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Corona Diaries: who’s listening to Boris? I sense a Ceaucescu moment

May 31, 2020

I sense that the British government is going through a Ceaucescu moment. Not in the form of a set-piece speech from a balcony met by jeers from a normally compliant audience, but in a thousand small acts of rebellion.

Yesterday I asked who Boris Johnson listens to before he makes decisions about the easing of the lockdown. An equally important question would who is now listening to Boris.

When driving through my town yesterday, I couldn’t but notice crowds of people on the cricket green, folks thronging the streets and a tailback of cars trying to get on to the main trunk road between London and the south coast. The shops weren’t open, of course, but if I didn’t know otherwise I would imagine that this was a normal bank holiday, not a Saturday under lockdown. Social distancing? Some, but by no means all. Face masks? Likewise.

Back home that evening, we learned that another 8,000 people tested positive on the last day counted, and more than 300 died.

Then, this morning, we were treated to a tweet from Matt Hancock telling a grateful nation that:

Now we’ve flattened the curve & reduced new infections, from tomorrow, the 2.2 million people who have been shielding can safely go outside

I know how much those shielding have sacrificed. Thank you to everyone who has protected our NHS & saved lives

Underneath his words was a photo of a woman waving to a relative in a care home whose windows are festooned with patriotic bunting, presumably taken on VE Day.

Then I asked myself a question. If we turned the clock back to the beginning of March, and suddenly thousands were being infected and hundreds were dying, how would I feel about some government official telling me that was safe to go out and about, even if I had underlying conditions that made me vulnerable to the virus? I suspect I would be horrified.

It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? Against the backdrop of an ongoing disaster, we’re being persuaded that things are much better than they were, that three hundred deaths a day is better than a thousand. So go forth into the sunlight, you vulnerable, beleaguered people, and rejoice.

But is anybody listening? Not many, I suspect. It’s not Dominic Cummings who gave Boris his Ceaucescu moment. It’s an accumulation of mind-numbing statistics, the R-fetish, mixed messages, broken promises and false optimism that has flowed out of the government like an ever-flowing stream of Prozac-laced effluent.

The government has lost the initiative, is behind the curve and is taking measures in response not to “The Science” but to other voices about whom I talked yesterday. Its efforts to moderate our behaviour are crumbling before the thousand little rebellions. It can still control some things, such as when the shops can open and sporting events can take place. But in other respects it’s lost the dressing room, as footballers would say.

On the evidence of the stuff I’ve read today, it would seem that Boris himself is in danger of losing his own dressing room, as MPs and cabinet ministers carp both publicly and anonymously at his lack of grip.

I don’t for a moment expect him to end up in front of a firing squad, like the Romanian dictator and his wife, or to undergo some less extreme British equivalent like a visit from the men in grey suits. But the derision that greeted his Health Minister’s chirpy tweet about the vulnerable being allowed out while the epidemic continues to rage suggests that his demise in the foreseeable future is not impossible.

And what if we followed the example of our cousins in the United States, and took to the streets in an orgy of rioting over a perceived act of institutional racism? It’s happened before, most recently in 2011, and it could happen again, especially given the pent-up energy that’s built up during lockdown.

Who knows? At that stage he would perhaps be relieved to shuffle off the stage.

From → Politics, Social, UK

6 Comments
  1. Andrew Robinson permalink

    Somewhere there is virtual queue of people, masked and socially distancing, ready to pull the trigger.

    • You may be right, though I’d prefer if we sent him into exile in Norway.

  2. Andrew Robinson permalink

    St. Helena would be preferable imho. (Going to start watching the Stavanger series this evening via VPN – thanks)

    • Yes, very nice at this time of year, I’m told. Enjoy Stavanger, Ekofisk and all!

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