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Getting there? Getting grief !!

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

Tumbling overall figures suggest we’re finally beating coronavirus, in spite of scientists at odds over uneven numbers in some areas. But is that thanks to our government, or in spite of it? As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris is braced for a backlash. ‘The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, for promis’d joy!’ That 1785 Robert Burns’ poem, sympathising with a mouse after its carefully constructed nest had been ploughed up, could have been written right now for Bojo. Forget his politics, think about his personality. Naturally sunny, all for good news and grand gestures, not terribly keen on boring, nitpicking details. Ideally unsuited for handling a hideous global pandemic, choosing victims at random, himself included. It’s done its worst now, judging by the latest figures, showing fatalities falling almost to pre-lockdown levels. Oxford University’s professor of evidence-based medicine Carl Heneghan predicts UK’s death levels will be back to normal by next week if current trends continue. Boris Johnson’s response at Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday? ‘Yay!!!’ To quote in full: ‘I take full responsibility for everything this government has been doing in tackling coronavirus, and I’m very proud of our record.’ But nagging questions linger. He said this just as one day’s recorded deaths in Britain looked like being more than all other EU countries put together. Also, our death toll has topped fifty thousand. Getting on for three times what the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance initially said would be a ‘good outcome’. It’s true all leaders have had to make up policy on the hoof. Like playing blind man’s buff when you’re not even sure you’re in the neighbourhood, let alone the right room. Plus the delay between governments making promises and the time they’re supposed to be delivered normally means most voters have forgotten them anyway. Tony Blair may have gone a war too far in Iraq, but he was right about people not being interested in politics, because they’re busy with their daily lives. This is different. Everyone’s daily lives is precisely what Whitehall’s micromanaging, and impacts are felt immediately. So tiny slips are glaringly obvious, same as god-awful cockups. Like Johnson sticking by his man when he’d so obviously flouted the spirit if not the precise letter of the lockdown law. A full fortnight after Dom Cummings tried to excuse his driving to Durham to seek childcare help after he and his wife looked like they might have Covid-19, protesters gathered outside his London home. They called it a ‘die-in’. One placard read: ‘Over 50,000 dead while you’re playing king of the castle.’ Remember, he popped out on his wife’s birthday to Barnard Castle, a beauty spot half an hour away. To, ahem, test his eyesight. A real beauty, that line, his detractors say. A poll last week showed a fifth of us have stopped taking the lockdown so seriously. Most respondents blamed the Dreaded Dominic. It’s cost Bojo a lot of political capital, and he hasn’t got as much of it as his stonking parliamentary majority suggests. Take his idea of quarantining everyone flying in from abroad. Never mind airlines maybe taking him to court, there could be enough Tory MP’s hopping mad about it to force him to change his mind. The devil’s in the detail. The lack of plans for where to put people means they just hop on, say, the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow. And there’ll be no one to check if they really are keeping themselves to themselves, not going to the shops or funerals for example. Durrr. And you wonder why our government’s strategy is playing badly, at home and abroad. When YouGov asked people in eight countries to rate one another, the Brits fared worst. And we agreed. The pollster’s Matthew Smith said: ‘Britain is seen, literally, as the sick man of Europe. Every other European country surveyed believes the UK’s coronavirus response to have been worse than their own – and by wide margins.’ Scant consolation that nearly three quarters of us reckoned Donald Trump was even more rubbish. That’s a pretty low bar. Doubtless Brexiteers are praying for a beautiful new trade deal with the US of A if or when – as is looking more likely – we quit the bloc with no deal. One Yankee export’s already with us. Mass demos about the apparent murder by a white policeman of unarmed black man George Floyd. The ever emollient prez failed to calm things with his sweet tweet that ‘when the looting starts the shooting starts’. You’d think those law-abiding folk would have more respect for their leader. Especially with his birthday coming up. At least they’ll mark the happy day by deluging his social media platforms with presidential images. Annoyingly though, from his point of view, they’re opting not for Donald Trump but Barack Obama. Doubtless we Brits will be more up to speed five days later, when Bojo’s the burp-day boy. We can congratulate him, not only on reaching fifty-six, but also giving us an infallible test-and-trace scheme. Everyone who’s got Covid-19 has to say who they’ve recently been in contact with. Those people must then lock themselves away for a while, thus stamping out the disease. That’ll prove the lockdown loosening wasn’t at all premature, and nothing to do with drawing the heat off the Cummings affair. Except that it got off to a stuttering start, with the computer endlessly saying no, and won’t really work until September or October. Tony Prestedge, the NHS bloke in charge, admitted to staff it’d be ‘imperfect’ at launch, but should be be fine in, er, three or four months. Best-laid plans, Bojo? When eventually the tempo lowers eyebrows will raise. And, as Oscar Wilde put it, ‘the truth is rarely pure and never simple’. Still, Bojo’s had one whacko wheeze guaranteed to prod the spot, not necessarily in a nice way. A new law last week made it illegal in England for couples who live in different homes to have sex indoors and stay overnight. According to one tabloid, you can go for a jog but not get jiggy. Even the Telegraph, hardly a Trotskyite rag, is outraged. Columnist Allison Pearson stormed: ‘I refuse to abide by these bonkers rules.’ Drawing a veil over this lady’s bedroom/s, Harvard University has helpfully studied the safest ways to do what comes naturally. Top of the list is abstinence. Boring. Next, what one might term ‘self love’. Which, apparently, doesn’t make you go blind after all. Then there’s fun and games online. Can be better than nothing. Finally, for the really daring, there’s the real thing. Though if it’s with someone you don’t live with you ought to wear a face mask. How things change. Seems only yesterday you were supposed to slip on something altogether more discreet. ‘Buy one and stop one.’ Remember that bit of graffiti scrawled on vending machines, anyone? Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter. Click the banner to share on Facebook


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