A Journal of The Plague Year

Weeks 5 and 6, April 23rd 2020. Cravings and Ravings

In these strange times, full of empty days and an uncertain future, one inevitably turns to musing all things philosophical. Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Will there be any cricket this summer? Lately these thoughts have turned to man’s greatest achievements, in an attempt to decide whether or not we as a species deserve to survive. After much thought, I’ve got as far as these. In no particular order, I give you:

  • The Sistine Chapel ceiling
  • The Flushing Toilet
  • The Cruyff Turn
  • Abbey Road side 2
  • Much Ado about Nothing, Act 4, scene 1, lines 251 – 325
  • The Waitrose Chocolate Berliner Donut

Perhaps you could choose four more and then we could go to a vote. I’m sensing a Twitter poll coming on

It feels like the tide is beginning to turn in terms of our glorious government and the Blessed Boris. Having been surfing on a tide of brainless good will since he Rose Again, Johnson is, at last, being subjected to some proper scrutiny. And what do you know, when the spotlight of interrogation is on him, the mystery melts away, and just like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, a rather silly pathetic, ineffectual little man emerges. His canonisation reached its peak, hilariously, with Alison Pearson’s tear stained, masturbatory eulogy in The Telegraph about how the nation held its breath as he teetered on the edge of death. He was, Pearson declared, the incarnation of the spirit of Albion, the Johnson body (steady Alison, you’ll need to wash those sheets) being one and the same thing as the body politic of the realm. Transubstantiation or Consubstantiation? Thinking about it, with Johnson, it was almost certainly Con.

But even in the breathless, evidence free zone that is the Tory press, eventually reality must break through. Those damn bodies. In the same way that the relentless clips of young Americans being flown back to the US in body bags from Viet Nam did for LBJ in the Sixties, so the daily press briefings giving the inexorable rise in deaths from the disease, has gradually chipped away at the Johnson myth. The briefings have been led by a series of utterly hopeless Tory Ministers (Alok Sharma?!) and have been notable for several things. First, the absolute inadequacy of the journalists questioning. The questions are poor and repetitive, and no one is challenged for not directly answering. Then the “independent” scientific advisors. What a joke. The petrified Minister passes the difficult question to the advisor who plainly fails to answer it before passing it back with a rictus smile, pathetically grateful that a few more minutes have passed and the end of the whole charade of a briefing is a little bit closer. Finally, the latest in a series of desperate promises about the future is delivered, whether that’s the target or 100,000 tests by the end of April, a figure blatantly plucked out of thin air, a delivery of PPE from Turkey, or all homeless people will be given secure accommodation. It does not matter what the promise is, you can guarantee that it’s a lie to placate the simple minded and to take up a few more moments of the briefing.

And so to the Sunday Times story, delicious and horrifying in equal measure, confirming what most of us long suspected: Johnson is a lazy, lying charlatan, whose instinct is to wing it and hope for the best, confident that he will get an easy ride from the media. After all, why on earth change an approach that has got him into  number 10, with a proven track record of moral turpitude, entirely ignored by Fleet Street’s finest?

The simulation of the pandemic scenario in 2016 nails it completely. The conclusions of this exercise were as stark as The Tory party’s blithely continuing to ignore them as they accelerated their run down of the basic structures and provisions of a modern state, motivated purely by ideology. The lack of intensive care beds and ventilators is truly shocking given what they knew. Then came the head in the sand approach to clear warnings from Wuhan and Europe. Johnson allows Cheltenham, goes to the rugby, tells everyone proudly, bloke of the people style, that he shakes hands with everyone and why shouldn’t we all go to the pub? Then he disappears for ten days, finishing his book apparently at Chequers, all loved up with Carrie Symonds and does not bother to attend never mind chair the first five meetings of Cobra. The veritable cherry on the icing is the news that the failure to participate in an EU wide supply of ventilators was, indeed, a policy decision not the laughable “we didn’t get the email” excuse ( surely this ranks alongside “the dog ate my  homework” in the all time lamest excuses list.)

Yes, that’s right. Don’t just move on to the next paragraph. Government spokespeople repeatedly lied to us about this. Once more with feeling: Government spokespeople repeatedly lied to us about this. What on earth has happened to us and our expectations that this is, apparently, unremarkable? Time was, there would have been a media feeding frenzy, with news organisations scenting blood, nagging away at every opportunity until there was a resignation or two. Now, it’s no big deal. Move along please, nothing to see here.

Beyond this, what else has weeks 5 and 6 of Armageddon brought us?

  1. The figures started to sort of come down, accompanied by discussion amongst the experts and wide eyed news readers abut relaxing the lock down. The main focus of this relaxation is, of course, schools. Most teachers would have been horrified to read plans for schools to go back as early as May 11th, on the basis that statistically, kids are pretty poor at passing the virus on and that teachers, a lazy bunch at the best of times, are just sitting around at home doing the garden in anticipation of a scorching summer drinking G&T with the occasional bit of light weeding thrown in. This would be a great theory but for one strangely overlooked fact. Schools generally, in order to function well, tend to have adults in them as well. But as the ghastly Spectator journo Alison Williams opined sagely in The Telegraph, its time for teachers to show a bit of bravery and open up classrooms again. “What we need, Blackadder, is a supremely futile gesture of self-sacrifice, in the grand tradition of gullible foot soldiers through History.”

Bollocks to that, as Winston Churchill once said.

Even just the mention of it, though, with the suggestion that we are past the peak and the whole thing is going to dribble away, has had a strange effect on me. When I went for my latest visit to the supermarket there was no queue at all and I began to think that even the most basic of social distancing and handwashing was a little bit OTT and for wusses. It’s easy to see how relaxation could easily lead to non-compliance and a huge tsunami of new infections down the line. This feeling is compounded by the latest reports of people drifting back to work and normality and a friends reports of Croydon being packed once again, with little attempt at social distancing. Now, everyone wears some form of mask or bandana and just carries on as normal. In the same way that cycle helmets turn people into less sensible cyclists, face masks do the same for people in the public domain.

  • The Populist insanity in America has started to take centre stage with swivel eyed Libertarian crazies taking to the streets with banners and assault rifles (essential shopping in the US remember) swearing their inviolable right to do what the fuck they want in the name of Liberty. I predict, Nostradamus like, that there will be a mass shooting before all this is done. This is the latest in a series of events that make the dystopian world of The Handmaid’s Tale, less an enjoyable, thought provoking fantasy and more a foreseeable reality. The surprise is that there hasn’t been more resistance here from the far right Brexit crazies. The only consolation from the sight of them massing to demonstrate is that they will have infected each other.  No, sorry, that’s a horrible thing to say. Lockdown is clearly getting to me. The job of socialists, liberals and other proper human beings is to protect the nasty red necks from themselves. Forgive them, they know not what they do.
  • I am beginning to fantasise about life before the lockdown. The other day we re-watched Fleabag and all of our conversation afterwards was about how wonderful it would be to be in a Restaurant, or in a black cab crossing the Thames late at night. Similarly, my son and I, having got through The Lord of the Rings films, now watch Youtube classic football reruns obsessively. Oh, for some top-class sport on the telly. I am really missing the way that progress from Spring into Summer is harder to keep hold of without the usual markers of the The Season: Boat Race, Grand National, Football season climax, Cricket, Wimbledon, International Football tournament etc. We have even, in a vain attempt to hold on to the joys of Summer, been watching Rick Stein’s journey through France, vicariously enjoying all of the scenes of Rick sitting at an outside table eating lovely food and sipping an expresso, a cold beer or a glass of fruity red. Having lost several holidays already, there is some pleasure to be had in planning future trips, whilst watching the appalling Rick ballsing up in the most boring delivery known to personkind in the most exquisite locations in Europe.
  • By the time we are released back into the community, if I have survived my perennial manflu, I will need a wheelchair, such is the extent of my muscle wastage. I know I could be more innovative with my exercise regime without going to the gym, but its just not the same. One of the great pleasures of semi-retirement was going to the gym for an hour of treadmill, exercise bike and rowing machine, followed up by a trip to Waitrose for a free coffee, a free newspaper and, joy of joys, a Waitrose Chocolate Berliner donut. Even writing it down is bringing tears to my eyes. You can keep Proust and his Madeleines. All I want is  a Berliner. Just one.
  • Symptom alert: Still got headache, aching limbs, crippling tiredness. It’s clearly only a matter of time now. And then my wife reminds me that I have had these symptoms every week for the past thirty years

The Young Person’s Guide to Conservative Government

A Public Service Announcement

Pitt the Younger

Given recent political developments, a new General Election seems imminent. In the interests of a fully informed electorate, to protect the democratic health of the system, you may find the following guide a useful tool to use with any Young People you know.

Conservative Governments follow a cycle of events in an unchanging, fixed way, like the seasons follow on from each other. These are the key stages:

  1. During a period of Labour Party Government (*see below), the Conservatives spend a lot of money given to them by rich donors and foreign powers, to issue propaganda rubbishing the actions of the Labour Government and falsifying statistics to create the impression that key areas of society are in decline. The money is given to them because, under a Labour Government,  the Rich have fewer opportunities to further enrich themselves at the expense of the state and the poor. This enrages them and they consider it to be very unfair and very detrimental to a productive economy. They mask their concern for the decline in their own personal enrichment by expressing concern for the lack of opportunities afforded to the poor by having a badly run economy, with rising unemployment.
Mark Francois

2. As a priority, the Conservative party identify key areas of the economy or of Society that are in crisis. They use phrases such as “Broken Britain” and they issue misleading right wing think tank reports to stoke fears of terminal decline under the Labour Party that they portray as unpatriotic, economically illiterate, and in the pocket of terrorists and the trade unions.

3. They identify a series of key groups who can be routinely scapegoated for these manufactured crises. These tend to be the following: Immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers. Lots of preparatory work has to be done first to blur the distinctions between these groups and to create the impression that most of them are associated with Islam or terrorism. In recent years, this list has been supplemented by the idea of “Europe” or “The EU” as a sinister unelected body whose only purpose is to do Britain down because at heart we are better than them, culturally, historically, economically and morally. (see “British Values”). This narrative of British exceptionalism is pursued without embarrassment, and in some cases, it appears that some Conservative Politicians and supporters actually believe it. In recent months, new groups have been added to the list of scapegoats: The British Parliament, The legal establishment and the BBC. This has been given the helpful umbrella term, “The liberal metropolitan Elite” or more usually, “The sneering liberal metropolitan Elite”. No-one actually knows what this means. There is a suspicion that it is used in the same way that the term “Fake News” is used by Republicans in the United States, ie when they cannot give a plausible answer to legitimate questions that have been raised by a free press, or the political opposition.

4. Hand in hand with this decline goes a reckless spending of tax payers’ money, on projects and initiatives that actively make things worse. Higher taxes allow the Labour Party to encourage immigration, terrorism, criminality, unemployment. Because of high taxes and political correctness gone mad there is more homelessness, more immigration, more crime, poorer exam results, worse health outcomes, longer waiting lists. This list is literally endless. Why on earth would the Labour Party do this? What is in it for them? The Conservative Party in opposition have strained every sinew to make the answer to this glaringly obvious to everyone, apart from the handful of Communists in the country: The Labour Party are the Enemy Within.

Captain Mainwaring

5. Once in power, The Conservative Government follows its natural instinct, which is to dramatically reduce public spending, lower taxes and line the pockets of its supporters, the already very rich and powerful. These people, apparently, are not the liberal metropolitan elite. They may be the rural elite, or the fascist elite, but both of these groups are infinitely more acceptable than those damn liberals. The sneering ones especially.

6. This is all done in the name of freedom and to liberate entrepreneurship from the dead hand of the state, so that we can all become richer.  No-one seems to worry that this has never worked. Except The Enemy Within.

7. Carrying on the work carefully prepared when in opposition, the Conservative Government continue to denigrate the work of the BBC, accusing all of its journalists and newsreaders of being Lefties. There are clear threats made regarding the licence fee and, subsequently, all news broadcasts are grotesquely “balanced”, which means even the most rabid right -wing lunatics are given equal air time for their views. Please note: This is a process likely to accelerate given the success of the Trump experiment in America. (See “Fake News”)

8. As the life of the Government progresses, their policies start to have an impact. Statistics regarding Homelessness, Health, Poverty, Climate change Social Care, Children’s services, Crime, Infrastructure, Transport etc all plummet. On the BBC news, a succession of such disasters is reported by head shaking, hand wringing newsreaders, with a baffled expression, as if they are at a loss to explain these strange, unrelated phenomena. A simple graphic would show the cast iron correlation between the election of Tory Governments and the inevitable collapse of the fabric of civil society. The point is never made because it is too “political”, so we must get used to thinking of these events as Acts of God, not policy consequences.

The Blessed Margaret

9. In the second half of a Tory Government, the arguments of the Labour Party and the possible policy solutions become very popular as clear and obvious solutions to the disasters wreaked by the gang of half -witted charlatans currently in office. Tory spokespeople reaffirm that they are spending more money than ever before on   (insert any issue people are moaning about).

10. The year before the election when the Tories are double digits behind in the polls, they steal 75% of the Labour policies they have spent the last four years demonising, and pledge to spend loads of money on Housing, the NHS, Social care, etc etc.

11. They spend billions of pounds from the magic money tree on bungs, bribes and propaganda that forcibly remind people that the Labour Party, The Greens and The Liberal Democrats are all Communists, in the pay of the Unions, Palestine, Islamists and foreigners generally. It used to be Russia, but that’s a bit awkward nowadays.

12. They will do absolutely everything in their power to obscure the basic choice everyone has to make about what kind of society we want to be. Either we can be a country that spends 42% of its GDP on infrastructure and the public realm, ensuring a country that runs efficiently (See Germany). This used to be the case for all civilised European countries. It is what we used to do during the post-war consensus, when all of the statistics mentioned several times above were all much, much healthier. Or we can choose to spend 37% of GDP on the same stuff and watch as society crumbles around us. No-one will ever point out his basic choice to you because they are disposed to treat the electorate as ninnies who don’t know their arse from the elbow. You will get used to this. You have a choice over whether to get angry about it and protest or to shrug your shoulders and eat more of the same shit.

13. Very often the electorate buy the lies and The Conservative Party is re-elected to Government. As soon as that happens, the steps outlined above start again, from step 5, and they begin to cut public spending savagely again. They reallocate a pittance from existing budgets as a fig leaf to cover up their broken promises. This is a bit of a bore for them to have to go through, but they are heartened by the success of Trump who has hit upon a new way of dealing with this. He simply lies about it and gets away with it. This will save the Tories a lot of time in the future. (see “Dominic Raab”)

14. Every now and again, things are so badly mismanaged by the Tories that no amount of lies and spin and propaganda can prevent the election of a Labour Government. Historically, this has been a statistical aberration, but, strangely, there was a period of over ten years of Labour Government, on the back of three election victories and they did great things, but the Left don’t like to talk about that. (ask your parents about this. I think it has been removed from Wikipedia) They (the Left) still think of that period as another period of Conservative Government, cleverly rebranded. During this period, Tony Blair did several things that did not help. They were:

  • Knocking back Proportional Representation. (This was a disastrous mistake, and, I believe, an example of Hubris. Jacob Rees-Mogg may correct me on this)
  • The Iraq War.
  • Being starry -eyed about the Rich and Famous
Someone whose name I can no longer remember, but who now seems a model of ethical behaviour, despite vague memories of her appalling performance in Government

There are signs that this immutable cycle may be entering a period of rare adjustment, on the back of the success of Trumpery in the USA. This has emboldened the Right to embrace cheating, lying and outrageously unethical behaviour. The current Cabinet appointed by Mr Johnson is so unspeakably Right Wing and so driven by ideological fervour that they are impervious to any appeal to morality or ethical standards. There are people in Mr Johnson’s cabinet who believe in the Death Penalty. Who are against abortion. Who do not support Gay marriage or a whole raft of LGBT rights. Who think that there should be no regulation of markets, or employers or housing. Who think that the creation of a low tax, no tariff, low standards sweat shop off shore is a step in the right direction. Who do not care about the return of bombs in Northern Ireland. Who have been openly racist. There are even rumours that a member of the Cabinet is planning to make not leaving a double space after a full stop illegal, no ifs, no buts. (In that sense, this whole article has been an act of civil disobedience, which is very gratifying). I never, ever thought that I would be able to write that paragraph in bold above in my life time. They believe that their view of the world is right and that The People cannot be trusted to realise that. This means that they can no longer countenance even a brief five year hiatus in their hold on power. The prospect of not being in charge for a minute enrages them beyond reason so steps will be taken to ensure that there will never be a Labour Government again. In the same way there is now talk from the USA that Trump will not step down if he is voted out and the rule about not serving for more than two terms will be scrapped if he does win again. (see “Vladimir Putin”)

Post no-deal sunlit uplands…….

We all need to be ready for this. There will be some very dark, difficult days ahead.