When the history of this epidemic is written, one of the villains of the story will be Boris Johnson. At a time of global emergency, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson lived down to the very worst expectations of his critics, and was absent from duty. This morning in Boris Johnson’s household Carrie Symonds is asking him if he’s left the kettle boiling – only to be told that it’s the sound of notifications on his phone as social media erupts in outrage as the true extent of him and his party’s dereliction of duty and abnegation of responsibility comes to light.
In one of the most damning articles ever published in the British press – and moreover in a traditionally Conservative newspaper – the Sunday Times today lays out the evidence for Boris Johnson’s shocking lack of diligence and interest in performing the task which he so eagerly sought. The position of Prime Minister is one which he has lied in order to get, which he has cheated for, deceived for, and which he has led the UK to ruin for. It should come as no surprise that he is not performing honestly and with honour in a position which he acted so dishonestly and dishonourably to win. Even so, it’s still shocking to see the extent of it laid bare.
The article itself hides behind Rupert Murdoch’s paywall, but some kind soul has published an archive version which is free for all to read. If you haven’t already done so, you should read it now. And you should also make sure that everyone you know reads it too, especially those who still have some lingering trust in the good faith of this British government to look after our interests. The link to the full article is HERE.
It has been known for some time that a pandemic was one of the most serious threats that the world faced. Like an earthquake in California, no scientist could say when the big one would strike, they could only warn that it was inevitable that at some point it would. It would be bad enough that if the British government was warned that a serious crisis was in the offing, it was to do nothing. It’s worse than that. Between 2001 and 2010 the UK was a world leader in terms of its preparations and planning for a pandemic. However when the Conservatives took office the British government ran down its preparations, defunded them, and deliberately neglected them in order to focus on Brexit and austerity. They knew the earthquake was coming, and they deliberately undermined the foundations of the house in order to give tax breaks to the wealthy. Calls to order PPE fell on deaf ears. Scientific warnings went unheeded. And the Prime Minister took time off to play happy families with his girlfriend.
At the start of February, when it ought to have been clear that a major catastrophe was about to befall us unless immediate action was taken, Boris Johnson gave a speech in London in which he likened the UK to a superhero defying the virus to keep free trade going. It was the crassest example imaginable of delusional British exceptionalism. Boris Johnson was determined to keep the economy running, while other nations went into lockdown – because they were lesser breeds. The cost in human lives never entered his head. He only thought about the cost to his pocket and the bank balances of the rich.
In the words of a senior Downing Street advisor quoted by the Sunday Times, “We were the envy of the world but pandemic planning became a casualty of the austerity years when there were more pressing needs.” Those more pressing needs were the political need to blame the poor for the fecklessness of the financial sector, to run down public services, and to pursue a no-deal Brexit. People are dying because the British state, the Conservative party, prioritised private greed over the public good.
We have learned that even as the true dangers of this pandemic were coming to light, Boris Johnson couldn’t be bothered to attend the first five Cobra meetings, being too preoccupied with his personal life. He wasn’t interested in chairing meetings. Colleagues were told to keep briefing papers short, because the Prime Minister couldn’t be arsed to read anything longer than a page. And instead of attending and chairing vital meetings to plan the UK’s response to the looming threat of Covid-19, Boris Johnson preferred to spend time relaxing with his girlfriend, and trying to repair the rift his new relationship had created between himself and his children that he actually acknowledges.
Now the UK is on course to be the European state with the highest death toll from this virus, both in absolute terms and per head of population. It’s for good reason that the Conservative government only publishes the statistics for deaths in hospitals, because there are reports that there could already be as many as 7500 additional death in care homes on top of the 15,464 that the UK government’s figures admit to. This is the estimate made by the care home organisation Care England, and it’s several times higher than the estimate of 1500 made by the British government.
If this estimate is accurate this would take the true number of deaths from the virus in the UK to around 23000, a death toll which is the same of that of Italy and greater than Spain’s. And we’ve not seen the last yet. The blame for this lies squarely with Boris Johnson and the British government which he leads. Still want to clap for Boris? There are 15,464 people plus God knows how many more who won’t be clapping for anything ever again. The likes of Tory apologist Toby Young think that Boris Johnson was sent by God. It can only be because God has run out of locusts.
The catalogue of errors and missteps is legion. Far from ensuring that the UK possessed sufficient stockpiles of PPE to see the NHS through a pandemic, in January this year this British government exported hundreds of thousands of items from its stockpile to China.
The government initially believed that this epidemic was going to act like the regular outbreaks of flu, and so pursued its disastrous herd immunity strategy. It was only after the realisation dawned that Covid-19 is not like the flu, that as many as 250,000 would have to die before sufficient natural immunity built up within the population was the policy abandoned. Or at least we were told it was abandoned. We are still nowhere near the level of testing required in order to achieve the kind of test, trace, isolate policy which has allowed countries like South Korea or Singapore to contain the epidemic successfully. The Sunday Times tells us, in the final indignity, that the British model of epidemic preparedness was adopted by Singapore, the difference is that Singapore implemented it whereas the UK abandoned it to pursue Brexit and austerity.
We see the UK’s lack of planning and preparedness in the fact that it’s one of the few places in Europe where travellers can fly in without having to go into quarantine. As a consequence the UK is now a magnet for the super rich who are using their private jets to come to the UK to escape more severe restrictions elsewhere.
We’re living in a state where a 99 year old man does more to assist the NHS than the British government. Tom Moore is rightly hailed for his magnificent efforts, but a society only needs to rely on charity when government has failed. It is a scandal that public services have to be funded by the efforts of an elderly man doing a marathon around his garden on a zimmer frame.
Boris Johnson has given abundance evidence to those who said that Boris Johnson merely wanted to win the job of Prime Minister, he didn’t actually want to do it. It was always, and is now, an exercise in entitlement and egoism from a supremely privileged charlatan. As a result of the negligence, lack of preparedness, complacency, and sheer outright British exceptionalist arrogance of the Westminster government which he leads, thousands of British citizens may have died needlessly. We are paying for his entitlement with our lives.
In any other profession, Boris Johnson would be facing charges of criminal negligence. As it is, he will try to ride out this storm, and then deflect criticisms by promising a public enquiry after the crisis is over. This will be a public enquiry in the long tradition of British public enquiries, full of activity, witnesses, and earnest promises which will conclude by telling us that a couple of minor civil servants may have been less than diligent in performing their duties while letting the likes of Boris Johnson off free.
What ought to be written on the political tombstone of this Conservative government are the words of a senior advisor within the Department of Health who told the Sunday Times, “We could have been Germany but instead we were doomed by our incompetence, our hubris and our austerity.”
40 new hospitals was a lie. We are better prepared for a pandemic than anywhere else was a lie. £350M for the NHS when we leave the EU was a lie. 50,000 extra nurses was a lie. There’s plenty of PPE to go round was a lie. There’s plenty of opportunities awaiting the UK once we leave the EU was a lie. Scotland you’re an equal and much loved partner in a family of nations was a lie. Lying on this scale isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.
Anywhere where there’s a properly functioning democracy, a government would not survive a scandal of this magnitude. Where incompetence and deceit on such an epic scale has been revealed, leading to the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands, the Prime Minister should resign and the government should fall. But this is the UK, not a properly functioning democracy. This is a government which cannot be held to account. Scotland can only seek to escape from it.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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