of the nation. We are at risk, however, of minimising the issues key workers face by simply clapping on our doorstep every Thursday night, or by falling for the fallacy that a donation to a cause like Captain Tom’s is sufficient. One can not dispute that his charity single’s release and fundraiser will significantly help key workers; but the calls for a Knighthood set a dangerous precedent. It recasts the funding of the NHS as a civic duty, instead of our government’s responsibility. A notion continuously fought against from as far back as the Blind March in 1920, Captain Tom’s birth year, with banners that called for: ‘Social justice not charity’.

“Our government should have allocated adequate funding for PPE from the beginning.”

Our real civic duty is to look beyond the media’s veneration of Captain Tom. We must not forget to hold the government accountable further down the road. We must not cower from politicising the deficiencies in the NHS that this crisis has revealed. Let us not forget that, despite measured productivity in the health service outgrowing productivity across the economy as a whole since 2010, the UK has 2.8 practising doctors per 1,000 people, which is 28% fewer than the EU average. Let us not forget that the Conservatives’ austerity program ensured that per-capita health spending increased by only 0.6% annually between 2009-10 and 2016-17, compared to a 5.4% annual growth between 1996-97 and 2009-10 under a Labour government. Let us not forget the Conservatives’ role in defeating Labour’s proposal to abolish David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s 1% cap on public sector salaries by 323 votes to 309 in the first vote of the 2017-19 Parliament, and the affirmative cheers which ensued. Let us not forget the curious circumstances surrounding Simon McDonald’s submission and withdrawal of a statement suggesting that the UK Government had made the political decision to abstain from a mass ventilator EU scheme, blaming it on a ‘communications mix up’.

“It is imperative that Captain Tom’s actions do not divert our attention away from our government’s duty...”

The work of ‘Captain Tom’ has been remarkable in many ways, but we should take a step back. Whilst the Government deserves partial credit for their continued work, we should not let Captain Tom’s charitable actions be used to paper over systemic cracks: in all the jubilation of his birthday celebrations, it is important not to lose sight of the reality that the UK Government failed to sufficiently prepare for the arrival of a pandemic. We should not have to call our key workers ‘heroes’ and praise their sacrifices because they should not have to risk their safety in the first place. Our government should have allocated adequate funding for PPE from the beginning.

In a recent article on the politics of British exceptionalism, Fintan O’Toole, citing Toby Young, talks about Britain’s tendency to produce ‘remarkable individuals’ in war-like times. While Young wrote this in reference to Boris Johnson, Captain Tom springs to mind. Some people, however, have used his efforts to construct a warped concept of Britishness. To turn him into a symbol of the British stiff upper lip and to use him as a representative of the old guard, is to estrange him from the principal purpose of his actions: acting out of benevolence in support of ‘our fantastic NHS workers’.

One tweet, which uses Captain Tom’s bravery to mock Sam Smith, is indicative of an underlying twisted zeitgeist to which the veil of veneration surrounding Captain Tom’s efforts has been conducive. The veteran has been removed from his act of kindness and turned into a tool of the old guard in a misguided attempt to attack a survivor of ongoing mental health issues. This hypocrisy is amplified by the hashtag #WalkwithTom, which creates a sense of unity, whilst simultaneously suggesting that we must choose a side.


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It is imperative that Captain Tom’s actions do not divert our attention away from our government’s duty, nor that his endeavours be used to idealise pre-conceived notions of nationalism and ‘masculinity’. His efforts are deserving of our utmost respect: but we must be pragmatic in not letting our perspective become shrouded by the veil of veneration cast over them.