The country is in crisis; the people are struggling to cope; they’re scared and afraid for the future. Yes, Sir Keir Starmer has been elected leader of the Labour Party. Faced with the alternative of either Rebecca ‘Mrs Merton’ Long-Bailey or Lisa ‘Trans-rights for Wigan’ Nandy, the membership opted for the architect of ‘Believe the Victim’. The joke is, outside of Guardian-Land, nobody gives a flying f**k. And anyone who celebrates the election of the Alpha Auton simply because it marks the end of Corbyn as leader is no better than those who cheered when Crazy Frog kept Coldplay from the No.1 spot a decade or so ago. The victory is just as meaningless. What Starmer’s ascent to the top of the greasy pole says about where the Labour Party are in 2020 isn’t something especially concerning the populace right now, for most are too busy clapping for the NHS to contemplate an opposition led by a shop window dummy manufactured in Brussels.
Probably no election of a major political party leader has provoked less interest since Iain Duncan Smith rose without a trace back in 2001, and the opposition’s irrelevance is further enhanced by the fact it can’t even grab the headlines when the Prime Minister is incapacitated by illness. Mind you, he’s not the first; both his hero Sir Winston and Harold MacMillan directed events from their sick beds at various times during their respective premierships, as did Anthony Eden – though perhaps the latter is not a comparison Boris would relish. The daily press briefings the PM was fronting until the coronavirus caught up with him now appear to be operating on the kind of rotation basis pioneered by José Mourinho back in his first spell at Chelsea. I half-expect some kid who won a competition to host one at some point in the next few weeks, though the far-from soothing Matt Hancock and his rabbit-in-the-headlights expression appears to have taken charge at the moment.
Occasionally, we extend our interest from the home front and receive reports of how the rest of the world is dealing with this unprecedented global situation. We hear how bonkers macho Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at first regarded Covid-19 as if it was some threat to his masculinity, implying that confronting the virus with caution was a sign of gay-ness; his East European equivalent, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is treating the crisis like it’s his audition to be a Putin tribute act; and there’s the inevitable Trump take on events, providing the usual stand-up entertainment as the Donald confidently recovers from early misjudgements in preparation for a confrontation with doddery Joe Biden later in the year – if the former Vice-President makes it that far. And, of course, there are also the anticipated suggestions that perhaps the Chinese authorities haven’t been quite so straight in their stats when it comes to how many lives the coronavirus has claimed in the place where it began.
The Identity Politics brigade, largely (and mercifully) muted by public concerns above and beyond gender pronouns, have sought to cling on by targeting the traditional classification of diseases based upon the location of their initial outbreak and declaring any reference to Covid-19 as ‘the Chinese Virus’ is racist; but other than those in their usual social media safe-spaces, few are paying attention to their Woke bleating. Ditto the self-isolating celebrities whose sudden separation from the spotlight they can ordinarily command is clearly having a terrible impact. Weeping superstars in mansions have actually become one of the few genuinely hilarious distractions at the moment, whether an almost-unrecognisable Madonna inadvertently exhibiting the frightening extent of the hideous work she’s had done on her face, or the pass-the-sick bucket ensemble rendition of ‘Imagine’ that was like every 80s charity single rolled into one tone-deaf ball-sack and smothered in syrupy pus.
The sight of mountain goats strolling around the empty streets of Llandudno and wild deer chilling out on front lawns in London boroughs has undoubtedly been a novel development and maybe an indication of how swiftly the beasts we share our planet with will reclaim our surroundings should we ever vacate them permanently. It’s also a reflection of how quickly the public seems to have largely adapted to the dramatic change in circumstances; the 27 million viewers who tuned into Boris’s landmark television address a couple of weeks ago evidently took his advice on board and have on the whole stayed indoors. The promise of better weather on the horizon poses a threat to this new nation of recluses, but as somebody pointed out the other day, do we really even need a weather forecast right now? Never has it been more apt to dismiss the institution by recommending people simply look out of their windows to see whether or not the sun is shining.
The panic buying that characterised the pre-lockdown atmosphere appears to have receded a little too, though unless the majority of those who indulged own a series of warehouses, it’s hard to see how much more they could have stashed away for a rainy day. Supermarket shelves are closer to their normal state again, though the policy of only allowing in a limited number of shoppers at a time is still being applied at several stores. As someone becoming accustomed to weekly stocking-up rather than popping out for food on the day I intend to eat it, I once more have to admit that every time I venture outdoors I’m increasingly warming to the quieter ambience of the urban environment in its new guise. Yes, shops remain unpredictable in the extent of their adherence to the latest emergency regulations, and there’s the persistent worry one might encounter a Jobsworth copper excited at the prospect of making up the law as he goes along; but the absence of the madding crowd from the pavements is bliss.
It goes without saying that I’m in a better position than many, however. Working alone from home with the kind of social diary designed with self-isolation in mind, very little has changed for me, and any inklings of depressive tendencies cannot in any way be attributed to the factors that might be stirring them in folk unaccustomed to such conditions. Lest we forget, those trapped in prisons and care-homes don’t have the luxury of solitary confinement, and they can’t even take the permitted daily walk. There are also those with challenging children of various mental and physical disabilities, whose full-time presence at home must be placing an unimaginable strain on parents usually reliant on the system to at least give them a few hours off. Maybe the next celebrity to signal their NHS-friendly virtue by donating to the cause via their press office should spare them a thought – or lend them a hand.
How much longer any of this will last remains the province of guess work – everything from weeks to months has been mentioned – and the lack of mass testing means most have no idea if they have it or have already had it; personally, nobody of my acquaintance has – or maybe they had it and just never knew it. The accuracy of the deaths credited to Covid-19 is still questionable and the predictable sensationalism of the media reporting is probably wearying as many people as the severe restrictions imposed on the public are. That said, few of us can hardly compare our individual situations to Anne Frank, so we may as well grin and bear it – or enjoy it.
© The Editor