The last time we had one ( a ‘winter of discontent, that is) was 1978-79. A period characterised by strikes and malcontents. To say that the country was in a state of abject beleaguerment would be a gross understatement. Jump a little over 40 years and we have all become cast members in a shitshow that becomes more perplexing and confusing than anything Poirot has had to unravel.
Chief villain and architect of all this guff is our very own Prime Minister. Since December 2019 (actually long long before then) he has demonstrated with éclat and élan how not to do well, just about anything. His government swept to power firstly because the last Labour leader alienated just about every possible voter in the UK and secondly because a wave of nationalism that had been sweeping across the world finally made it to England. However, woefully inexperienced and sodden behind the ears, he brought a group of hitherto unheard of MPs together to form a cabinet of ministers. A group that would be charged with running our country; balancing the books; dealing with employment issues; defence; the continued threat of terrorism; the delicate nature of foreign relations; winning over voters (especially in these shores) and, well just being ‘our leader’.
Little did we know that within three months a silent assassin would emerge from the shadows and start taking lives at random. And at quite a right rate, too. But wait, thank the Lord we knew we had our very own Captain Fantastic to lead us robustly through our greatest collective challenge since World War II. Imagine if instead we had been faced with an individual who thrived on japery and buffoonery…..that would have been terrible.
Having made a profusion of calamitous decisions in March which doubtless resulted in needless deaths, one would be forgiven for thinking that, if absolutely nothing else, we would learn from the last 7 months as we stare into the abyss for what is unquestionably now a ‘second wave’. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Learn what we could and should do and what we could and should not do. Learn to listen to those who know their ‘stuff’. The medics, the doctors, the virologists, the immunologists, the epidemiologists et cetera.
Esteemed medics like Chris Whitty (above), Chief Medical Officer for England and Wales and a man who has visibly aged alarmingly since March, has seen his advice appear to often be treated with scorn and sometimes even overruled and ignored. The other evening, when England’s grand ‘3-tier’ plan was revealed his initial comment (and he was last to be asked to speak) was that the measures ‘will likely not be enough’. Great. Cheers Chris mate. But at least he was honest with us.
Almost with effortless poise, the UK government, led by ‘you know who’ have managed, without much difficulty, to divide every nook and cranny of the country with a series of baffling and indecipherable rules. It feels like Johnson et alia are waiting behind a tree armed with baseball bats and as we saunter pass they lunge out and whack us. At least back in March it was the virus that was the aggressor.
The government’s own Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has already given a morass of advice, much of which has been largely ignored. Most significant of all, they warned the government around mid-September that the country faced a ‘very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences’ unless ‘immediate action’ was taken by the imposition of a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ to reduce the spread of the virus.
The advice by them was not adopted. The return to schools and universities has clearly backfired and should not have taken place as it was evidently premature. Political pressure to allow parents (who many realised since March that teachers are actually very worthwhile) to return to work was ill-advised and should certainly not have been implemented full-time. Incidentally, it has now been uniformly adopted by all UK nations that we return to ‘working from home where possible’ – what, then, of teachers? Do they not count? Where is the ‘duty of care’ towards them? If they contract this disease will it have been ‘reasonable foreseeable’ as the law requires it to be before any legal action is initiated?? It’s kind of hard to see that it wasn’t.
Of course a balance, a very fine balance, has to be struck between ‘health’ and the ‘economy’, but without the first there can be no second. The untold numbers of people that will have developed cancer, some now devastatingly untreatable, is likely to be considerable and is an issue that has to be addressed. I, like many, was terrified back in March/April to even contemplate a trip to my GP. I was fearful of catching the virus but also for being accused of wasting their time as they had ‘more important issues to deal with’. I am not alone in those thoughts. Not by a long way.
The university debacle is truly scandalous when you see the clear correlation behind thousands of ‘young’ people moving all over the country, mingling and partying freely without any cognisance of the rules and, now, potentially bringing the virus back home with them as an extremely unwelcome present. Whilst the young are (relatively) unlikely to be seriously affected by this disease, they remain very potent carriers and this is, in part, what we are seeing now.
Perhaps one of the scariest elements to Johnson’s latest rant and adoption of measures is that it appears now he is giving scant regard to science and instead is continuing on his one man mission to ‘show them how we do it here in good old Blighty’. Except that we have one of the highest pro-rata fatality rates in the World, despite having a population of just under 68 million. Nobody, not least the government, has proffered a response to that.
The latest raft of measures in England are perplexing at best. Even here in Scotland, most are unsure where we can go, for how long and with whom. What can we eat, drink, do? Should we stay at home and order our shopping online to be delivered or still go to the supermarket and joust with a life or death sprint up the dairy aisle? The advice is hardly uniform, even within one of the countries that form the United Kingdom. (Incidentally, we are anything but ‘united’ and yesterday’s poll about 58% of Scots wanting independence is hardly a surprise).
The ‘3-tier’ system in England and Scotland’s equivalent are only delaying the inevitable – a full lockdown (call it a ‘circuit breaker if you want) is on the cards and not dealing with it now is akin to not visiting the dentist ASAP after a filling falls out. Why could this not simply have been invoked a few weeks ago when we could have been sitting here today looking at a decline of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths instead of the grim daily updates that remind of earlier this year? Good on Northern Ireland for just taking the plunge now. We all won’t be too far behind but of course by the time we do join them there will have been thousands more cases, admissions to hospital and deaths, many of which, potentially, needn’t have happened.
I have said this before (many times) on these pages but there will have to be a ‘public enquiry’ when this farrago finally abates. Whilst people will wish to see transparency and accountability, I have a small tip for you: ‘don’t hold your breath’.
One would have hoped, expected even, that since March we would, at the very least, have reflected and learned how to adopt a different approach. How ‘not’ to do it this time. Alas, it would appear not.
Once again plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.