The Great Day has arrived. The day when the pubs can throw open their doors and welcome in all those thirsty drinkers who’ve been deprived of a brew all these long, dry lonely weeks. Unless of course they bought any from a supermarket (which most have). Or brewed their own (which some did). In fact, in the first month of lockdown, most of the reasonable estimates were that alcohol sales had gone up by around 30%, so it’s not like people were quaking under the oppressive yoke of enforced temperance.
All those people who said they were dying for a pint are going to have opportunity to demonstrate just how much they really mean it, starting today.
This is now happening as the infection rate, R, is reportedly rising back above the all-important figure of 1 in the capital city. It makes perfect twisted sense, given that almost every element of the management of this situation by central government has been almost precisely calculated to be useless and inept. If you were a cynic, you might even be tempted to wonder if it’s almost intentionally and actively harmful.
It all started with the lockdown announcement itself, back on March 23. For several weeks beforehand, the Prime Minister (more about him later) had, with his usual barely coherent bluster, waved away calls for locking down hotspots, and had even gone as as far as loudly proclaiming how he'd been wandering round blithely disregarding the emerging social distancing guidelines suggested by international bodies like the WHO. This was of course, “Good Old-fashioned British Common Sense”.
So the Great Lockdown began, and soon the supermarket shelves were stripped of basic necessities. There were a few idiots panic-buying, but mostly it wasn't that at all. People doing larger shops than usual, maybe two weeks’ worth instead of one, because they didn’t know when next they could go out (or when things could be delivered), and supply chains that weren’t quite ready for the transition. The reporting didn’t help to stem the worry, but it soon settled down into something more regular and able to be coped with. It’s amazing what can pass for normal if you give it just a little time.
Part of the problem with the early mixed messages was because of other advice the Prime Minister was getting, and a belief that the government could push through herd immunity as a policy action. The source of that rather bleakly Darwinist worldview was, of course, the idiot Grand Vizier, Dominic Cummings. The lockdown announcement itself was a barely concealed panic measure as the PM realised that this time, his usual route of ersatz chummy bluster simply wasn’t going to cut it. Organisations were left high and dry as everything was shut down overnight. We are seeing the worst effects of this now, as the arts sector is in a state of unparalleled meltdown.
People finally learned that being a teacher is not an easy job, but boy have they been quick to bellyache now the complex process of trying to educate their kids is being restarted, wih the most careful of baby steps.
Austerity meant that pandemic response programmes had been cut, so we were poorly prepared and funded, including at local authority level because of the swingeing cuts to their budgets over the last decade. We were scrabbling around for basic equipment like hand gel, masks and other PPE. So we had the weird juxtapsotion of “clapping for the NHS”, with the very people who’d spent a decade defunding and asset stripping it leading the applause. But of course, the Dear Leader doesn’t do “gestures”, does he?
Then there was Captain Tom Moore, a decent man doing a wonderful thing to be sure, but in a rational country he wouldn’t have needed to do it at all. In a rational country, a properly funded public body like the NHS would have had the funds it needed allocated when needed. Instead, we were asked to raise money for NHS charities. Later, the same student nurses who’d cut short their studies to work were told they weren’t providing a service as they were being thrown aside. If this didn’t leave a bitter taste in the mouth, then you clearly weren’t paying suffiicient attention.
Parliament was recalled to run virtually, and seemed to run almost too well. So well in fact that the demon Bertie Wooster himself, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House, decided that this simply would not do. Of course, this had nothing to do wtih his leader’s obvious incompetence under any kind of examination, without the theatre of braying halfwits behind him on the government benches. So MPs needed to be pulled back in to Westminster, and be forced to jump through stupid hoops to do a job that had been far more efficient when they could employ the same methods that huge swathes of the working population were using to work from home anyway.
But this was just one dimension of Johnson’s poor performance. If his performance in Parliament was woeful, his performance outside was even worse, when anyone could even find him. For lots of the time he was noticeable by not being noticeable at all, certainly not to the numerous committees he was supposed to be chairing. This is not normal.
When he did deign to put in an appearance, he was often utterly incomprehensible (no change there), or entirely contradictory, gainsaying things he'd very publicly said sometimes only hours before. At a time when clarity and calm was needed, he has had none at all to offer.
The Daily Briefings started. At first, they were faintly useful, but as time went on, they became more about theatre than information. They became just another chance to parrot out the same tired slogans, and to see the paucity of talent in office. What other conclusion can one draw when the government of the no-talents, including Williamson, Patel and Hancock were wheeled out when the Dear Leader couldn’t actually be arsed to make an appearance? In comparision, the new chancellor almost looked like a beacon of competence. In more normal times, we’d have seen him for what he is: a puppyish intern dropped into a major project presentation in his first week on placement. It’s also when we became increasingly aware that the scientific advice was being conveniently disregrded when it wasn’t “helpful”. We noticed the increasing politicising of advisers, including them being prevented from answering certain questions. It wasn’t even subtle. You’ll really not see a meaner hive of scum and villainy this side of the cantina at Mos Eiseley, but we’ve become so inured to this madness that most people just shrug and accept it as the usual order of things. This is not normal. You may not like Nicola Sturgeon’s politics, but the tone and conduct of the Scottish briefings are a million miles away from the car crash of Westminster.
The procurement programmes for new equipment like ventiliators seemed to rely on sourcing things from companies owned and run by prominent political supporters of the government, or sometimes just high-profile names pulled out of a hat (yes, I’m looking at you, Dyson), when puzzled suppliers who actually knew what they were doing were being criminally overlooked.
It would have helped if the testing regimes we had in place were fir for purpose, but that would have been too much to ask for. So while Nick Hancock was lying about levels of testing at the briefings, plans were being put into place for the NHS track and trace smartphone app. which was of course seen by a certain advisor as a way of harvesting huge amounts of data from the population. Except it didn’t work, as anyone with a knowledge of privacy, security or technology told him at the outset. All of this was especially galling when one considers that an app using the APIs created by the writers of the major phone OSes would have worked perfectly well, and could have been rolled out far quicker and far more cheaply, as has happened in a number of other countries. And of course one of the major advisors on that project was Dido Harding. By some strange coincidence, very soon after, horse racing (and online betting) began again. This was obviously nothing to do with Harding’s involvement with the Jockey Club. Not at all.
Then there was Barnard Castle. In years to come historians will remember this as a key event: an event where the already thin strands of trust that bound the public and the government together were finally shredded. It became abundantly clear that all the instructions and directives handed down to the public simply did not seem to apply to those in positions of power. At least they didn’t think so. Cummings’ excuses for his behaviour were beyond risible, and yet he still held on to his position. This is not normal.
Meanwhile, this week marked the crossing of the EU rubicon. There can not now be an extension to Brexit transition. So, on January 1 next year we will be out in the cold. Our preparedness for a world beyond the EU is non-existent. There is no clue about customs arrangements, or about how trade will actually work. That brings us to the worries about just how much we feel we need to cosy up to the US, which itself is rapidly becoming a rogue state.
The project to shift the blame from government to the people continues apace. The advice changed from “Stay Home” to “Stay Alert”, and the first thing that happened was that the beaches were packed. People were turning out to go to the hairdressers at midnight when the restrictions were relaxed today. Given the levels of Good Old Fashioned British Common Sense on display in the last few years relying on it now is not a reassuring prospect at all.
So where are we? After over three months, we’ve had confused, haphazard “leadership”, crafted in the Prime Minister’s own mendacious, dissembling, blustering image, that has resulted in thousands more deaths than might have happened if they’d acted in a timely manner, and reported properly. We have literally millions of people who have no idea whether their jobs and livelihoods will survive. We have entire sectors of the economy and culture left to ruin. And in just under 6 months we’ll have to cope with the real effects of Brexit, possibly just as a second wave of the Coronavirus hits us. But they’ve opened the pubs. And still Dominic Cummings is in a job. This is not normal.
Is it any bloody wonder some people think they need a drink?