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We'll meet again .. at last !!

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

While the dreaded second wave still haunts us, official figures at last indicate an end to coronavirus-related deaths here in Britain. Hence wholesale easing of lockdown rules. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the imminent return to better times also heralds the government’s day of reckoning. ‘There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover. Tomorrow, just you wait and see.’ As Harry Secombe joked, ‘Churchill didn’t beat the Nazis. Vera sang them to death.’ And with the forces’ sweetheart’s passing last week, aged a hundred and three if you please, this column has to start with her. Be rude not to. Besides which, Dover is pertinent. Just as all the signs are we’ve beaten Covid-19, with or without the help of the Prime Minister, it’s unclear how much further than Dover many of us will get this year. Having opted, months behind time, to quarantine folk coming into UK, ministers look poised to un-opt for it. At least with France, Spain, Greece and Portugal. Because, unlike us, they’ve managed to keep pandemic deaths down. The government’s also bracing itself for the political post mortem, pardon the language, over its myriad missteps along the way. Delays in introducing the lockdown, failure to organise personal protective equipment, failure to sort a working test, track and isolate system and failure to spot the human cost of decanting people into care homes, to name but four. There are also new claims that ministers failed to fess up in the early days about how bleak the death toll really was. That’s their problem. For the rest of us, the news is a great deal better. On all assessments the number of lives lost has plummetted, hospital trusts are starting to record no Covid-19 deaths at all, and it’s widely accepted that we’re already pretty much back to normal. Which is why shops, pubs and hotels are finally spluttering back to life, albeit under new constraints, and why we may soon be allowed to get a bit closer to one another. Which will be lovely. Also, Boris Johnson’s now determined parents will get their kids back to into class in September. One up on his earlier policy, which evolved from telling them ‘You must’ to ‘You really ought to’ to ‘Go on, be a sport’ to ‘Do you what you sodding well please’. He is, meanwhile, doing what he’s told regarding children from poor backgrounds who’d have gone hungry without free school meals. Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford played a blinder forcing that little U-turn. Against that, Bojo’s bounced back willingly enough with a billion-pound package to help precisely these children catch up on learning they’ve missed out on over the last few months. And, longer term, far and away the most sensible call ministers have made is to spend big on the highly promising vaccine now being tried out by scientists from Oxford University. The boffins are working alongside the drug company AstraZeneca, which is already confident enough in its product to start manufacture. And the NHS is going to stockpile loads of it, so millions can have the jab. Final results may come as soon as September, or even late August. In addition, researchers at Imperial College London are trialling a similar vaccine that’d have the double plus of providing long-term protection, and costing little more than a cup of coffee per person. Little wonder the government’s shelling out on that project too. Point of fact, there are no fewer than eleven different vaccines being tried out on humans, according to the World Health Organisation, including one being developed in the Chinese city of Wuhan. This one’s looking good, apparently, as it’s generated an immune response in almost all the volunteers, with no serious side-effects. Be a neat irony if the problem could be closed down in the very place where it opened up. And why haven’t you read more of this elsewhere? Because it’s a news thing to big up the bad. Always sexier to report something nasty that’s just happened than something nice that might do so later. More sexy, but less helpful. There is, however, a profound logic to winning this race. A confluence of philanthropic and commercial interests. Put bluntly, whoever gets the first pandemic panacea on the market won’t just be adored by everyone. They’ll also be the richest person ever. Worth going the extra mile for then? And the rest. Talking of money, the Bank of England’s taking no chances. In spite of signs that UK plc may be more resilient than expected, it’s popping an extra hundred billion pounds into the public purse. Could be something to do with the UK’s debt becoming bigger than the entire economy, for the first time in half a century. Also, maybe, in case of a rainy day later. If we end up crashing out of the European Union without a deal an almighty downpour is predicted. Hitting the poorest hardest. Already the beleaguered buck’s being lined up for passing. Prime Minister blaming Chancellor, Chancellor blaming Prime Minister, and both claiming corona’s the culprit anyway. Still, hope springs eternal. When France’s President Macron dropped by last week Bojo was extra cordiale outside Number Ten. Loitering with entente, so to speak. And he plans to keep up appearances when he’s out and about too, with a paint job on his official RAF plane. Out goes boring old grey, in comes spangly red white and blue. Waving the flag for the world to see. A snip at just under a million smackers. As the Foreign Secretary says, we must ‘Project our image’ overseas. What? As a nation led by a man prone to vanity? Critics argue. Heaven forfend. Especially when the greatest nation on earth has no such nincompoop at the helm. Confirmation’s contained in the glowing testimony to Donald Trump’s presidency penned by one of his former top men. John Bolton, the arch-conservative adviser on national security for a year and a half, describes him as so ‘Stunningly uninformed’ he didn’t even know Britain was a nuclear power. Also, he told the Chinese leader that building concentration camps for the country’s Uighur Muslims was the right thing to do. And, though he survived impeachment, he in fact did try to pressurise the Ukrainians to investigate the son of his political rival. In short, according to Mr Bolton, the man is unfit for office. But fair play demands Mr Trump has the right of reply. Here it is, on Twitter:

‘Wacko John Bolton’s exceedingly tedious (New York Times) book is made up of lies and fake stories. Said all good about me, in print, until the day I fired him. A disgruntled boring fool who only wanted to go to war. That’s all right then. As the democratically elected leader of the free world, The Donald has got to be the cleverest person on the planet. Relief to know it’s in safe hands. 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.

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