Meddling with Brexit, mulling a new leader – the Tories will do literally anything except reflect on their Covid response
Marina Hyde www.theguardian.com
Another week, another opportunity to wonder if the country has slipped through a tear in the government-Covid continuum. It was back in March, you might recall, that Boris Johnson explained we would turn the tide on the coronavirus in 12 weeks, despite the fact that people as clinically clueless as even me could see that would not be the case. This was partly why so many Britons went into a deep psychiatric decline a fortnight ago, when Johnson suddenly dropped the “six months of restrictions” bomb. Given his history of hopelessly optimistic margins of error, that could mean we’ll be out of the woods as early as 2036.
Apologies for jumping around the timeline. Having forecast the tide-turning, Johnson then explained of the virus that he was “absolutely confident” that we could “send it packing in this country”. Strangely, it still appears to be with us. Then again, perhaps we and Johnson understand different things by the phrase “sent packing”. For many years, Johnson’s experience of being “sent packing” meant he was readmitted to the family home in fairly short order, allowing him to make some more promises to break when he next felt like it. If it helps, think of the virus as the sexually incontinent husband in the nation’s spare room. “You have to believe me, love – I’ve CHANGED.”
Anyhow, the prime minister’s next unforced decision to make himself a hostage to fortune came in July, when he announced we could be moving away from social-distancing measures by November, with “a more significant return to normality” possible in time for Christmas. And yet, as we approach the midpoint of October, and with apologies for sliding into epidemiological technicalese … are we bollocks.
On Thursday, Nadine Dorries – an absolute primo candidate for being against all restrictions were she not greasy-poleing it as junior health minster – warned that ICUs risk being overwhelmed in 10 days time, while some Sage members cast our current situation as equivalent to the crucial (and squandered) mid-March moment.
Nevertheless, the government dithers. Restrictions are coming, yet the restrictions have not quite come. We learn about the future from newspaper leaks, which is also where local mayors and authorities glean information as to what central government has decided for them. A totally self-defeating time-lag seems to be the government’s comfort zone. The decisive action that many believe is required is once again deferred, in order to manage aspects of the politics. Because of that, much more draconian measures than would otherwise have been necessary become unavoidable further down the line. Once again, we are behind the curve, falling between every stool.
Why does this keep happening? Unfortunately, we won’t know, because despite the entreaties from political friends as well as those on the other side of the divide, Johnson’s administration resisted absolutely all suggestions that it should hold a brisk inquiry into how we handled the first wave of coronavirus, in order that we might be better prepared going into the second.
This does seem a puzzle, given that it is supposed to be a highly sophisticated, data-driven government, at least according to that chief incel to the prime minister, Dominic Cummings. Indeed, without wishing to put the cat among the skunkworks, it’s almost as if the government can’t face any form of self-awareness. Analysis-wise, we’re on the level of the armchair football pundit whose verdict is that England just didn’t play with enough “passion” during the first wave. At the end of the day, the virus just wanted it more.
The period we might have used to interrogate the first-wave response was instead lavished on such things as relitigating even the bits of Brexit they had agreed to, and deciding to reorganise the civil service.
Perhaps displacement activities are cheaper by the dozen. Because the other topic of conversation in Westminster is the Tory succession – born of the fact that Johnson isn’t working out as some in his party had hoped. Remember: there is literally NO time the Conservative party would regard as “not really the moment, babe” for a discussion about who’s best placed to lead it next. There is honestly no horseman of the apocalypse who could be charging us down in a manner so ferocious it would preclude the discussion. A nuclear ash cloud could be falling and people would be going “in the tearoom, there is concern about whether Gove has that quality to reach beyond the nutter base”, or “Rishi gets it: he always returns calls and really seems to listen”.
Or to put it another way, you could be staring down the barrel of a deadly pandemic winter and people would still be volunteering opinions like, “I actually think it’ll play well for her that Priti always looks like a firstborn toddler unable to conceal her delight at having finally done it in the potty.”
At some level, you have to marvel at this Conservative unit’s regenerative capacity. No matter how badly it implodes, it somehow gets back up again and rebuilds itself while it’s walking back towards you, twice as pissed off as it was before. If only it applied the same urgency to protecting those it was elected to serve – but of course, one can’t have everything.
• Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist