COUGHS AND SNEEZES SPREAD DISEASES

Aha! You thought I was dead, didn’t you – claimed by the same virus that will kill us all in the end. Welcome to Project Fear II: Corona. Pity the manufacturers of a once-popular fizzy pop, for what Brexit failed to achieve, the brand from Wuhan will manage – that’s if we as a people are determined to engineer a self-fulfilling prophesy. At the time of writing, there are over 160 confirmed cases in the UK and there have so far been two fatalities (the second yet to be confirmed). These are the times when rolling news channels get erections and Fleet Street ups the hysteria ante to temporarily arrest declining sales. The empty supermarket shelves and cleaned-out chemists we’d been promised when we exited the EU didn’t materialise, so it’s time to do our patriotic duty and ensure there isn’t enough loo roll to go round.

To backtrack a little, around 15-20 years ago I used to do bits of shopping for a couple of elderly ladies; one of them had a fairly rigid list that always included boiled ham and pink salmon. I remember returning with her carrier bags one week and said old lady placed the two fresh tins of the aforementioned fish in her pantry, revealing at least a dozen already stacked in there; I think she had more stashed away in that pantry than the local Co-Op could boast. Why there was such a need to stock-up on pink salmon was beyond me – I felt it impolite to ask; but this was panic buying on a small scale, a compulsion to purchase which was driven by personal idiosyncratic fears rather than responding to media soothsayers. The stock market didn’t plummet, no airlines went into administration, and no James Bond movies were postponed because Miss Henry felt she had to a have a pantry with enough pink salmon to see her through till Doomsday.

As has already been pointed out elsewhere, deaths from respiratory diseases linked to bog-standard seasonal influenza number between 290,000 and 650,000 worldwide every year; but the humble flu isn’t really a ‘sexy’ plague and is such a commonplace part of the annual changing of the seasons that it doesn’t provoke panic in quite the same way as a mysterious new virus from the Orient. Because the hyper-sensitive Chinese government are so accustomed to telling their people as little as possible, the coronavirus was able to spread with ease as an ignorant populace was caught by surprise; by the time they received the facts, it was too late to save over 3,000 lives and too late to save it being carried to China’s Far East neighbours. Air travel then aided the virus’s transmission around the world before the panic stations button was pressed.

A virus that appears to pose the most threat to the aged and those who already suffer from weak health doesn’t really warrant the wide-scale closing of schools or the banning of large gatherings, such as football matches. From what I can gather, the coronavirus also has a conveniently long incubation period – an average of 14 days – which provides plenty of prior warning, a bit like those courtesy calls the IRA used to make to the authorities in advance of a bomb exploding in a public place. Latest stats claim the mortality rate of the coronavirus is 1% or lower; it is estimated even the most at-risk age group, the over-80s, can look forward to a 90% recovery rate.

Coronavirus is the kind of ‘plague’ that will only kill large numbers in countries where either poor sanitation is predominant for the closely-huddled masses or a secretive government is reluctant to dispense advice and information to its people; I can’t quite work out what Italy’s excuse is. The only people I’ve so far seen on the streets in surgical masks have been a group of Chinese students, who were perhaps wary of invoking the ire of the crowd that believes everything it is told and is looking for someone to blame. Still, you’d think the number of cancelled flights would bring a smug smile to the sullen faces of Climate Change salesmen and women, but no; scowling little Greta is still at it, giving the world’s children sleepless nights as she preaches hellfire and damnation from her global pulpit. Some people are never satisfied.

Wash your hands and sneeze into a handkerchief. Cheers for that; now I need to check the nearest Sainsbury’s hasn’t run out of eggs for my grandmother to suck. For some reason, I tend to have a habit of washing my hands whenever I’ve exchanged change with a shop assistant as soon as I return home; maybe it’s just me, but I’m acutely conscious that this person might have just spent a penny and exited the staff toilets without their fingers and palms having come into contact with soap and water afterwards. Maybe it’s a legacy of my mother’s dire warnings whenever I sighted a stray sweet on the pavement as a child – ‘Don’t pick it up! A dog might have weed on it!’ And I’ve never been one of those for whom a strip of scrunched-up kitchen roll will suffice as a snot-rag of several days’ duration; as all gentlemen should, I own a wide range of handkerchiefs.

I often wonder if the closure of the Central Office of Information in 2011 was one of the Coalition Government’s most unfairly overlooked acts of austerity cost-cutting. Producers of endless public information films beginning in the late 40s and reaching a golden age in the 1970s, the COI taught us to look both ways when crossing the road, not to talk to strangers, not to throw bangers, and not to play near water without being able to swim. Like most children of the 70s, I was successfully persuaded into observing the dos and don’ts of the public information films through being scared half to bloody death; it was a tough-love form of education, but I reckon it pretty much worked. The fact that one of the key dispensers of advice on public health issues has been absent for a decade – and one which did so in an ingenious way that imprinted itself on the collective memory – might explain why such basic and bleedin’ obvious tips are now being given when they should be a given.

I guess I’m lucky in that I’m the sole occupant of my own confined space and I’m not cooped-up with the germs of others for eight hours a day; I do the majority of my shopping online and the last time I was physically ill, it occurred the day after a visit to my local GPs surgery – which had involved a half-hour stint in a crowded waiting room. Therefore, I can see the sense in avoiding claustrophobic environments in which one is cheek-by-jowl with strangers. Unfortunately, many have no option; they have to endure stuffy workplaces or commute on crammed public transport to get to and from them. And they enjoy shopping and socialising. Sometimes, being on the outside looking in has its advantages.

© The Editor

THE SMIRKING CLASS

There’s an especially memorable ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ episode in which an exasperated Jim Hacker decides to clip Sir Humphrey’s expanding wings a little by locking the interior adjoining door that enables his cocksure Cabinet Secretary to stride into No.10 from the Cabinet Office; incensed and outraged by this sudden challenge to his overbearing authority, Sir Humphrey is forced to walk the long way round along Whitehall and protests with characteristic ‘how dare you?’ pomposity. Enjoying seeing the power behind the throne losing it, Hacker then takes things a step further by removing Sir Humphrey’s Downing Street pass, thus denying him access altogether. Eventually, all is back to normal by the end of the episode; but the PM has made his point.

I was reminded of this over the weekend when one of the Home Office’s top civil servants, Sir Philip Rutnam, resigned his post as Permanent Secretary in melodramatic fashion by delivering a vociferous critique of Home Secretary Priti Patel. The usual sympathy that might accompany a resignation prompted by alleged bullying in the workplace was tempered somewhat by the detectable Sir Humphrey-like sense of entitlement in Sir Philip’s statement. This is a man who himself had a reputation as being difficult to work with and appears to have embodied all the arrogance that comes with a lengthy stint in the upper echelons of the civil service. Choosing to resign in such a public and narcissistic manner was almost reminiscent of a TV personality begging for forgiveness after being caught on camera snorting coke with rent boys; and only an idiot or opportunist could express empathy with Sir Philip’s tragic plight.

Promising to issue a claim against the Home Office for ‘constructive dismissal’, Sir Philip accused Priti Patel of being behind an orchestrated smear campaign against him, alleging she held him responsible for briefing the media about the Home Secretary’s rumoured conduct towards employees. Patel is apparently guilty of ‘swearing, belittling people, and making unreasonable and repeated demands’, so up stepped Sir Philip in an act of (in his own words) ‘bravery’ to out the Home Secretary and shine an unflattering light on the clandestine machinations of the Home Office under Patel. It is worth noting, however, that Sir Philip’s stint in the top job is poised to be exposed in similarly unflattering light with the imminent report into the Windrush scandal and the part he played under the regime of Amber Rudd; his recent actions could therefore be viewed as something of a pre-emptive strike.

Lest we forget, the Whitehall civil service was itself accused of an overwhelming Remainer stance during last year’s Brexit battles, suspected of playing its part in obstructing progress and allying itself with Labour and Lib Dem aims to thwart the implementation of the outcome of the EU Referendum. The civil service was exposed as an autonomous establishment mole at odds with government policy – something it could get away with during a period of minority administration; for a majority government whose intentions to resolve the issue by honouring the electorate’s 2016 mandate to then come into office was bound to shake the foundations a little, so Sir Philip was perhaps looking for an excuse to make a getaway with handsome redundancy package intact. This was apparently arranged in advance, though the egotistical craving to air his sour grapes placed that severance payment in jeopardy, hence his headline-grabbing stunt and opportunistic signal to the left by playing the victim.

The left has latched onto Sir Philip Rutnam as an unlikely ‘heroic’ whistleblower, though this symbol of the privileged and unelected autocracy of the Whitehall civil service is only really being feted because the language of his resignation speech upholds the ‘we told you so’ mindset of the left re Priti Patel. The incumbent Home Secretary seems to embody everything they find objectionable about British-born Indians – i.e. the refusal to adhere to the ‘immigrant victim’ narrative and tendency not to vote Labour due to their aspirational ambitions. Patel herself is a descendant of Ugandan Asians, though her family migrated to the mother country before Idi Amin expelled the architects of the independent Ugandan economy in 1972. Like many of Hindu descent raised during British rule, Patel has inherited the Protestant Work Ethic and instinctively resists playing the patronising part assigned to her by the opposition. She may not be the brightest button to hold one of the major offices of state, but the ill-advised liaison with Israeli officials that provoked her ejection from Theresa May’s Cabinet in 2017 earned her the undying enmity of the left, so the latest storm in a teacup was the gift that an increasingly desperate Labour Party was looking for to condemn her further.

The recent resignation of Sajid Javid as Chancellor, which he claimed was down to pressure from No.10 to replace his own personal advisers with SPADs of Dominic Cummings’ own choosing, has fed into the current ‘crisis’ storyline re the Government, though Patel has been under disproportionate scrutiny for months. The below-the-belt Andrew Marr accusation that she was smirking during an interview as the subject of society’s less fortunate members was raised highlighted the somewhat pathetic straw-clutching by her opponents, something that has resurfaced in the wake of Sir Philip’s grandstanding exit.

Obviously, not being a Home Office minion myself, I cannot comment with any accuracy on the validity of the accusations against Priti Patel regarding her ‘bullying’ tendencies, but the media reaction to such allegations do speak volumes as to what kind of individual we want running the Home Office. I would surmise most of the holders of the post of Home Secretary have been guilty of displaying ‘bastard’ tendencies over the years; but do we want a primary school teacher with a touchy-feely Call me Tony/Dave approach at this moment in time – or do we want a whip-cracker who will lay down the law and not take any shit from civil servants at odds with government policy? Nobody gets to such high office by being a nice guy/girl, so we shouldn’t necessarily expect a potential CBeebies babysitter to be in charge of an institution most would agree is in need of an iron fist.

Were Priti Patel a Labour rather than Conservative MP, she would no doubt be celebrated as an example of Britain’s ‘diversity’; she would be a multicultural poster-girl demonstrating that ethnicity is no impediment to achievement. As it is, her unfashionable views on capital punishment and steely-eyed attitude to Radical Islam have turned her into a trendy hate figure in the same way that Sajid Javid’s successor at No.11 has already been targeted because of his similar reluctance to adhere to the expectations his origins demand. An online campaign against such an innocuous brand as Yorkshire Tea simply because Rishi Sunak posed with a box of said beverage a week or so ago says so much about how low the opposition will go when their main priority is arguing over ‘Trans-rights’. And they can’t understand why they’re not in office?

© The Editor