As Boris takes a break, the crumb of comfort that Carrie might have packed a portable vice for his balls in her luggage doesn’t really compensate for the ongoing fall-out from the past eighteen months. Beyond the bubble the PM and the other residents of Westminster Village inhabit, the ramifications of their actions on the rest of us since the spring of 2020 continue to affect the way in which lives are led. Angry motorists physically manhandling the same middle-class sit-down protestors with too much time on their hands that the police provided tea and biscuits for are not so much manifestations of climate change denial – more an act of desperation on the part of those whose businesses were brought to their knees by the obliteration of the economy during lockdown; clinging on for dear life, the last thing they need is further disruption from activists fighting for the luxury of loft insulation. The schism between those who had a ‘good pandemic’ because their lifestyles weren’t dependent upon everything lockdown took away and those who couldn’t survive without setting foot outdoors is perhaps more glaring now than ever before. Yet, how much of this is being addressed by MPs entrusted to report on the Government handling of the pandemic in its initial stages?
Probably a tad too early and not exactly ‘independent’ (we’ll have to wait one more year for that), the kind of thing the press is fond of labelling ‘a damning report’ appears to have reserved its most severe condemnation for the timing of Lockdown Mk I (far too late) and the NHS Test and Trace disaster (a badly-executed waste of money). The latter criticism seems pretty justified, for the entire operation felt like a microcosm of this particular administration’s reliance on the old boy network. Regardless of its canny theft of the NHS brand name at a time when the institution was approaching the status of a state religion, the Test and Trace scheme was, of course, in the hands of a private company headed by a Tory Peer hardly in possession of a glowing CV. An estimated £37bn was squandered on this project, belatedly set up in haste when infection rates had already soared to a daily 2,000. The urgent need for results and the failure to bring on board those with superior expertise in favour of people who happened to have been at school with Matt Hancock’s brother-in-law amounted to little more than dispatching a locksmith to attend to the stable door when its equine occupants had already bolted.
Local test and trace schemes run by regional public health directors were relative successes compared to the centralised operation overseen by Serco, and the fact the ‘official’ NHS Test and Trace outfit chose not to involve those who had seen action on the frontline during the outbreak of the coronavirus – i.e. from the public sector – and relied upon the less hands-on experience of those from the detached private sector it was more familiar with jeopardised the kind of quick fix the taxpayer inadvertently paid for. As the report concluded, ‘Vast sums of taxpayers’ money were directed to Test and Trace, justified by the benefits of avoiding further lockdowns. But ultimately those lockdowns happened.’ Yet even if one acknowledges the king-size cock-up that was NHS Test and Trace as one of the shabbiest episodes of the whole affair, it still doesn’t match what was undoubtedly the single biggest tragedy of this whole period – the return of infected pensioners from hospital straight back into the nation’s care homes.
The way in which an already-marginalised section of society was treated with such cavalier contempt by the authorities was really brought home once more in a recent, rather harrowing ‘single play’ drama on Channel 4 called ‘Help’, which brilliantly documented the writing-off of some of society’s most vulnerable citizens as collateral damage in the overall pandemic picture. I delayed watching this for a couple of weeks, sensing it’d be heavy going; it naturally was, but I’m glad I watched in the same way I’m glad I watched the equally hard-hitting episode of ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ dealing with the decline and fall of Yosser Hughes. This all-too real fictitious account of the way in which the elderly were abandoned even made me think of Harold bloody Shipman. Watching a documentary on the deranged doctor last year, the ‘how did he get away with it for so long?’ question was easily answered by the fact his victims were essentially invisible and not regarded as particularly important; Shipman targeted old ladies, just as Dennis Nilsen targeted promiscuous gay men, Peter Sutcliffe targeted prostitutes and Fred West targeted unwanted teenage runaways – all inhabitants of the fringes; by contrast, the killing spree of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley was mercifully brief because their victims were instantly missed – young children from happy families. When it comes to ‘soft targets’, however, it seems some remain the same as they had been when nobody was taking note of the high body count in Hyde.
On the subject of lockdown, the consensus in this report follows the MSM one that it came too late. The belief in herd immunity and the reluctance to sacrifice the intended reputation of Johnson’s Government as a libertarian administration could probably explain leaving such a heavyweight extension of state power as lockdown till the eleventh hour, but the response of many in media circles to this critical aspect of the report is telling. After all, they hysterically clamoured for lockdown in the first place, heaping pressure on politicians too easily swayed by media of both mainstream and social persuasion and susceptible to the loudest voices; that the majority of those advocating the complete hibernation of society would be amongst the least badly affected by such a move didn’t eventually prevent a Government eager to please the electorate capitulating to the demands of a cosseted elite. Yet even when lockdown came, the Government still viewed it as a move to minimise the spread of the virus rather than taking a nihilistic, Australia-style ‘Zero Covid’ approach; it evidently seemed the better option was to stagger its effects across the year, thus avoiding a ‘lump-sum’ surge threatening to overwhelm the NHS. The second wave experiences of countries that locked down hard and fast in the first wave were far worse than the UK’s in terms of death tolls.
The criticisms in this report are, overall, fairly valid, though it would appear the main conclusion is that the generally successful vaccine rollout and uptake almost wipes the slate clean. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything less in a 151-page document emanating from a Commons committee, though. Hannah Brady of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice organisation says the report is ‘laughable’, claiming it to be more interested in ‘political arguments about whether you can bring laptops to Cobra meetings than it is in the experiences of those who tragically lost parents, partners or children to Covid-19. This is an attempt to ignore and gaslight bereaved families, who will see it as a slap in the face.’ To be fair, this report is a bit like a comprehensive critique of the Second World War being published in 1946; we’re still not out of it and one cannot help but feel there are still innumerable stories to be told. Even if one personally avoided bereavement, chances are many relationships and friendships have been fractured and damaged by events – in many cases, beyond repair; and it’s hard not to feel resentful towards those who took life-changing decisions that changed the lives of others more than their own.
Naturally, anyone naive enough to expect any rolling heads as a consequence of this report should know better when so few rolled at the time. Even Matt Hancock was only shown the door when caught on camera indulging in a spot of buttock-clutching with his PA; had that disturbing image not made it to the front pages, he’d probably still be Health Secretary today rather than being promoted to the UN’s Special Representative for Financial Innovation & Climate Change. Yes, crime pays.
© The Editor