“Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is one too many”, says a spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. “One person dying or getting Covid in a care home is one too many”, says Nicola Sturgeon, adding that her Scottish Government was “very focused” on mitigating the risks. “One patient catching Covid in hospital is one too many”, says Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, the umbrella group for NHS trusts south of the border.
Throughout 2020 – a year dominated by illness, economic crises and social evils – the phrase ‘one too many’ has never been far from anyone’s lips. “One inaccuracy is one too many and we must not be complacent in our efforts to make further improvements,” says Greater Manchester’s Assistant Chief Constable, Rob Potts, in response to a furore over the force cancelling crime reports. “Every case of sexual violence is one too many and universities are committed to becoming safer places to live, work and study,” says a spokeswoman for Universities UK, after a report found increasing numbers of assaults on campus.
It’s pretty clear what bureaucracies and politicians are trying to achieve by using the phrase ‘one too many’: they are ‘virtue signalling’ zero tolerance of a social ill, which they are doing their utmost to eradicate. But, sub-consciously at least, aren’t they also doing some quite different? By raising the hypothetical possibility of just one death of a rough sleeper, just one campus rape or just one Covid case caught in English hospitals, they are also highlighting the absurdity of aiming for zero.Continue reading