Most of you are probably old enough to remember when Boris Johnson was going to “squash the sombrero” and “send the virus packing” in 12 weeks. He does seem to have an addiction to false hope, provided there is a snappy three- or four-word slogan attached.
Some of you will go back even further, to the time when Johnson said there had to be one country in the world prepared to stand up against this virus without shutting down the economy, and it might as well be good old Blighty.
Well, what a mess the country’s handling of Covid has been ever since, and what a total mess it is right now. Only someone who has neither respect for truth nor any desire to be connected to it could boast incessantly, as Johnson does, of the success he has made of it.
Crisis management requires clarity of messaging and openness with the public about the data and the thinking behind decisions. Johnson’s government has been woeful on both.
I assume that his press conference yesterday was designed to provide greater clarity about the guidelines currently in place and the changes to the lockdown easing plan (sic). It would certainly have been quite a challenge to be any less clear than Matt Hancock had been on the airwaves in the morning, where his word blancmanges about the new rules for the new Northern lockdown had a succession of interviewers looking nonplussed.
A highlight of the Health Secretary’s communication, on BBC Breakfast, is worth quoting in full: “We know that from the contact tracing information so whenever anybody tests positive the vast majority of them, umm, we manage to speak to and we ask which contacts they’ve had who they’ve been in contact with and that’s shown that the vast majority of contacts of people who have the virus are pe – are from – other than people in their own household of course, umm, who have to self-isolate anyway is is is from households visiting and them visiting friends and relatives, uh, er, and and those two are bigger than the impact the number of contacts that people have say at work or visiting, erm, visiting shops and, and, that means that we’re because we have that information from the NHS test and trace system it means that we’re able to take this action which is more targeted at erm erm controlling the spread of the virus.” Pardon?
Johnson decided to dispense with verbs for part of his presentation, and one wondered if he had done the same psychological challenge as Donald Trump as he advised us to: “Hands, face, space, get a test.”
“We’re Boris’s Britain where common sense oozes from the top. It’s why we have had more excess deaths than any country in Europe, and a Prime Minister who calls that a success.”
I shall paraphrase the rest of his mangled messaging … “Sorry folks, but that trip to the bowling alley or the ice rink is just going to have to wait. Too risky. But hey, guess what, the most vulnerable among you who have been shielding for months ... you’re free to roam! We’re also still pressing on with the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme, because I am not going to let one of my rare five-word slogans go to waste. And I know that with the Chief Medical Officer standing there saying we’ve reached the limits of opening society, you might be thinking I will tell you to get back indoors and work from home, but no .... that part of the lockdown easing is still on.
“So get on your bike, or get on the bus wearing the mask we used to tell you was more likely to spread disease than stop it, and get into work. I don’t really have the data or the science to explain why I think you should, just trust me, my name is Boris Johnson. If you do everything I say, I am sure we can have the kids back in school by September and everything back to normal by Christmas. That’s the plan anyway and we have had a tremendous success with all of our other plans so I am confident it will be Christmas at Chequers for me with Lord Lebedev, Lord Brother Jo and Lord Beefy. Don’t you just love it when I troll a whole nation?”
I know I won’t be alone in having family and friends who have had to postpone weddings, and one of the lockdown easing moves Johnson put on hold yesterday was for wedding receptions for more than 30 people. But on that one too, there is a fairly easy get out folks. Have the wedding. And then meet your friends and family down the pub.
Because the good old British pub, unlike the ice rink, is absolutely fine. And unlike at the good old British museum, you don’t even have to wear a mask, provided you keep to all the social distancing and hand washing and sanitising rules, which let’s be honest, nobody who has had a few pints is ever going to forget or disobey, are they?
We’re Boris’s Britain where common sense oozes from the top. It’s why we have had more excess deaths than any country in Europe, and a Prime Minister who calls that a success.
Alastair Campbell is a political consultant and commentator.