The only good thing about the British Government’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic is that at least we don’t have Donald Trump in charge. That’s how low the bar has to be set, and even then it’s debatable because Donald Trump at least turns up for government press conferences. Johnson is already the worst Prime Minister the UK has ever had and he’s only been in the job for a few months. We’ve got another four and a half years of his destructiveness to look forward to.
This week a major promise that Johnson had repeatedly made last year was exposed as a lie. Despite assurances to the contrary, there will after all be checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. There will indeed be that border in the Irish Sea which Theresa May and Johnson both swore blind to the DUP wasn’t going to happen. In normal circumstance that would be a major political crisis all by itself, right now it’s scarcely been noticed. When Boris Johnson is burning down the house you don’t really notice that his pants are on fire.
Ruth Davidson put in an appearance on Sky News on Wednesday, and even she studiously avoided giving an answer when asked whether it was the Scottish Government or the British Government which had handled the crisis better. She still managed to get some SNPbad in there, because this is the woman whose sole policy ever has been opposition to independence, but it was noticeable that she didn’t reflexively praise her Tory colleagues in Westminster. What people don’t say is often more revealing than what they do. When the cheerleaders of the Precioussss Union™ aren’t willing to get out the ra-ra skirts and pom-poms, Westminster has a very big problem. Their UK is not OK, and they suffer from an existential dread that it’s going to get a lot worse for them. They can see the writing on the wall, and it says Johnson is a bawbag. The British Government’s policy is now basically – Calm down everyone, it’s all going marvellously! Don’t blame us, that would be premature and unfair. But look over there – scientists!
And the death toll mounts. The real number of people who have died from the virus in the UK is now in excess of 54,500 according to the Office of National Statistics. This is the number of ‘excess deaths’ since the epidemic started. The figure is 20,000 higher than the total announced daily by the British Government, which only counts people who have had positive tests for the virus. Many of those who pass away from Covid-19 never receive a test. Using a somewhat different model, the Financial Times estimates that the true number of those who have died from the virus in the UK now exceeds 60,000. The only booming part of the British economy just now is the funeral industry.
Throughout most of this, the Prime Minister has been missing in action. On Wednesday we had a rare sighting on the lesser spotted Johnson as our part time Prime Minister put in a reluctant appearance in the House of Commons for Prime Minister’s Questions. He only turns up for that because he’s contractually obliged, but it’s obvious from the face he wears like a burst balloon that his heart isn’t really in it. Deprived of the hoots, jeers, cheers, and brays from the serried ranks of incontinent monkeys on the Tory backbenches behind him, the experience no longer delivers the hit of adulation that the energy vampire Johnson requires. Since he’s already managed to suck even most of the British media dry of any enthusiasm for his government, that was pretty much all he had left to feed the desperate need for praise which fills the space where normal people have a soul. Without it he’s left like a crushed empty plastic bottle, fnaugh fnaughing its way along the gutter.
It was so bad that Health Secretary Matt Hancock had to perform an emergency heckle transfusion when Labour leader Keir Starmer pressed Johnson on when the long anticipated test and trace scheme will be operational. It wasn’t much. It was like a junkie in withdrawal finding a tiny trace of smack on the back of a spoon, not enough to take the edge off things, but it was all that Johnson had on offer to assuage the cold turkey of his ego. The reality is that the UK is coming out of lockdown exactly as it entered it. At the wrong time, unprepared, and in a confused and incoherent way.
Yesterday the British Government told us that there had been “a bit too much focus on the app”. Just like previously there had been too much focus on Dyson’s ventilators, on the PPE that was arriving from Turkey, the 100,000 daily tests, or the staying alert slogan. The signs are that the much vaunted app is going to go the same way. Developers are still trying to iron out problems in the test program being carried out in the Isle of Wight as the Director of Liberty warned that using the app would mean citizens turning over a vast amount of personal data to a government with an appalling track record on confidentiality and privacy. The app is central to the UK’s plans for contact tracing, but it seems that it won’t be ready until June at the earliest – after the date that the British Government announced that children in England should return to school. We’re in this mess now because the British Government made the wrong decision early on to abandon testing and tracing. Now we’re trying to play catch up as the death toll grows and the virus is established throughout the UK.
Without a proper system in place for testing, tracking, and isolation, experts have warned that the UK is at a very high risk of having to go into a second lockdown in order to bring a fresh outbreak of the virus under control. Writing in the Guardian a few days ago, public health expert Professor Devi Sridhar warned that the UK is facing a high risk of a second wave of infections. Experts at University College Dublin have also warned that the UK is coming out of lockdown prematurely. Sean L’Estrange, a social scientist who has specialised in the study of tracing, said that it was “recklessly premature” for the UK to loosen its lockdown restrictions, adding “I honestly fear [the level of cases in the UK] will go up fast in the coming weeks.” See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/19/recklessly-premature-experts-fear-johnson-jumped-gun-by-easing-coronavirus-lockdown-rules-before-varadkar
Unlike the UK, Ireland is loosening its lockdown restrictions when new cases of the virus have declined to just 11% of the peak in late April. In England, new infections are running at an approximate 75% of the peak rate in late April/early May. Meanwhile in Ireland the systems for tracing and contacting are in a much better state of readiness than those in the UK.
Meanwhile Professor John Edmunds, a specialist in infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told the House of Lords science committee on Tuesday that the British Government’s decision to reopen schools in England was not a scientific decision, but rather a political one.
Perhaps the most damning assessement comes from the BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal. (See https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1932) It says that the UK’s response to the biggest public health crisis since the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 has been too little, too late, and too flawed. In an editorial the respected medical journal slates a the British Government which ignored warnings and did not take the necessary remedial steps. The Government abandoned the World Health Organisation’s standard containment approach of find, test, treat, and isolate, which has worked well in countries that have successfully suppressed viral spread. Unlike almost every other state, the UK continued to permit unrestricted entry via ports and airports. At the same time, the UK permitted what the BMJ calls “a reckless policy of discharging older patients from hospitals to care homes without testing” which allowed the virus to spread and kick start a second epidemic of community infection. It adds that the delay in implementing lockdown measures looks likely to have cost many lives, all the more so because of ” UK government’s decimation of public health during years of austerity.”
The BMJ points out that although the British Government claims to have followed the science, none of the advisors upon whom the British Government relied were experts in public health while experts on communicable disease were under represented. It adds that the involvement of Dominic Cummings and Ben Warner, Cummings’ data advisor in the Vote Leave campaign, makes a mockery of SAGE’s claim to provide independent scientific advice to the British Government.
The British Government is now trying to hide behind “the science”, when “the science” that it relied upon was hopelessly compromised by the Conservatives’ ideological and political prejudices. Tens of thousands of British citizens have died because the British Government has had enough of experts. No amount of empty fnaughing from Boris Johnson, no amount of oleaginous politesse from Michael Gove, no amount of 18th century mannered posing from Jacob Rees Mogg, can hide the blood on the British Government’s hands. When not even Ruth Davidson can find it within herself to defend Westminster, it’s all but over for British rule in Scotland.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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