LONDON (Labour Buzz) - Boris Johnson issued a mumbling apology as the UK passed the 100,000 mark for COVID 19 deaths. It was a stat even he couldn’t mumble his way through as the UK gained the dual award of the highest deaths per head and the deepest recession of any developed nation.
Johnson always wanted Britain’s response to be world-beating, and but this is probably not what he had in mind. Even so, he insisted he and his government had done ‘everything they could’ to fight this pandemic. So, let’s just look back at some of the things they actually did to bring us to this point.
Shaky hands man
As news of the virus spread, Johnson’s initial instinct was to dismiss it. He would later admit that things could have been done differently and that the government didn’t understand the virus in the first weeks and months.
However, during this time the experts were desperately urging the government to take action. Even his own Home Secretary urged him to close the borders as far back as March, although we don’t know if this was because of Coronavirus or if ‘close the borders’ is her answer to everything.
As the virus began to spread and people turned up in hospitals, his publicly undermined the message his own advisers were attempting to get across. To the visible horror of his experts, he boasted of shaking hands with COVID 19 patients.
The only saving grace was that this was a typical Boris Johnson lie as the hospital in question did not, at that time, have any coronavirus patients.
Not content, he went on This Morning and suggested the best approach would be to take the virus on the chin and allow it to spread through the community. Hard-hitting interviewers that they are, Holly and Phil nodded and smiled, and then took a selfie with him.
By this time, the government’s approach seemed to be ‘pro-virus’. Everything they did seemed designed to help it spread. They resisted calls for lockdowns, even as hospitals in Italy were overrun. They put released elderly COVID patients from hospitals into care homes, effectively seeding the deadly virus in the population.
Pretty soon care home numbers were surging. Even so, the government pressed on with a herd immunity strategy which seemed destined for disaster. Their strategy was best summed up by Dominic Cummings who, according to reports, summed up the strategy as “herd immunity, protect the economy and if some pensioners die, too bad.”
Allowing 60 to 80% of the population to become infected, suggested the government was fine, even if studies suggested this would mean almost a million deaths. Only when events completely overran them did the government finally allow itself to be dragged kicking and screaming into lockdown.
The impact of their dithering was catastrophic. According to a report from Imperial College, locking down a week earlier would have saved 21,000 lives.
The Rishi effect
Rishi Sunak has been, and to an extent still is, the golden boy of this pandemic. While Johnson couldn’t do anything right, he could do no wrong. However, as Owen Jones rightly points out, he is arguably the most dangerous man in Britain.
He has spent billions of public money supporting people through the pandemic, but much of it went to people who didn’t need it. House buyers got a stamp duty holiday which helped push up house prices and persuaded many rogue landlords to kick their tenants out so they could cash in.
Landlords and homeowners were given a mortgage holiday while renters were left out in the cold.
Some self-employed people got thousands of pounds in no questions asked handouts, while others continue to be ignored.
Businesses were granted millions in support but cut jobs anyway. Workers were put on furlough and secretly asked to keep working.
Meanwhile, Number 11 constantly kept up the pressure to exit lockdowns early or delay the imposition of new restrictions. They spent almost a billion pounds giving middle-class people half price off their meals. His Eat Out to Help Out cost nearly double his original estimation, and according to various studies, contributed to the second wave of cases.
His eagerness to exit lockdown didn’t even help save the economy. It made things worse. Britain has endured the deepest recession of any developed company. Not since the longbow was in military service have things looked this bad.
Throughout the pandemic, Johnson has claimed they were ‘following the science’. However, time and time again evidence emerged which showed they were not. Like Donald Trump, he initially cast doubt on the effectiveness of masks. It wasn’t until July that he was seen wearing one.
Schools were initially told they could return without them before another of the usual late U-turns.
In a stormy PMQs in October, Keir Starmer revealed that Johnson had ignored expert advice calling for a short ‘circuit breaker’ in November to bring down cases before Christmas.
When pressed he dismissed the idea, and ridiculed Starmer for wanting to close down schools. Two weeks later, he did exactly that.
In December, the government again found itself battling the experts. They were blindsided by a new variant, even though news of this new variant had been around since September. They added a new tier to the lockdown system even though their own advisers admitted the tiered system wouldn’t be enough.
With cases rising in the run-up to Christmas he again ignored scientists urging against easing restrictions. ‘Boris battles the experts to save Christmas’, proclaimed his sycophants in the Mail. Yet again he was forced into a humiliating U-turn at the last-minute throwing people’s Christmas plans into chaos.
Johnson has got himself into a particular pickle with the schools. In March he was slow to close schools against advice. He dithered about exam results, using a system which downgraded results which an AI system felt were too generous. The system, as it turned out disproportionately impacted children from poorer backgrounds.
As the summer holidays approached, he ignored warnings from teachers unions about the risks of opening up without proper precautions. Schools across the country experienced outbreaks resulting in chaotic closures as parents scrambled to recover children who were forbidden from using school busses to get home.
As cases rose once again in winter, he once again resisted calls to close the schools and insisted they reopen after Christmas, despite all the evidence pointing to the contrary. Once again, he’d perform a screeching hand brake turn of a U-turn at the last minute. Less than a day after insisting schools were safe and with some already returning, he suddenly announced that they weren’t.
As he put the country into a third lockdown he insisted would never be needed, schools remain closed until further notice. The results of his incompetence are shown by data which suggests teachers are almost twice as likely to contract COVID 19 as the general population.
Jobs for the boys
Perhaps the biggest scandal of all comes as a result of the amount of money lavished on friends and donors of the Tory party. A VIP lane was opened for firms with connections to receive special treatment in the approval process.
Billions went to firms with ties to the government: £640,000 for a PR firm founded by an ally of Dominic Cummings. Topham Guerin, the firm behind setting up fake Twitter campaigns during the election was given £3million. £250 million went on PPE contracts to a jewellery company. Even the owner of Matt Hancock’s local pub got in on the act.
One businessman told the Mail how blundering officials had paid over £300 million into the wrong bank account even before he had confirmed the purchase order. Trade Markets Direct, a dormant company opened by bookmaker Garry Morill, received a multimillion-pound contract to deliver PPE.
Morris admitted it was ‘not his area’ but knew people in China so thought he’d offer his services. He asked to be paid in instalments because he didn’t want the responsibility of such a large amount of money sitting in his bank account. He also set up a separate account which would only pay the Chinese once the goods had been delivered.
One rule for us
Despite claiming we’re in this together, the Tories have repeatedly shown that it’s one rule for them and another for the rest of us. The refusal to even criticise Dominic Cummings for his 300-mile eye test hinted at contempt for the general population.
His father didn’t help by repeatedly breaking rules by failing to wear a mask and going on holiday. He often downplayed the severity of the crisis and complained at the prospect of not being allowed to go to the pub.
Even so, while the rest of the country were being told a single vaccination would be fine, Johnson’s father was treated to the double dose as recommended. While Johnson is happy for ordinary people to wait for the jab, he’s not quite comfortable with his own family taking the same risk.
These double standards have a serious impact. They erode trust in the government and in the rules. The Cummings effect has been linked to rule-breaking, and the vaccine take-up is likely to be higher in countries which trust their government.
Who’s to blame?
Throughout the pandemic, the government’s main focus has been on who is to blame. Often the target is Britain’s themselves who as Theresa Coffey put it on Good Morning Britain got too fat and old. She quickly turned off her computer when she realised one of the fat, old Brits she had just castigated for their own illness was her own boss.
Johnson, meanwhile, has often pointed the finger at Keir Starmer for not being supportive enough. Captain hindsight, as he calls him, often undermines confidence by saying what’s going to go wrong before it inevitably does.
More to come
The bad news is that things aren’t over yet. Recent press conferences have seen Johnson hinting at easing restrictions, something which his own experts have repeatedly warned him not to do. Even with the rollout of the vaccine the government is gambling with the health of its citizens.
By delaying the second dose, they go against international consensus, the BMA and the advice of the vaccine makers. What can possibly go wrong?
By doing so they hope to increase the number of people who have some protection relying on evidence which they say shows the vaccine has more than a 90% efficiency after one dose and an assumption that the second dose becomes more effective with a delay. Pfizer says there is no evidence for this.
In short, the last year has been a litany of mistakes, punctuated by U-turn after U-turn. What we’ve described here are just the edited highlights. Even so, the Government appears determined not to learn from its mistakes and looks set to repeat them all. The UK has become an international cautionary tale of what can go wrong.
Meanwhile, COVID free New Zealand showed the world how it should be done. Despite appearing to have beaten the virus they still keep their guard up, with Jacinda Adhern refusing to reopen the borders until the world has sorted itself out. In Britain’s case, they may be waiting for some time.
(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Klaudia Fior)