It seems, then, that this latest lockdown has been instigated simply to protect two very questionable institutions — the National Health Service and Christmas. Both have a certain historicity about them and were widely liked. Both, too, have become bloated and hideous caricatures of what they once were.
There is a certain infantilism about the repeated demands to ‘save Christmas’ which conjures up the image of serious adults — Chris Whitty, for example, or Sir Patrick Vallance — hanging up their stockings on Christmas Eve and jumping up and down on the bed in excitement at five o’clock the following morning. There is no Santa Claus, Patrick. There is no sleigh and the elves have been long ago furloughed. It all comes from Argos, mate. Hark! The herald angels sing, bring me iPads, bring me bling. Once it was two days to spend with your close family — which, with any luck, is what will happen this year once Michael Gove has extended the lockdown to 2024. More recently it’s become a two-week pig-out mammon-fest in which one’s credit cards are maxed out: as I mentioned last week, so many of our problems are the consequence of affluence rather than poverty.
One of the good things about that first lockdown was that we spent far less money purchasing utterly egregious crap. For a fairly large proportion of the population money was suddenly saved, rather than squandered on disappointing restaurant food, petrol, flights to awful places and so on. If it is simply that sort of stuff which is keeping our economy afloat, then Covid is the very least of our problems. As a country we have £45 billion more of personal debt than we did ten years ago, as people decided to follow the lead of the government and borrow with what they fondly imagine is impunity. The old Protestant ethic of working hard, saving and revelling in deferred gratification cuts no ice any longer.
And then there is the NHS, which even by its own calamitous standards has performed abysmally and — one would hope — will surely be called to account. The constant shrieking from its overpaid administrators that they will be ‘overwhelmed’ seemingly influenced the government to act. This is to forget that those same administrators shriek about being overwhelmed every year without fail. Nor are those chimeric ‘cuts’ to blame. The NHS has seen an increase in funding of 1.4 per cent on average every year for the past decade, and that’s after adjusting for inflation. It does not matter how much money is poured down its gaping maw, it will never be enough. Even as those administrators were chucking the elderly out of their beds and into care homes, back in March — a scandal of unparalleled proportions — we were enjoined to open our front doors and clap like retarded seals to show our support for this wheezing, gargantuan diplodocus.
What is very clear is this new, exciting lockdown is not designed to stop people dying of Covid. As the World Health Organisation points out, at best lockdowns simply push the problem a few weeks down the line. If we do emerge from lockdown on 2 December, this will mean another rise in deaths and infections by the beginning of the new year, leading to a peak in what is generally agreed to be the worst month or the NHS, February. Is that what is intended?
And yet nothing the government does, in thrall as it is to Drs Cassandra and Jeremiah with their perpetually vaulting ‘worst case scenarios’ and their implacability to all other arguments, makes much sense any more. Certainly — as I said at the time (this is not Captain Hindsight speaking) — the ‘independence day’ of 4 July, when we were all encouraged to go down the pub and get rat-arsed and then paid to eat several McDonald’s ‘Big Tasty’ burgers in the same week the government launched its latest salvo against obesity, was ludicrous.
The problem, though, is that Boris has tied his flag to the mast of Whitty and Vallance’s narrenschiff and must therefore sail with them to a destination unknown by anybody. He has to follow the science — or, at least, their straitened interpretation of the science. If he does not follow the science then Sir Keir Starmer, in those brief moments when he is not being fitted out by his personal tailor, will hammer him — along with the various woad-bedecked Nats and the bloody metro mayors.
There is no substantial counter-argument in the country, given that the BBC and indeed most of the media also eviscerate the government for not having done more, always more, to protect us all from the rude intrusion into our lives of that most irritating of things, death. I do not think the government has handled this crisis very well. But you have to say, it is hard not to have sympathy with Boris Johnson, or that rather haggard and limping facsimile of Boris Johnson, given that the heavy ordnance comes only from one direction.
In this sense the Covid problem is a little like the Brexit problem: a House of Commons and a liberal elite which is overwhelmingly inclined towards one course of action — i.e. staying in the European Union and making sure that nobody in the country dies of anything, ever. Nigel Farage has obviously noted this similarity, which is why he is launching a new party called ‘Reform’, which will campaign (so it seems) on the single issue of ending lockdown and allowing the virus to, as they say, ‘let rip’.
Yet with Brexit, Farage had the majority (just about) of the country on his side. With Covid, it is different. The polls continue to show that only about 20 per cent of the population oppose the latest measures and a good number think they should be more severe. Does that accord with your own, anecdotal, evidence? It doesn’t with mine.
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