Unusually for me, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, trying to get my head around what the hell is going on in the world. Two weeks ago today, I was watching the telly seeing Liverpool go out of the Champions League to Atletico Madrid, wondering why it was that 3000 Atletico fans had been allowed to travel freely to Liverpool, to use the pubs, clubs and restaurants as well as stand next to each other at Anfield when their own stadium was closed due to Covid-19. Today, all the pubs, clubs and restaurants are closed in Britain as the rest of us go into lockdown. Except that some people are in more of a state of lockdown than others.
Boris Johnson announced on Monday night that everyone “must stay at home.” He added: “Everyone is going to die if we don’t all stay at home.” (I’m not sure if these were the exact words, but it was something like that.) Johnson’s very clear message lasted less than a day.
It was health secretary Matt Hancock who confused matters when he later added that those who cannot work from home should go to work “to keep the country running”. “This applies”, he didn’t add, but might as well have done, “to everyone from doctors to paperclip and bean counters. We’re all in it together, except when we aren’t. Just stand a couple of metres apart when you count those paperclips and wash your hands afterwards.”
I can see the logic of ‘key workers’ remaining at work. After all, things could get a little tricky if our heroic doctors, nurses and all other NHS staff were told to work from home. But it seems to me that the messages are becoming very mixed and – dare I say – muddled.
In Britain, we are clearly not in lockdown, like people in Spain or Italy. There are still things we can do, like going for a run, like doing what is clearly non-essential work that those countries are not permitting. It’s either mixed messaging or it’s very cynical.
The prime minister’s chief advisor Dominic Cummings we know is the most influential person in Westminster and arguably in the whole country. And he is quoted as saying that we need “herd immunity to protect the economy and if a few pensioners die, so be it.” Is this why we are not really in lockdown?
I appreciate that in such dangerous and frightening times, we should keep criticism of elected politicians to a minimum, even those with whom we profoundly disagree on almost everything. However, when politicians who run the country lack clarity and consistency, are you just supposed to keep calm and carry on doing jobs that really are not necessary in the grand scheme of things?
Boris Johnson was far better on Monday night when reading a prepared script from an autocue, instead of his usual strategy of winging it. I felt there was clarity and purpose in what he was saying. Yet, within hours “stay at home” turned into “go to work if you can’t work from home”. And that, friends, is what millions of people are still doing. I honestly don’t get it.