Clap for Heroes fosters unity in divided times

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Whilst 2020 witnessed the world disintegrate into distancing and dread, the pandemic proved to be peculiarised by paradox, and the weekly Clap for Carers soon emerged as the epitome of community spirit. From 26th March, the nation’s salute for the NHS saw my street at home unite with a cacophony of pots and pans – ironically the most contact we’ve had with our next-door neighbour since my father ran over her cat back in 2007.

Ten months down the line, we find ourselves once again hollering “hurrah” for our healthcare workers from our doorsteps: a now quasi-religious ritual for which we have only to thank Clap for Carers founder, Annemarie Plas. I can’t help but notice the irony that it took the get-up-and-go of a Dutch national to bolster the Brits into beating the drum for our beloved NHS.

In true ‘New year, new me’ style, the celebratory clap has returned this January revamped, with the aim of recouping that quintessentially British esprit de corps. Morale boosts are clearly all in the marketing, as the newly named ‘Clap for Heroes’ claims to celebrate all coronavirus champions, from valiant volunteers to heroic home-schoolers. This will undoubtedly come as welcome news to my uncle, who has bizarrely been entrusted with the tuition of my youngest cousin this month, despite boasting a grand total of one GCSE.

The country’s cheers undoubtedly had political undertones from the start

The radical rebrand follows Plas’ dramatic decision to distance herself from the clapping campaign; having once proclaimed 2020’s camaraderie made her finally “feel like a proper Londoner”, the Nederlander has since been graced with the Brit’s true colours, becoming the nation’s latest target of trolling abuse. I would not be surprised if Plas, whose Twitter bio reads, “Bouncing ball of love – Optimist – Humour”, no longer holds quite the same steadfast faith in the neighbourly goodwill of the British public.

The coronavirus pandemic has meant tough decisions for Boris Johnson – the most difficult, I’m sure, being his resolution that the NHS should be rewarded for their last 72 years of service with a good old round of applause. Criticism has been cutting, as healthcare workers and members of the public now make accusations of patronising performance and vacuous virtue signalling.

The country’s cheers undoubtedly had political undertones from the start. Whilst clapping at Kensington allowed royalists a gratifying glimpse of the Cambridges’ charming clan, the assembly of camera crews outside 10 Downing Street has raised not only eyebrows but also a crucial question: is Clap for Carers no more than a sentimental display of amateur dramatics, designed to distract us from the thornier heart of the problem?

In stark comparison with the UK’s 2020 median salary of £31,461 for full-time employees, the sub-£20,000 wage for an NHS nurse is measly, and a weekly ovation seems unlikely to miraculously rectify this wrong. Upon news of the rebrand, Twitter has ruptured, with incensed users boycotting the applause to share the hashtag “ThunderclapForCarers” in an attempt to pressurise the Government into bumping up NHS wages.

The Thursday-night theatrics have clearly irked the nerves of Keir Starmer, who tweeted, “clapping isn’t enough. They need to be paid properly and given the respect they deserve.” His deputy, Angela Rayner, evidently has even less faith in the mental calibre of her opposition, opting for the more caveman-esque “Claps = good. Pay rise = better” in the hope that, this way, the Conservatives might finally get the message.

Clap for Carers opens doors to dialogue and debate, it is in our hands to wring Westminster into action

Dishy Rishi has stepped up to the plate, rewarding more than a million NHS staff with a salary rise, despite his otherwise all-encompassing public sector pay freeze, announced in November’s Spending Review. Yet this is where the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s magic mula tree stops giving, and healthcare workers rightfully feel short-changed.

Ultimately, however, the nation’s round of applause is not the real issue at hand. Clap for Carers opens doors to dynamic dialogue and debate, and the baton is now in our hands to wring Westminster into action, and lobby for at-long-last change. As asinine anti-vaxxers proliferate prosaic misinformation, it is increasingly important for us to take pride in our NHS, and a weekly whoop for its workers does next to no harm.

Crime minister Kit Malthouse has encouraged snooping on suspects breaching coronavirus rules next door, yet I argue otherwise. A winter lockdown is a harbinger of much doom and gloom, and, for your elderly neighbour, isolating alone, an 20:00 conversation over a hedge may be the only social contact she has. At a time when Britain is dismally divided on most topics, remaining unanimously united in one is worth its weight in gold.

Illustration by Amber Conway.

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