There was a burst of Politics-19 last week. Boris went on the box to tell us – sorry. The Prime Minister gave an address to the nation about progress in the war against the Naz– sorry.
Where we were with the lockdown. He talked about that. Changes. You were there. Covid-19 and how he was changing the rules of the lockdown and introducing a swingometer-thing to tell us how bad it all was.
There was a new slogan. He might have mentioned that a few times.
We’ve dropped the Five Tests. But we do have a swingometer.
The Prime Minister’s Address To The Nation followed a week of media reportage about the changes he was likely to make to the lockdown – to the extent that there were discussion programmes about the changes before they were even made. Just like old times.
But the real treat for nostalgia buffs was the immediate response to the PM’s speech.
“Naah, naah, not listening, can’t hear you, naaah, don’t understand, not clear at all, stay at home, don’t stay at home, completely incomprehensible, naah, don’t understand a word of it,” would roughly summarise Facebook’s response as it came to me.
Then, when we’d all pulled our fingers out of our ears and agreed that we hadn’t understood a word of it, came the sharing.
Three times into my newsfeed on Monday came the same lengthy itemisation of all Boris’s failures over the course of the pandemic. Shared independently by three people, I mean. All familiar names from the 2019 political season.
These long diatribes always have some merit, and no, I don’t think The Johnson is the best prime minister since, um, since … have to think about that one. The Covid-19 outbreak could have been handled better. We could have anticipated the virus’s every move, and – yeah, right.
Anybody scoring political points based on hindsight should be invited to tell us what to do next – and held to account.
That shared list. Yes, he made mistakes. Yes, there were precautions he could have taken earlier, and that week when we were told not to go out but everywhere was still open … confusing.
But the impact of the list was blunted by the overstretched and wilful inaccuracies.
For example, the words “Boris Johnson misses COBRA meeting” – heard this one before – don’t take into account that it was the Health Secretary who was holding a meeting in Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, not the Prime Minister. [It’s a room, people.]
Oh, and the words “Boris Johnson retreats to his country manor” is an odd way of saying that the Prime Minister went to the Prime Minister’s official residence outside London – Chequers – to recover after his time in intensive care.
The man doesn’t have to be a full-time pantomime villain to be vulnerable to criticism.
My issue with the speech was the number of times Johnson addressed the British public as “you”, as in “You” have been very good about staying at home.
A trifle de haut en bas, doncha know?
I don’t think “You will fight on the beaches … you will never surrender” would have been quite so effective for Churchill in 1940. Just saying.
As to the new slogan – here we are discussing the slogan, not the policy behind it; good thing we've got a swingometer for the in-depth analysis – I found the old one problematic enough. “Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” seemed an odd ordering of priorities, until I grasped that staying at home would protect the NHS so that it could save lives. Ah, got it.
The new slogan – actually, I’ve forgotten the new slogan. “Stay alert,” something, something.
The policy. We reduced the R-number by staying indoors. Now we’re going outside again. Nothing else has changed. Hmmm.
This week, all the media coverage has been about the second wave that hasn’t happened yet. This is either world-class expectation management by the government, or obvious even to the media, or both.
This relaxation of the lockdown is not the end. It is not the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps the end of the beginning.
Now it gets serious.
*Oh, come on, you do. Alfred Hitchcock’s term for the thing that drives the action in a movie. The Maltese falcon in The Maltese Falcon (1941), for example. The stone in Romancing the Stone (1984). Or I suppose you could say, the ring in Lord of the Rings (2001 and onwards for the films directed by Peter Jackson).
My only other thought, as I grumble my way through this, is that the various presenters and interviewers in my radio should be put in charge of the crisis.
They know, unfailingly, what the ministers did wrong, and they’re able to spot errors of policy where nobody else was even looking. With their accusative self-importance, they should take over.
One of the media’s people was touring the studios yesterday with a line that he rather liked: there are workers who are unemployed and they don’t even know it yet.
Because their employers won’t be coming back from the brink.
Boyo, there are whole industries that are dead and don’t know it yet.
But we have to go through this stage of trying to revive the dead donkey.
Just as the petty adversarial politics of the past keeps trying to reassert itself, so do the industries of the past keep trying to stand up again.
The Economy is in a recession, apparently. A line can be drawn on a graph. Okay, it points sharply downwards, but it connects to the line of the past. No disconnect there.
Stage-coach manufacturers forecast that it will be two years before they get back to normal after the invention of the automobile.
I’m sorry. I’ll read that again. Airlines forecast that it’ll be two years…
If we assume that cramming people back into buses and tube trains turns out not to be as effective as the lockdown in quelling the virus, we can forecast a future in which it is accepted – at last – that the old ways are no longer tenable.
The population density of cities is no longer attractive. Global supply chains still operate, but the quarantine restrictions… People still go out shopping, but less often, and they grow/make/recycle more of their own…
The cinema’s a drive-in now. That lovely little Italian place still has the same number of tables but the intimate atmosphere has gone since it moved to a football stadium at a knock-down rent. At least the tables are so far apart that we get elbow room now.
There’s a difference between planning for the future and trying to maintain the immediate past.
I saw a news item, somewhere online, about three households – neighbours – who had self-isolated together. Their children play together, home-school together, they’re in and out of each other’s houses, but they’re closed to the outside world. Locked down.
Then I thought about that African proverb – it takes a village to raise a child. And those early news pics of villagers in Wuhan province manning roadblocks to keep strangers out. It takes a village to self-isolate and still be economically viable.
And I thought – somewhere in all that is the future.