On Wednesday we had the first Prime Minister’s Questions since Boris Johnson returned from his bout of illness. He returned to a quiet House of Commons, with empty benches as MPs observed social distancing measures. He must be wishing he was still in bed binge watching Netflix and demanding that his girlfriend make him soup, because stripped of the baying backbenches of sycophantic Tory MPs, the fnaughing one was clueless and utterly outmatched by Labour’s new leader Keir Stormdrain. He kept turning around, looking for a catcall of encouragement from his posse, but his posse was viewing the scene remotely and unable to drown out Johnson’s opponents with a sound wall of derision. The bully was without his gang, and the immature and needy little boy who lurks just underneath Boris Johnson’s very thin skin was on full display. If you’ve ever seen those videos on Youtube where someone plays a music video without the actual music and you’re left laughing at how ridiculous and risible the actions of the performers would be in real life, that’s Boris Johnson performing in the Commons without his backup singers on the back benches.
PMQs was on the same day as the official death toll in the UK exceeded the 30,000 barrier and rose to 30,076. This is the number of those who have died and who had tested positive for the virus, but given the low rates of testing for the virus in the UK many will have passed away without ever having been tested and will not be included in the official statistics. The true number of those who have died of Covid-19 in the UK is considerably higher than the number admitted to by the British Government. By Tuesday the Financial Times had put the estimate of those who have died from the virus in the UK at 53,800. See: https://www.ft.com/content/e32ddbf7-0826-4cf7-9a73-18611eb29c23
Of course Boris Johnson didn’t bother to present the daily press briefing himself in order to tell the UK that his government’s negligence had allowed its own count of the death toll to exceed 30,000. Two gigs in one day is too much for our part time Prime Minister. He left delivering the bad news to Robert Jenrick. Yeah. I’d never heard of him either. He’s the housing secretary, and he’s precisely the kind of middle management nonentity who’s going to cop the blame for this whole disaster once the inevitable public enquiry gets underway, allowing the Boris Johnsons and Michael Goves of this world to skip away without consequences to their careers or their bank balances.
Johnson doesn’t want us to compare the UK with other countries around the world. This is not unrelated to the fact that the UK is performing so poorly. You can bet your last piece of PPE that if the UK was performing a lot better then Boris Johnson would be the first to cite international comparisons. So instead let’s look at what other places are saying about the UK’s handling of this crisis. What you will look for in vain is anyone remarking how well the British Government is doing, how compassionate it is, how competent British ministers are.
Across the world, British exceptionalism is being held up as a dismal example of what not to do. The Guardian has compiled its own list of criticisms of the British Government in newspapers in other countries which are looking askance at the UK. There is no shortage of examples. An Australian commentator told the Sydney Morning Herald that the British Government had “handled the earliest stages negligently”, producing “a shambles of mixed messaging, poor organisation and a complacent attitude that what was happening in Italy wouldn’t happen here”. The paper reported that the UK is experiencing “the biggest failure in a generation”. See: https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/biggest-failure-in-a-generation-where-did-britain-go-wrong-20200428-p54o2d.html
The conservative Uruguayan daily El Observador tells its readers that the British Government is guilty of three crucial errors which have left the UK the worst affected state in Europe and the second worst affected in the world. The first is that Boris Johnson underestimated the seriousness of the epidemic in the early stages and failed to respond to it quickly. The second is that the British Government attempted to introduce a failed strategy – so-called herd immunity – and only introduced lockdown after the virus had been spreading in the population for over a month. Thirdly there have been issues with testing and the supply of equipment. See (in Spanish): https://www.elobservador.com.uy/nota/coronavirus-3-errores-que-llevaron-a-reino-unido-a-convertirse-en-el-pais-de-europa-con-mas-muertos-por-coronavirus-y-el-segundo-del-mundo–20205621159
The Portuguese daily Jornal de Noticías agrees that the crucial error of the British Government was to pursue the herd immunity strategy. However it considers worse still the attitude of a British Government which was more concerned with its battles with the EU. It says that even though the British Government officially denies that herd immunity was its policy, this was indeed the policy which the UK put into practice. The venerable Portuguese newspaper describes this as “the error which put a country in the worst ranking for Covid-19”. See (in Portuguese): https://www.jn.pt/mundo/o-erro-que-pos-um-pais-no-pior-dos-rankings-da-covid-19-12135387.html
Meanwhile Spain’s El Confidencial describes the UK’s response to the coronavirus epidemic as a “British black comedy of covid” which the paper blames on the Prime Minister failing to introduce restrictions until everyone else in Europe had already done so. See (in Spanish): https://www.elconfidencial.com/mundo/europa/2020-05-06/boris-johnson-neil-ferguson-reino-unido_2582247/
In North America, the US digital publication The Intercept tells its readers that Boris Johnson’s lies are killing Britons. See: https://theintercept.com/2020/04/30/boris-johnsons-coronavirus-lies/ The UK is not the beacon that the rest of the world is looking to that Boris Johnson would have us believe it is. It’s being held up as a dire warning of what happens when a charlatan is allowed power.
It’s a pretty desperate state of affairs when you have to look at foreign media in order to find out just how shite your own government is. You’d almost imagine that the British media isn’t as great as it keeps telling us it is. It has failed to hold the British Government to account, and failed to inform the British public of the true extent of Boris Johnson’s mishandling of this crisis. Instead what we get is the insulting jingoism of the BBC giving us Sophie Raworth invoking the spirit of the Blitz.
Tens of thousands of lives have been lost due to the negligence of this British Government. It has failed to implement testing, tracing, and isolating and even now at this late stage the government is nowhere near meeting its targets for testing. It was slow to introduce lockdown measures and squandered the valuable lead that the UK had early on in the outbreak. It has failed to ensure that PPE is supplied to all those key workers who need it. It has politicised its scientific advice by including political appointees on its scientific panel and then compounded the error by refusing to reveal the “science” it claims to be following. The entirely predictable result is that the UK now has the highest death toll of anywhere in Europe, even when based upon the partial figures of the UK Government itself.
In trying to fend off criticism of the British Government’s appalling mishandling of this crisis, Yvonne Doyle, the Medical Director of Public Health England said at the briefing on Wednesday, “There are many different ways of looking at death.” And this is true. There’s looking at a dead body on a mortuary slab. There’s weeping as your loved one’s coffin is sent to a crematorium and you can’t attend due to lockdown. There’s dying alone and afraid in a care home because your family aren’t allowed to sit by your bedside.
We need an apology and government resignations. Not merely the resignations of minor ministers, we need the heads the British Government on a plate. Boris Johnson must go. He was unfortunate in suffering a severe reaction when he was infected and became seriously ill, but even before that he was missing in action. This is a Prime Minister who was far more interested in his complex personal life and in playing to the gallery of British exceptionalism than he was in doing his bloody job. There are 54,000 and rising reasons why Boris Johnson needs to go. The only thing that the British are exceptional for is the amount of pity and sorrow that they elicit from other countries as they gaze in horror at the British black comedy of covid. It’s almost as if they don’t accept any inherent British superiority. Some pow’r has indeed gien us the gift to see ourselves as ithers see us, and it’s nothing that you’re going to see on the BBC.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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