“You’ve got to wonder whether we need to go further than the Rule of Six,” said Boris Johnson this afternoon when he was talking about the reintroduction of some lockdown measures starting next week. “We’re now seeing a second wave (of COVID-19).” That must be why some pubs will be closing at 10.00pm from next week and we won’t be allowed in each other’s houses. That will stop the virus spreading, won’t it?
Not that long ago, Johnson was promising us that things would hopefully get back to normal by Christmas. We’d all be able to gather, watch telly, get shit-faced and generally celebrate the birth of the alleged Jesus of Nazareth. If only we’d thought to ask Johnson which Christmas he meant? It sure as hell won’t be this one.
With the number of infections now doubling every week, it won’t be long until we are back at Spanish levels of the virus. They are finding 10,000 new cases every day and deaths are back in the hundreds. We are now at around 4,000 cases a day, although the real figure, given that thousands of people can’t even get a test at the moment, is almost certainly at least double that. That’s why the medical and scientific boffins are banging on Johnson’s door to get him to act.
I can’t imagine Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific officer, are imploring Johnson to close the pubs for an hour. My guess is they are telling him to go much, much further and to do so yesterday. This is a disaster in waiting. Let’s look at the evidence:
For weeks, Johnson and his tabloid allies have been urging us to go to work. “It’s safe to use public transport, it’s safe to go back to the office, it’s safe to go in Pret.” Just a few weeks ago, chancer – sorry, chancellor – Rishi Sunak was bribing us with our own money to “eat out to help out.” And people did. They went out in their millions. People went back to their offices and factories. Children went back to school. Guess what? Would you believe the infection rate took off? I know, I know. Now, the virus is out of control – again – and Johnson has literally said: “You’ve got to wonder whether we need to go further than the Rule of Six.” Woah. How the hell did that happen?
We are already in the midst of a massive recession. Jobs are being lost by the thousands on a daily basis. Thanks to Sunak’s excellent furlough scheme many of us – and I include myself in this – still have jobs to go back to. But wait. The scheme is winding down now and it will end altogether by the end of October. My guess, on the basis of the rising infection rate, is that by the end of October we will be locked down again. The job losses being suffered now will pale into relative insignificance. It is entirely possible that without massive state aid, entire sectors will collapse, including aerospace and the automotive industry. We are staring down the barrel of not just a recession but another great depression. This won’t be someone else: it will be you and me.
Don’t forget how our economy works. Since Margaret Thatcher ripped the heart out of our industrial base in the 1980s, we have become a service economy. We depend on people buying things from people who then get paid and they in turn buy something from someone else who then get paid. You get the idea. If the economy tanks, people don’t buy things. It does not require someone to have a brain of a rocket scientist to work out what happens next.
I’ve been angry with Johnson and his organ grinder Dominic Cummings right from the start. They locked down too late, they messed up over testing, they discharged thousands of people from hospitals to spread the virus and then die in care homes, they presided over the worst death toll in Europe, their phone apps failed and, on top of that, Britain faces the worst recession in the civilised world. Thanks to Johnson and Cummings, we ended up in the worst of all worlds. And now the nightmare we went through from March is about to come back.
I’m getting ready for the next lockdown, which I suspect Johnson will have to get policed far better than the first one. People are weary and many, I fear, will not feel inclined to follow the new laws like they did last time. Good luck with that one, Mr Johnson. You had all summer to put things right, to prepare for the long winter when we all stay at home more often, and you wasted the time. What happens next is down to you.
Johnson knows the ‘Rule of Six’ won’t be enough in itself. And he also knows that in a few weeks things will fall apart. Will those voters who ‘love Boris’ because of his faux upbeat optimism still love him when they make their first ever claim to Universal Credit? Will they still love him when the repo man comes calling? And will they still love him when the death rate starts rising again?
The government will have been told just how bad things are and they are flying kites now to get our attention so that we are not taken aback when the prime minister, flanked by Messrs Whitty and Vallance, appears on live television in the next week or so that we must stay at home, again.
You want it darker? We kill the flame.