A “Your Country Needs You” for the Pandemic Moment

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We are in a war with an enemy that is ruthless, cruel and subtle. Casualties exceed those from the Battle of Britain in World War II. We are losing.

The enemy has no scruples. He attacks the old, the vulnerable, the poor. He is opportunistic. If he sees a chance to take the life of someone strong, he will do so. The death he inflicts is merciless and ugly. He is content to cripple, to wound, to exhaust. He will leave us with long term suffering — and the economy harm that entails — in up to fifteen cases in one hundred. He is invisible. He takes the form of those we know, those we love. …

The most predictable sequel ever written

Dude in protective gear with coffee reads newspaper. For some reason the background is pink. It looks weird.
Dude in protective gear with coffee reads newspaper. For some reason the background is pink. It looks weird.
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Well, here the fuck we are again. Sorry for swearing (not sorry) but REALLY. Let it never be said that this was not predictable, and indeed predicted up the goddam viral wazoo. I have never been entirely clear on what a wazoo might be, though one has suspicions, and I doubt very much that viruses have them, but EVEN SO.

My GOD could it have been any more obvious?

Let’s recap.

In March, after a couple of weeks of trying to get my head around what was happening, I wrote this:

You cannot control the spread of the virus if you do not make a major effort to find it, and this is one of the things that we do not appear to be doing right now. As of yesterday, the number of tests we doing in the UK was falling as the number of positive results was rising. …

And that is why you should listen to me right now about COVID-19

Hi, my name is Nick, and I’m a Bullshit Artist.

I say that with pride. It is a massively powerful skillset, and I’m very good at it. It’s not a particular distinction or an inborn talent. I was educated at a north London public school which produces Bullshit Artists of considerable attainment and fluency, and then at Cambridge University, which is famous for producing the kinds of Bullshit Artists who make some of the UK’s funniest comedy.

Please note that this is not a side product. It is the main event. At fourteen I was told it was time to start thinking about bullshit seriously as a life skill. “Sooner or later, an examiner or a job interviewer will ask you a question to which you do not know the answer. There are no points for saying ‘I don’t know.’” …

A Design for Living in the time of Coronavirus

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[Image in Public Domain, from NIH via Wikipedia]

[Edits moved to the bottom for ease of reading]

First, the bad news

Here’s the problem, so that you can understand where I’m coming from: I think we’re screwing this up — or rather, as with the climate crisis and the early days of HIV, and for sure as with Mutual Assured Destruction — it’s being screwed up for us. That is to say that Boris Johnson and his government are failing us in a critical moment.

The World Health Organisation has talked about “alarming levels of inaction”. I think that’s us (as well as, inevitably, Donald Trump. I’m just not getting into that. It’s terrifying, and I just… can’t. …

– putting words to the decisionmaking churn –

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Image via Pexels

This election is a hellscape and I hate it. The idea that Boris Johnson can be leading in the polls actually just appalls me. If he had no other sins to account for, the attempted pro-rogation of Parliament struck me as one of the most deeply disturbing British political acts of my lifetime. Austerity was horrible, but it was exactly what you expect from the Conservative party – the instinctive and uneven closure of the public purse in crisis, in spite of the suffering that causes. I don’t like it, but it’s not as if people don’t know they’re voting for that each and every time they put this lot in power. Pro-rogation was something else, something almost dictatorial: a new radicalised right wing populist government attempting to roll over the House of Commons to enact its policies without democratic checks. It was a test of strength and popular reaction. The Supreme Court held firm and Downing Street folded. …

In which the British Electorate is dragged back to the polls to complete its unfinished business; Boris Johnson finds out whether he’s really that charming; and Jeremy Corbyn has to write a manifesto which satisfies his Conference.

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Photo by Snapwire

Since 2016 British politics has increasingly resembled the swansong tour of one of those rock bands with randomised umlauts. Jack Böx and the Zömbies. The original Jack died of an overdose in 1987, but here’s the band, still going strong. Or, if not strong, at least loud.

Boris Johnson, in the role of Böx 2019, will finally discover whether he’s charming and wild enough to make up for an absolute inability to play guitar, hold a tune, or indeed do anything associated with the front man’s job. …

A low-wonk guide to actual democratic process in the UK

You may have heard that the line from Downing Street is that it’s too late to avoid a No Deal Brexit. If so, you will no doubt be ASTONISHED to hear that this is not entirely accurate.

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Happily, there are people in the world who know more about the UK’s constitutional workings than Boris Johnson, who reportedly once likened ministerial office to making a rousing speech to a public school rugby team. …

Michel Barnier reminded me of a story about Britain and Germany

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Girders at Hinkle Fieldhouse, by JKBrooks85, via Wikipedia.

“That’s what they’re trying to do with Brexit,” Barnier apparently told his team during one of the pauses in Theresa May’s apparently ridiculous negotiations, “take an old car and restore it.”

Once upon a time, for a short while, I was a guest worker at a metalworks in Germany. From the early hours until three in the afternoon, I made girders and other bits you use to build houses and roofs, wearing a cloth cap to control my embarrassingly long hair and watched over by two endlessly patient guys, one of whom was called Egon, and the other I can only remember as Baloo from the Jungle Book, because he was a big man with a big laugh and worker’s muscle hidden by a properly formidable stomach. They were enormously kind to me and I was a prat. (I tried not to be, but I was only technically a grown-up. What do you want from me? …

Theresa May is creating a crisis moment — but what will she do with it?

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Theresa May under Open Gov’t Licence v3.0

It is possible that she’s just lost it. We tend to assume that public figures are in full possession of their faculties — partly because the alternative is utterly terrifying, and partly because a political debate in which everyone just accuses everyone else of being mad doesn’t really get very far, and contrary to present appearances our system is based on the idea of collegial debate. The “Loyal Opposition” is there to temper the government’s worser impulses and present counter-arguments. Not being in government is, perversely, to have a fundamental role in the process of government.

But if Theresa May were the boss of a local business and it was going as badly as this and meeting this kind of resistance to a flagship product, and if everyone was just vile to her day in and day out and told her she was a monster and blocked her every effort at delivering what she thought the customer wanted… we might well give credence to the idea that a sudden stasis and an apparent inability to move in any reasonable direction meant she’d just tipped over into an emotional and cognitive halting state. There’s no reason I know of that that cannot be true of a Prime Minister. …


All right, look: I can’t keep up. Okay? I have work, but even if I did not, there is absolutely NO WAY I could keep up with the torrent of crazy rushing through Britain’s public sphere right now. It’s not a flood, it’s an actual sea level rise. One day the waters may recede, but that day is not — repeat NOT — today.

This my soundtrack for January in the UK:


Okay. Let’s start on Sunday, when the world was young. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, went on the Andrew Marr show and talked about Brexit. You can see the whole interview here. Corbyn comes on at around 35:00 minutes and stays to the end. …


Nick Harkaway

Author - homepage at http://www.nickharkaway.com.

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