Here we are again. Well, to be precise, here I am. And that’s exactly where I’ve been for the last two weeks – at home. Where I hope you are, if you should Anyway, what’s new? Nothing. Nix. Still, another day, another book to read. This time, it’s Julian Jackson’s biography of Charles de Gaulle, ‘A Certain Idea of France’. Nearly 900 pages about a towering figure in 20th century Europe, and a compellingly contradictory one. So, maybe more about that in a future article. Meanwhile, my wife is on the top floor, busily sanding down a chair in prep for a restoration. I’m on the ground floor, not sanding anything. Role reversal.
Other than that, the Covid-19 affair continues apace, as they say. And this morning, after my flurry of recent critical observations in that hotbed of debate, argument and dumb opinions, Facebook, I gave some thought to how, trying to restrain my natural antipathy to all things ideologically Tory, I think this Government is actually doing.
The conclusion is that considering the years of an ideologically driven policy of ‘austerity’, which has had the effect of depressing and denigrating public services, they’re not doing any worse than you’d expect any mediocre bunch of political chancers to be doing. We’ve had, in the past, Tory politicians who are more talented, more visionary, and more administratively adept; and perhaps my generalisation of the present administration as chancers is unfair. After all, they’re now getting more support to people as time goes by; the ‘lockdown’ will no doubt assist in slowing the spread of the virus down, they’ve held daily briefings, and there’s the benefit of a modern media to help disseminate information. They’ve also managed to create some emergency capacity in hospital beds, of which the Nightingale hospital is an example; others are yet to follow. But the health and social care system, the NHS, and the vast pool of resources held by local authorities have been depleted over the last ten years (by these same politicians) to the point where rather than swinging into action, this modern, wealthy nation has creaked gradually into life.
So what mistakes have been made? in short, the strategy of moving towards ‘herd immunity’ was a mistake, testing wasn’t properly considered early enough, and PPE for people in the Heath and Care and Emergency services has been sadly lacking; the process of building additional ventilators seems slow and cumbersome, and that’s why I suspect the Government is placing so much importance on keeping people at home – so that the peak of cases will come later and give them time to get the other ducks in a row.
And as for ventilators, I wonder why there seems to be so much effort by different consortia to design, test, sign-off and then produce them? Ventilators have been used for decades; presumably the ones we’re using already are fit for purpose? So why not give the appropriate companies the plans, let them get on retooling, then make the bloody things. Why spend time reinventing? Meh. (Speaking of fit-for-purpose, I’ve got serious doubts about the leadership at Public Health England, btw.)
Another issue has been the stream of Government Ministers and advisors contradicting one another; a case of slack message management and discipline. Of course that’s no doubt been hampered by the early disappearance from the scene of Boris Johnson, and his replacement by ‘Crazy Dominic’ Rabb, and ‘The Slippery Spiv’ Michael Gove.
That brings me, finally, to the kernel of today’s musings. Boris Johnson, and the ironies of life that can suddenly surround someone. Boris has for years wanted to be at the top. David Cameron, Gove, Max Hastings et al have borne witness to his unreliability, his unfitness for senior office, his inability to stay loyal to friends. His time as London Mayor showed how he couldn’t keep his concentration on any project for long, and was criminally irresponsible about wasting taxpayers money on vanity projects, designed (if they worked, and most didn’t) to make him the most popular boy in class. And that’s his problem – whatever skills, knowledge, personal charm he possesses, it’s all harnessed for the Boris good rather than the common good. And irony no 1 is that having for so long scrambled and clowned and self-publicised his way into a job that he‘s plainly not suited for, he suddenly finds himself in that job! And the attributes that got him there, of opportunism, of using people, of obfuscation and being a bumbling, buffoonish character – well, they’re exactly what the top job doesn’t require.
Irony no 2 is that Boris, I think, deep inside, is by nature a middle-of-the-road, almost one-nation Tory, with distinct liberal tendencies. But when he saw that his best opportunity to muscle his old schoolmate Cameron out of the way was to adopt the pro-Brexit stance in opposition to the Government, then like a quick change artist, he swapped coats in seconds. Of course, I don’t think in the early days of the Brexit argument he thought for a moment Cameron would lose the argument; he just thought it would mark him out as distinctive for the future. After all, only days before the campaign he was extolling the virtues of the EU, the single market, freedom of movement. Days after, he was sounding like a cross between Farage and Bumble from Rainbow. Then the Brexiteers secured that narrow victory! And Cameron was gone! And the Tories appointed another pro-European turned Eurosceptic-cum-robot dancer in Saint Theresa. Boris kept his powder dry, tried a shambolic stint as Foreign Secretary, then hid for a bit until Theresa went running in cornfields and he took his chance, bu by now with the task of delivering a Brexit which would require him to doff his cap to the right-wing, and steer a course against his natural tendencies. But hey, ambition has always trumped principles for Boris!
Irony no 3 – well, very early in his administration, just as he was showing signs, with a huge majority in his pocket, of being his own man, and seeking to put that clear blue water between austerity and himself, BANG! A naughty, nasty virus comes rampaging across the seas, and lands on these shores, establishing beachheads, overcoming the weak defences, capturing the centres of command. So just like 1939, we call upon the Dunkirk spirit, followed by the Battle of Britain spirit (1940) and the Blitz spirit (also 1940). Well, the Government and the media love to use silly WW2 imagery, so why can’t I use cheap if inaccurate analogies? And this irony is, that after years of making bumbling, incoherent points about Labour economic plans, ‘Corbynomics’ and the rest, his own Chancellor has to go into full-Keynesian mode, and apply a semi-socialist style of intervention. Well, this is embarrassing. So not only does Boris find himself blown off the Brexit course so soon, he turns into Ted Heath!
Irony no 4. That’s the most unfortunate irony of all. Just as Boris Churchill (as he’d love to be) sees his opportunity to show some substance, some statesmanship, or at least some sense of, well, sense, then BANG again, and he’s stricken by the
Nazi menace Covid-19 virus. And he sent to bed, then hospital. So it’s left to Gove et al to be in charge, which hardly gives the impression of strong stable Government. Let’s hope that Boris comes through, if for no other sake than common humanity. After all, it could happen to anyone. Although since a couple of weeks ago he was boasting about meeting virus sufferers and shaking hands, just about the time he started telling us all to be social distant – well then, maybe not anyone.
But Irony no 5, that’s on all of us, because this country has voted a Conservative Government into office for ten years. And the resultant ten years of ‘austerity’ has left us unprepared, weak, and unfit to fight a pandemic, even though the Government’s own exercises concluded that. And then the good electorate repeated the error; well, we can all see how that’s turning out. So if you vote Tory, then fair dos, it’s your democratic right. But you must have realised what jeopardy you were putting our public services, our education system, our police and Armed Forces, and most of all, our NHS in. Because you were warned repeatedly. And if you STILL persisted in spite of that knowledge, then I’ve got to question whether you’re fit to have the vote!
So if you cast your vote for those policies, don’t bother clapping for ‘our wonderful NHS’, or posting on Facebook about ‘our NHS heroes’, because they always been wonderful and heroes. Just don’t be such a hypocrite. And stay safe.
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