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Opinion

Unity will help us keep the wolf from the door

A loss of focus at the moment is the biggest damage we can do, says Big Issue founder John Bird

In 1942, MFK Fisher wrote How to Cook a Wolf. It is, according to reports, the most extraordinary cookbook imaginable. Because largely it is a philosophical “how to” book about surviving adversity and reversals of fortune. Yes, even a Covid-19 pandemic, although when she wrote the book Fisher had no idea what was coming down the line almost 80 years later.

Adversity can overwhelm you. I don’t know if you actually do cook a wolf in the book but – other than the wolf cooking – the sentiment seems to be most suitable for our troubled times. It has been republished at various times and last week was published again.

Added to the troubled times thrown up by the US election results, which will take a decade to get over, and our own new lockdown, we have pressing environmental issues.

And of course the need to prevent mass homelessness resulting from mass joblessness.

But of course our greatest concern must be angled at the devastation caused by Covid-19 deaths. And the fact that so many opinions fly around at one and the same time. Doing something to help stop the spread of the virus is an individual contribution we can make, as is helping those in the community who need help most.

The Big Issue has had to stop selling on the streets again and try to continue our support for vendors. Hence our call for people to take out subscriptions so that we can continue as a social business to aid people still caught in need.

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What a cacophony of woes. Last week in Parliament I called for a government of national unity because I feel we mostly want a unified Parliament trying to stop Covid-19 in its tracks. Alas with the discord and disdain that exists among politicians, the energies that could create clarity seem in short supply.

Of course a democracy should strengthen the decision-making process by critiquing government actions; but the feeling to me is one of lots of energy going into handling criticism whereas that energy should go into finding clarity.

Alas no one seems to have all the answers. Will political divisions bring that clarity nearer? I doubt it.

All this pales into insignificance when you hear the likes of a bus driver in a Liverpool intensive care unit pleading with the public from his oxygen tent to take the pandemic seriously. I don’t think I have heard such a cogent description of the problem. Where evidence shows that what’s going wrong is a failure to socially distance and the spread of the virus through social interaction.

The lockdown, the masks in public, the social distancing, the hand sanitising, the commanding of the populace to take the virus seriously are little different from the blacking out of all lights in the Blitz. Stopping the Luftwaffe being helped in the skies above us was no different from the ground-based threats that potentially surround us now.

I shall be reading How to Cook a Wolf because I want to know once again how to look adversity in the face, and smile

But unity is so vital today that that is where we need to be putting our energies. Our political and social energies. Our time and our efforts need to be directed toward making us all believe that it is possible to survive whatever is thrown at us by the virus.

And obeying safety precautions is obviously how we can help the ill by keeping ourselves out of hospital.

How the The Big Issue weathers the storm of lockdown will be down to a combination of astute management and public support. I am convinced we can do one and get the other.

Even in this hour of need we also need to think about how we can thrive beyond the pandemic. How we can, as they say, “build back better”. Get rid of the many impediments to social unity. Get rid of the poor-wage economy we have been basing our supposed prosperity on: prosperous for some and just about managing for others.

That is the central plank of our continuing campaign to build a Ride Out Recession Alliance (RORA). It grows each week and gets more support in its attempt to create new jobs and job training. To try to support people so they can stay in their homes if they have lost their work. Keep them out of mass homelessness.

Certainly we could do with clarity and unity. And we can do with a reinvigorated sense of the future. But that can only come from the evidence that we really are all in this together.

A loss of focus at the moment is the biggest damage we can do. Our own focus on surviving and not infecting. On calling for unity from those that make the decisions. And on insisting that focus is central to all things: a focus based on unity of purpose and direction.

I shall be reading How to Cook a Wolf because I want to know once again how to look adversity in the face, and smile. And prepare. And survive.

John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. @johnbirdswords

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