Let The Bodies Pile High
Boris Johnson has promised that a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic will begin next spring. He hasn’t yet said whether this “promise” will be one a lexicographer might recognise, or one of his more usual promises, such as: “There will never be a border in the Irish Sea.” Either way, we don’t need a public inquiry to tell us that right from the start this government’s strategy for the pandemic (rather like Donald Trump’s) was simply to just try and wish it away.
When news of a deadly virus first emerged from China, in early 2019, Johnson thought it wasn’t serious enough to attend any one of five Cobra meetings that were held at Downing Street so a plan of action could be thrashed out. Indeed, the Prime Minister didn’t even mention the virus in public until he gave a speech in Greenwich – principally about the virtues of Brexit. Towards the end of the speech, almost as an aside, he said that he’d heard terrible stories – not about Covid deaths – but about how other countries were shutting down their entire economies. The United Kingdom, he said, would not do that. Instead, the country was “ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles, leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion of economic freedom.”
Johnson gave that speech on 26 January 2020, but as time moved on we could all see what was happening in places such as Italy, with their hospitals barely able to copy. In crude terms, we had a head start on most other countries: we could see what was coming. And yet Johnson still continued to prevaricate – determined to put profit before people – and allowed football matches, indoor concerts, and the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead. British exceptionalism, according to the Prime Minister, was going to save the day. Except, as we all now know to our cost, it didn’t.
Tory ministers are fond of stating: “The first duty of government is to protect its citizens.” Indeed, it’s written on the homepage of the gov.uk website. But when it comes to this pandemic, the government have failed quite spectacularly in that task. Worse than useless? Of course. They’ve actually been lethal. RM
Photo: Gill Whisson