The above opinion poll hails from – Surprise! Surprise! – the Daily Hate Mail. It provides, says the paper, ‘a snapshot of the damage to our lives.’ Or does it? I’d say it was more of a ‘no context’ poll than anything else. Simple, simplistic perhaps, questions about complex questions. So let’s dig a little deeper into them, one by one.
- Are you better off, no change or worse off as a result of lockdown? Could there be a more worthless question to start with than this? On the face of it, public sector workers are much better off under lockdown than private sector workers. Given that none of them have had pay rises, I can only imagine the following explanations. Most public sector workers, like doctors, nurses, police officers, DWP benefits paying staff will still be at work on full pay. They may have worked additional hours, too. Given there is little to spend things on, it is hardly surprising that they are better off, at least financially. By contrast, many private sector workers will have been furloughed and suffered pay cuts. We don’t know this, but given the Mail hasn’t bothered to give any explanation for the figures, we can only speculate. No one seems to have asked the self-employed, free-lancers and the like. Presumably, none of them are Mail readers.
- How long will it take the economy to recover? Given that economists and politicians don’t have the first idea, should we really expect your average punter to know? Of course not.
- Have you enjoyed being at home more? I’m probably in the ‘don’t know/neither’ category because my answer is ‘yes and no’. I’ve liked being at home but I have hated being away from family and friends. And again, this question is without context. Why are you at home? Have you been furloughed? Have you been made redundant? Is your new found happiness tempered in any way by the fact we are about to enter the steepest recession in modern times and you might lose your job? If you don’t think ahead beyond today, then fair enough. I do, I’m afraid.
- Is the lockdown being eased too fast/too slow? Again, how do we know? In any event, the answers divide on party political grounds and once again we can only speculate on what the answers mean. My guess is that Labour voters are more likely to think about the potentially dangerous consequences of sending people back to work than Conservative voters, a large percentage of whom put the wealth of the economy ahead of the health of the people. Of course, what if you question the very efficacy of the question? I would argue strongly that Britain has never really been under lockdown at all, which is one reason why so many people have died.
- Should these be open? We’re all epidemiologists now so here voters are asked to speculate, scientifically one imagines, as to whether, for example, your local boozer should be opened, if there are sufficient outdoor seating areas. My guess is that allowing for social distancing, there might be enough room for maybe 16 people to sit outside my local pub at any one time, served I’d imagine by bar staff in full PPEs. Sitting outside the boozer in mid winter might be less appealing. And what about the toilets? Would a member of staff have to stand outside with a clicker to count you in and count you back out again? I want this, that and the other open, but how? No one asks the question to no one has to think through the consequences.
- What are you most looking forward to when lockdown ends? The Mail gives no figures for this question because it’s fucking stupid. You look forward to doing the things you like doing. The answers are entirely personal.
- Which lockdown rules have you broken? Two third of respondents have been whiter than white in observing the rules, or at least they say they have. Although we haven’t done anything utterly cretinous like having family members and friends in our house, or indeed visited others inside their houses or arranged or attended barbecues and street parties, are we without sin? Hell, no. I’m not going into specific details – you never know who is reading – but in order to avoid a further deterioration to my mental health, I’ve broken a few rules. I’ve avoided physical contact, even at the recent family funeral, and generally I have managed to maintain social distancing. But I have skated around the edges. I don’t think there is any meaningful value to this question.
- Has lockdown made your quality of life better or worse? Loads of us are apparently unhealthy, fat and unhappy, although our marriages are better, as are relationships with our children. We’re shagging almost as much as we did before, except for the 13% of the population who are shagging even more, but they would say that, wouldn’t they? Again, it’s a classic no context question because all that’s happened for most people is that time has stood still. Ask this question in a few weeks when millions have had their furlough payments reduced and millions more have lost their jobs.
- Would you go on a foreign holiday? Should all travellers coming to the UK be quarantined for two weeks? That’s two questions, mate. I doubt that travel companies will be happy to read that only 9% would go on a foreign holiday while 77% wouldn’t. Interestingly, it’s an open-ended question, too. The question isn’t, ‘Would you go on a foreign holiday anytime soon?’ With so many people still dying every day, it’s no surprise most people don’t want to go abroad or that 75% want people arriving in the UK to go into quarantine for two weeks, which is going to happen in a week or so. The Mail somehow managed to not ask people whether it was a good idea to allow 20 million people into the country from January onwards, hardly any of whom were quarantined, even at the height of the virus. For the foreseeable future, maybe for all time, flight crew will need to wear some degree of PPEs, as will passengers and with check-in times likely to balloon to five hours plus, perhaps those questioned had taken this into account?
- Schools. Three questions here and you can read them for yourself. Again, no context, no references to the science, which is not consistent; just straight yes/no questions and of course voters divide along party lines. However, the clear conclusion is that most voters think schools should not reopen in June and the government will have to effectively force a large number of pupils back to work if they want decent numbers to go back. Certainly no consensus, but then the poll makes no effort to come up with one.
- What has the government done best? Top score goes in this edition of ‘Family Fortunes’ to ‘Preventing the NHS being overwhelmed’, which – need I add this caveat yet again? – is entirely without context. Britain has the worst death toll in Europe and until Boris Johnson’s government abandoned the ‘herd immunity’ strategy in March when it was discovered 250,000 people would die, the NHS would certainly have been swamped. Some victory, some great result. The +46 must be from those who haven’t died yet, despite the government’s worst efforts. However, of all the questions, this one, it strikes me, has solicited the best answers, confirming that the vast majority of people realise the almighty mess Johnson and co have made with COVID-19, despite the lies of government and the consistent media misreporting. ‘What has the government done best’ suggests the government has done some things well. It hasn’t. But who would expect the Mail to frame this question any other way?
- Who has had a ‘good coronavirus war’? Dominic Cummings’s stooge, Rishi Sunak, of course, who has a rating of +37, and why wouldn’t he? He’s young, he’s fresh-faced and he’s a polished media performer. He had the obvious advantage of having been largely unknown to the public at the start of the outbreak. People know the likes of Michael Gove and Priti Patel only too well, hence their dismal minus scores and even Johnson, whose brand has become tainted as more evidence emerges of what a terrible job he has done, is only narrowly in the black. But Sunak’s current levels of popularity are mainly because he has been handing out free money to people. Millions are being paid to stay at home and do nothing and some are actually better off because there is nothing to spend their money on. In the coming months, when the free money runs out and the jobs and businesses disappear, if Sunak maintains +37 in the polls it will be a miracle. Sadly for Sunak, and everyone else, miracles don’t happen. If another question had been, ‘When your furlough ends, your firm sacks you and you go to sign on, who will you say has had a good coronavirus war’? The bloke who couldn’t save your job? Hmm.
- Who is doing a better job as leader? It’s an opinion poll so in the opinion of 42% of voters, Johnson is doing a better job than Labour leader Keir Starmer on 27%. Starmer even trails ‘Don’t know’ which comes in at 31%, although that might be because not many people, barring political anoraks, know anything about Starmer. It’s partly because of Johnson’s, incomprehensible to me, levels of personal popularity and of the need many feel during a crisis to get behind the leader whoever he is and however good, or in this case bad, a job he or she is doing. Anyway, Johnson is doing a better job at doing what than Starmer? At being prime minister? Well, yes. That’s because, in case you hadn’t realised, Johnson is prime minister and Starmer isn’t. No. It’s a popularity context. ‘Boris’ is funny. He’s the bloke you could have a pint with. He’s different from other politicians. He’s not, in the minds of some, a serial liar, a huckster and a fraud. In the same way that Sunak remains popular because he is handing out free money, let’s see if Johnson can maintain his popularity when the body count has finally been filed. If he can, the country thoroughly deserve him.
- Has Nicola Sturgeon exploited virus (sic) to score political points? The worst question of them all. Heavily loaded to attract a ‘yes’ from respondents, it would only have context if it was immediately followed by ‘What did she do specifically to score political points?’ Give me one solid example, without the benefit of Mr Google. Most people, I wager, couldn’t do that, even though I personally have a great deal of sympathy with this loaded question because that’s normally what Ms Sturgeon does in any situation.
- Was Sadiq Khan right to raise London congestion charge by 30% to £15 a day? Why was the question not, ‘Was the government right to force Sadiq Khan to raise public transport fares plus increasing the congestion charge in exchange for a financial bail-out because millions of passengers had been unable to use public transport by following the government’s stay at home message?’ A bit long-winded on my part, sorry, but the Mail wanted an answer to blame Mayor Khan. And that’s why the question read like it did. I wonder, too, just how many respondents polled actually drive through the congestion or understand why it was introduced in the first place.
All these things and more render the Mail’s poll as a context-free snapshot, carried out more for entertainment than as an objective assessment of where the country stands. Fair enough because few people regard the Mail as a serious and objective newspaper.
Instead, let’s imagine how the polling will look when mass unemployment returns, when vast numbers of companies go through the hoop, when the country goes into a long and deep recession, or even another great depression, and when Boris Johnson’s hollow populist rhetoric has been brutally exposed to a desperate and divided country.
This poll does not take into account the imminent economic carnage that is coming down the track, not least because we’re not really thinking about it – and that’s because the government has not yet prepared us for it. They will have to soon because the main issue for many people will not be about how much they are still shagging during lockdown but about whether they will have a job, whether they will be able to pay the mortgage and whether they will be able to put bread on the table. At the moment, I see the country sleepwalking into disaster and no one dares to wake it up.