Back in early March the Daily Telegraph, the house zine of the Boris Johnson fan club, published a piece by its commissioning editor Asa Bennett which extolled the British Government’s efforts to manage the coronavirus crisis. The article is hiding behind a paywall, which is possibly just as well as it helps to spare Asa’s blushes. Or at least it would spare his blushes if he wasn’t a cheerleader for Boris Johnson, a job for which the only qualification is to have your sense of shame surgically removed via your colon. Or better still, never to have possessed any conception of shame in the first place – which explains why Michael Gove enjoys such prominence in public life.
“Firmly and calmly, the UK is leading Europe in the fight against the coronavirus,” gushed Asa as he praised the efforts of Matt Hancock and the Tory Government’s “pragmatic and proportonate approach”. The UK, he told us, “is empirically the most capable country in Europe at dealing with an epidemic.” He oozed on, “Boffins deemed that the UK was second only to the United States in its ability to deal with medical threats, and the best in the world at fighting a disease like Covid-19.”
Oh dear. Well, that one has aged really well, hasn’t it.
As of Friday 8 May, the UK was indeed leading Europe and it is also second only to the USA. Way to go, Asa. It’s just that it was leading in terms of the number of deaths from Covid-19 and behind only the USA in the recorded death toll. While ordinary key workers magnificently rise to the challenge posed by this crisis, the British Government has been mired in incompetence, confusion, and mismanagement.
Despite the paeans of the Daily Telegraph, a leaked government report published this week proves that the British Government was warned well in advance that its preparations for a pandemic were hopelessly inadequate. The report, commissioned by Public Health England after a pandemic simulation in 2016, warned the British Government that the contingencies prepared for a potential pandemic would not be able to cope. It specifically warned that social care providers would be unprepared and left without vital equipment. Despite this, the British Government did nothing, obsessed as it was with Brexit means Brexit. British Government ministers might try to hide behind “the science”, they might try to avoid comparisons with other countries in Europe. But the inescapable fact is that they were warned to get the UK prepared four years ago, and they did nothing.
This is a government which is incapable even the most basic function of a government, delivering a clear and unambiguous message, never mind delivering PPE to frontline workers or delivering the number of tests that it promised.
Yesterday the papers were telling us that Boris Johnson was set to loosen the lockdown on Monday of next week, hailing it as magic Monday. This came about following the usual secret briefings from British Government figures off the record to favoured journalists. However this blew up in Johnson’s face yesterday as everyone who isn’t the right wing press pointed out that the UK is not remotely close to being in a position to make a significant liberalisation of the existing restrictions. It would risk a second peak in infections and even more people could die. Nicola Sturgeon announced that she would not be pressurised into loosening lockdown measures in Scotland until the scientific advice was solidly behind it. The sound of handbrakes screeching as Number 10 performed a rapid U-turn could be heard as far away as Scotland.
However now there’s considerable confusion amongst the public about what is and is not permissible. The police have warned that it may not be possible for them to enforce lockdown restrictions this weekend. This has not been helped by wall to wall coverage on the telly of VE Day street parties in England, which isn’t at all about British nationalism. Oh no. However not even the desperate to be Brits of BBC Scotland news management were able to find a street party in Scotland to show off. Possibly this is not unrelated to the fact that the very few houses and gardens bedecked with patriotically British bunting in Scotland tend to be occupied by middle aged men sporting shaved heads and Rangers shirts and which are blasting out sectarian music.
Back in WW2 the UK was led by Winston Churchill. These days it’s led by a wannabe Churchill. It’s like being nostalgic for Elvis and electing an overweight out of tune half cut Elvis impersonator in a bad wig. Boris Johnson’s government is incapable of giving out a consistent message. Even a small child is able to do that much, which means that we’ve now got a government in Westminster which is less capable than a five year old on a sugar high.
The mixed messaging from the British Government has meant that some people are now confused about what sort of trips they are allowed to do. Cumbria police tweeted that not everyone is obeying the lockdown restrictions, after they stopped a car on the M6 heading to Scotland. The vehicle contained a family of four from London who were heading to Motherwell for a three day holiday.
Some people are just unbelievable. I mean – Motherwell. When was the last time you heard of anyone going to Motherwell on a recreational trip that didn’t involve class A drugs? Because that’s the only way you could ever imagine that you’re going to sunbathe on the golden sands amidst the balmy palm trees on Merry Street. I’m not sure what’s worse, the fine they’re going to get, or the fact they were going to Motherwell on holiday. Motherwell is so 2019. Everyone knows that Coatbridge is where it’s at this season. The police say that the vehicle’s occupants were advised to turn around and head back to London, but let’s be honest here, if you’re dealing with people who think Motherwell is a holiday destination they are probably too far gone for advice.
A group of eejits from London got stopped on the M6, but multimillionaire Tory donor Christopher Moran made it all the way from London to his sprawling Highland estate. The police have not advised him of anything, but then when you’re a Tory laird you’re way beyond being told to consider the needs of other people. You’ve already pretty much admitted that you define yourself by entitlement, privilege and greed.
The real lessons we need to learn from this terrible crisis are that we’re not all in this together, that the British Government’s lack of preparedness is lethal, that the British state has failed its citizens at the most fundamental level, and most of all that Scotland would certainly have done better without being tied to the millstone of British exceptionalism. It’s not just Daily Telegraph articles which haven’t aged well during this crisis, it’s also the reputation of the British state.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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