Forget Churchill writes Andy Stowe. The wartime leader Boris Johnson most resembles is General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett, the blustering incompetent First World War commander in the TV series Blackadder which was popular when Johnson was a teenager.
Long before Johnson was talking about “wiffle waffle” and “spaffing” the cretinously posh, incompetent Melchett was encouraging the troops to go to deaths with uplifting gibberish like “tally-ho, yippety dip and zing zang spillip”. Translate his observation ‘if nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through’ into dog Latin and it could be Johnson’s family motto.
On the day after another 171 people died from coronavirus, Johnson announced such a significant easing of the lockdown as to render it meaningless. People are being invited to assess their own level of risk, meaning that those who feel themselves to be safe will engage in more contact with others guaranteeing that the epidemic spreads because it becomes impossible for people at high risk to avoid the virus.
The presidents of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons, Nursing, Physicians, and GPs have signed a joint letter to Johnson and other political leaders saying that there is a strong chance of still more lives being thrown away as a second wave of the virus happening and the infrastructure to deal with it still isn’t in place.
Channelling Melchett, he told the House of Commons “our long national hibernation is coming to an end”. A few hours later his chief scientific officer announced that the disease is becoming more widespread globally.
From July 4th, pubs in England will be able to re-open in a “covid-secure way”. Drinkers will be asked to give their names but won’t ask be required to show identification. As the Daily Telegraph cartoonist quipped, “If Mickey Mouse catches coronavirus we’ll have to tell Lord Lucan, Adolf Hitler and Marilyn Monroe”. There will be no standing at the bar but punters will need to wash their hands more. Anyone who has ever been in the men’s toilet of an English, Scottish or Welsh pub at 10.30 on a Saturday night will know that drinkers washing their hands is about as common as a free round of drinks from the landlord.
Public transport users will be expected to wear masks on buses and trains and to stay one metre away from each other. As more people are forced back to work this will become unsustainable. London double decker buses have a limit of twenty passengers at the moment. When children return to school it will be impossible for them to get to lessons with these restrictions and this will break down quickly.
Confusing and incoherent
You will be allowed to have guests from one other household inside your home. You are supposed to stay two metres apart from them, so you won’t be pouring their drinks. You can meet as many households as you want. Just not all at once. Presumably you can have them in two-hour slots with a gap so you can disinfect the sofa and door handles.
Or as Johnson so clearly said:
“Where it is possible to keep 2 metres apart people should. But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of ‘one metre plus’, meaning they should remain one metre apart, while taking mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission.”
None of this has the force of law. It’s just guidance in much the same way that your doctor might advise you not to have a kebab and ten pints too often.
It’s confusing and incoherent. Worse than that, it flies in the face of scientific and medical advice. The Financial Times reports:
“Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, this month said the two-metre rule was “going to carry on really for as long as this epidemic continues”. David King, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, warned that it was not yet safe to relax social-distancing rules indoors. Sir David, who has set up an alternative to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, said ministers had sidelined advice from their own body. “That quite clearly says it is soon to reduce the distance from two metres to one metre”.
This is unambiguous, yet Johnson offers nothing but an appeal to British exceptionalism burbling in his sub-Churchillian way that “we will continue to trust in the common sense and community spirit of the British people to follow this guidance, to carry us through and to see us to victory over this virus.”
Victory is some way off. There is no prospect of a vaccine this year; the number of cases globally has passed nine million; more than half of American states are seeing a rise in the number of cases; South Korea now has a second wave of infection; the Israeli state is considering a second lockdown and clusters of infection are being widely reported in British and German meat processing plants.
Johnson and his government are sitting atop a mountain of at least 65 000 corpses. Keir Starmer told him that he agrees with what the Tories are proposing to do. This is becoming his standard approach to everything they announce.
The Labour movement has to resist this mass murder by the Tories rather than going along with it. Workers who do not feel safe returning to their job should continue to be paid by the furlough scheme. All employers must have a responsibility to make sure that customers and workers are safe. Johnson is as complacent and irresponsible as Trump and Republicans like Texas governor Greg Abbott, people who are putting money in front of lives.