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Corona Diaries: who is Boris listening to?

May 30, 2020

Back to politics, then.

Here’s what appears to be happening within the British government, led by a man whose previous distinction was to be London Mayor when Britain came third to the US and China in the Olympic medal table in 2012, and whose current claim to fame is go one better by leading our country to the second place, behind the US again, in the coronavirus death league.

There appear to be four voices vying for Boris’s attention.

First the scientists, who argue that we’re easing back from the lockdown too early. Not collectively, but there are a number of people breaking ranks from the collective opinion of SAGE, and several who sit outside the government’s advisory group. They say that while there are thousands of infections and hundreds still dying every day, the government’s easing of the lockdown is risking a second wave in short order. Or, to put it another way, the second wave is about to come crashing over the remnants of the first. The leading scientists, Vallance and Whitty, after being prevented from speaking about Cummings, are arguably retreating into sullen passivity. “Don’t say we didn’t tell you,” might be their message to Johnson.

Second, there are the economists, who are telling Boris that every month of lockdown deepens the financial hole we find ourselves in, and lengthens the time it will take to dig ourselves out of it. They will be saying that the certainty of financial catastrophe, of jobs lost, companies destroyed, tax revenues plunging, outweighs the risk of a second wave. At this stage, especially as we’ve had time to buy the PPE, ramp up the testing and create spare hospital capacity, the financial well-being of the nation is more important than another 50,000 deaths. We need to think of the 65,950,000 before all the old folks, the obese, the diabetics, and the cancer patients whose end might be imminent anyway.

Third, we have the political “strategists”, who are telling Boris that the political consequences of another wave of deaths are less harmful to his standing than an economic collapse that will leave us still in recovery, millions unemployed and cash strapped for the next three years at least, which would take us dangerously close to the next election.

So let them die. After all, the dead can’t vote. Do you, Boris, want to be known as the Prime Minister who turned the nation into a chronic invalid, or do you want to take credit for restoring our well-being after a global disaster for which you are not responsible? Those who survive will soon forget the cock-ups provided they quickly regain their former lifestyles. If after a year or two they can afford their meals out, their sport, their beer and their brand new sixty-inch TVs, you will have their vote again in 2024.

And finally there’s us. Or, should I say, those of us who haven’t lost grannies, or who are grannies themselves, living in fear that sooner of later we’ll end up prone on ventilators in blissful ignorance about whether or not the doctors will pull the plug on us. We, the ones who haven’t lost grannies, mums or dads, and who maybe know one or two people who’ve had the virus but got through it without too much discomfort, can’t understand what the fuss is all about.

Yes the virus is pretty shit if you’re unlucky enough to get a bad dose, but we’re in the low-risk category. Perhaps we’ve already had it. So why the hell can’t we sit on the beaches, party at home and snog in the park? Why can’t we go to the pub, send the kids back to school and go off on holidays without a bloody quarantine period when we get home again? OK, we don’t mind a bit of social distancing, but we’ve had nearly three months cooped up at home and we’re not standing it for anymore. And anyway, if everyone else is out and about having a good time, why not us? The cops don’t seem bothered, the rules are confusing, so bugger Boris, turn off the news and let’s have at it. Time to make money, babies and burgers.

The rest of us, who remember a time when governments seemed to know what they were talking about, who respect the rules and see the grim reaper with his corona-cloak hovering close to us, are no less frustrated. But our focus is to live long enough to see our grandkids go to uni, maybe go on a far-flung holiday or two before we’re no longer able, and see a few more glorious springs like the one we’re living through now.

We’re not quite ready to go yet, and we’re going to be as careful as hell until the damned pandemic dies down or the scientists develop a vaccine. For us it’s a deadly game of chance, and we know the odds far better than the feckless young who bump into us in the street and smear their dirty hands on surfaces we also touch. If we have to be careful for a bit longer, fair enough. Better than an early appointment at the crematorium.

That’s where we seem to be at the moment. Many voices, some sensible, some callous, some stupid and some caring. Do we really have a clue what comes next, whichever way we go? Not with any certainty.

To whom is Boris listening? And is he actually capable of listening? That’s for you to judge.

Never let it be said that there’s a single road ahead, or, in the words of Margaret Thatcher, that there’s no alternative. There are plenty of roads. But if you can see clearly past the next bend of any of them, you’re either deluded or vested in prophetic powers unavailable to the rest of us.

Onwards and upwards – while there’s life there’s hope.

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