The brilliant Guardian journalist John Harris summed up for me the government’s subliminal message about pubs opening again tomorrow. Quoting the Sex Pistols, Harris described it as ‘Get pissed. Destroy.’ Tomorrow, I expect the rabid red top newspapers to splash with headlines like ‘Super Saturday’, ‘Independence Day’ and ‘It’s your civic duty to get shit-faced to save the economy’. I will be giving pubs a particularly wide berth tomorrow because I fear that some people will be only too keen to get pissed and destroy. Yet a fascinating opinion poll for Sky News suggests a very different story about ending Britain’s semi-lockdown.
70% of people say they would be nervous about going to the pub. 70% will not go to a shopping centre. 73% would be uncomfortable going on a foreign holiday. And here’s the most startling statistic of them all: 83% would strongly support a second lockdown if there was a spike in cases. That’s the one I find most fascinating of all.
My first thought is that these figures suggest that the ‘stay at home’ message, created and then ignored by our de facto prime minister Dominic Cummings, resonated far more strongly than politicians feared it might. Indeed, the government set up the Nightingale hospitals, in reality death camps, because they strongly believed that in the early months of pandemic people would do anything but stay at home. Bolstered by the furlough system, over 9 million employees and several million self-employed people were paid by the state to stay at home and do nothing. My guess is that a considerable number of those who are still furloughed have not considered the imminent winding down of the scheme. In a matter of months, people would have to stay at home with no income. I doubt whether 83% of the population will not strongly support a further lockdown in those circumstances.
The story is obviously not just about pubs. A survey suggests some 10.5 million motorists will be hitting the roads from midnight tonight in order to visit hotels, bed and breakfasts and campsites – as well as staying with relatives. If this is anything like accurate, then good luck if you are out and about tomorrow. For my friends in the south west of England, that return to lockdown might soon look appealing if the scenes are anything like they were in Bournemouth a week or so ago, especially with everything else reopening.
Dominic Cummings’ deputy Boris Johnson will be holding a press conference today with his faux optimism, bluster and bullshit. Johnson does not do bad news, so expect plenty of the ‘glass half full but not for long ho ho ho’ cheerful bonhomie. God knows how the end of this flimsy semi-lockdown will pan out but I for one am far from convinced this will end well. And if Johnson’s enduring all-encompassing incompetence and ineptitude leads us back into another lockdown, my reaction will be more one of anger than resignation.