Day 33 of shielding. Here’s a collection of pandemic-related thoughts.
Good Deeds, Bad Deeds
Politically speaking, Boris Johnson has only ever committed
one good deed. That was to catch a moderately severe case of coronavirus, and
recover. When Johnson is fit to return to work – and he is fully entitled to a
period of recuperation in line with medical advice – perhaps, just perhaps, we
may all benefit from his experience. We can only hope that he has learnt to be
a little less cavalier with the nation’s health, having been close-ish* to
death himself. The idea of Johnson being a voice for caution is truly bizarre,
but then stranger things have happened in these past few weeks.
(* We may not know for a long time just how close he was. The idea that anything that may emerge from Number Ten’s spokesperson bears any resemblance to the truth is just plain fanciful.)
In all other respects, Johnson has been a disaster in all phases of his adult life.
- As a journalist, Johnson’s utter indifference to the difference between truth and lies has caused real and lasting harm. His spell as the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent in the 1990s is an obvious case in point. Almost single-handedly, he invented a whole series of myths (lies, in plain speaking) about the EU and its workings. This laid the foundation for the disaster of the 2016 referendum result. Under his editorship of The Spectator, a thousand far-right poisonous columns were encouraged, further polluting the political discourse in the UK.
- As London mayor, he first took the glory for all the hard work done by his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, in the 2012 London Olympics. As mayor, he was lazy, never on top of the detail and despised by the majority of GLA staff – information from a former GLA staffer. His tenure was all photo-opportunities (see, for example, Turd On the Wire), no substance (except for a legacy of failed vanity projects: Boris Island, Garden Bridge, etc.).
- So is it any surprise, then, that these same deep personality traits have been repeated during his months as Prime Minister? Missing five Cobra meetings is unprecedented – to use a much-overworked word in these times. So add “holidays” to “photo-opportunities” to the previous paragraph.
So, no. I can’t think of a single thing to add to the “good” pile apart from falling ill.
Clowns and Pygmies
And don’t get me started on the sick, sick, joke laughingly called the UK’s Cabinet.
I have to keep pinching myself to remember that the de facto acting Prime Minister is one Dominic Raab. Raab: a man so far out of his depth that even the Mariana Trench doesn’t cut it as a metaphor. Raab: a man so useless he didn’t make it into the last round of voting for Tory leader last year. And the rest of the Cabinet, too rubbish to be worth remembering their names, are just a ragbag of zealots and yes-men (and a smattering of women).
We should never forget that Johnson chose his team on the basis of loyalty to the cause of Br*xit: courtiers and sycophants at the Court of the Man Who Would Be World King. Not one single member of the Cabinet was chosen on the basis of their knowledge, skills or even basic competence to do the job.
One Grownup in the Chamber
Which brings us to the one grownup in the room. Or at least in the chamber of the House of Commons. I cannot begin to describe my relief that, at long last, we have an effective, intelligent and capable Leader of the Opposition. By all accounts Kier Starmer wiped the floor with Raab at PMQs in the Commons last week. He struck just the right tone and balance between supporting the Government’s efforts to combat the pandemic and forensic examination of their many errors. It’s reasonable to expect those who govern us to be held to account, not least because (with honourable exceptions) the media are doing such a piss poor job of it.
To be fair to the BBC, critical and intelligent analysis does get airtime, even in the BBC’s news bulletins and high marks to Emily Maitlis and Newsnight for some sharp reporting. I look forward as various members of the Shadow Cabinet – not least David Lammy, of whom I’m a big fan – get more fully to grips with their briefs. Good decision making and competent governance depend upon good Opposition.
(Non-) Testing Times
The woeful lack of Government preparedness and lack of attention to warnings in the January to early March period is now becoming clearer. The lies, cover-ups and attempts to shift goalposts and rewrite history undermine our trust in those in whom we must perforce place it. Ten years of austerity has left the public realm in a weakened state – but some of the catching up has been quite impressive. The problem is that it is the heroic efforts of thousands, possibly millions of ordinary workers – many low paid – which are putting right the policy failures of years of Tory rule.
The worst fears of ventilator shortages and hospital ICUs becoming overwhelmed seem to have passed – for now. But the continuing struggle for PPE remains a national disgrace and an international laughing stock. Ministers and senior officials have given at least four versions of the reasons behind the UK failing to participate in joint EU purchasing schemes. So we know that at least three of them are lies. A recurrent theme of over-promising and under-delivering is wearing thin the nation’s patience.
As a member of the “shielding” fraternity, I await evidence of any Government thinking on an exit strategy. Do I really have to stay at home until there’s a vaccine or effective treatment?
Worshippers at the Shrine of Science
The UK Government’s repeated mantra of “following The Science” obfuscates the glaring fact of the UK repeatedly not following WHO advice. Rules for the wearing of PPE change depending on the level of supply shortages, so, in this aspect at least, “following The Science” is a lie. The secrecy surrounding the membership of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) committee and the revelation that the mad zealot SPAD Cummings has made several appearances further undermines the Government mantra. And as anyone with any insight into things scientific knows, “The Science” is always uncertain, tentative, confusing and sometimes contradictory.
So WHOSE science Ministers are influenced by is of utmost importance. The screeching U-turn on 23rd March when “herd immunity” was dropped in favour of lockdown is the most obvious example so far. This was the day when one lot of scientists were so alarmed at government policy that they actually shouted loud enough to be heard over the siren songs of the behavioural scientists who had hitherto held the Prime Minister’s (short-spanned) attention.
Public Health Announcement
Finally, talk of short attention spans brings me inevitably to the one country which is making a bigger mess of this than the UK: the United States of America. So, in the best traditions of Public Health Announcements, here’s my contribution.
Want to cure yourself of the coronavirus? Just follow these easy steps.
- (a) Procure yourself a sun-bed or (b) travel to one of your own resorts or golf courses in a hot, sunny part of your country.
- If (b), find a lounger in a sunny spot.
- Pour yourself a long, cool glass of bleach or household disinfectant. (As you are American, try not to put too many ice cubes in your glass, as this will dilute the beneficial effects.)
- Ask a minion to get you a powerful light source: an industrial strength laser is ideal.
- Settle comfortably on the sunbed or lounger.
- Shine the light source directly onto your oversized abdomen (ignore any burning smells).
- Drink the contents of the glass in one go.
- Lie back and relax, contented with how much joy you have just brought to the world.
Health warning: do NOT attempt this at home, unless your name is Donald Trump.