Visiting London, last week, it felt as if between five and ten people had somehow gone missing for every one we saw.
The government’s insane response to a routine decadal respiratory virus outbreak has stripped the UK’s capital of huge numbers of workers, visitors and shoppers.
Barely 20 passengers alighted from our near-empty Tube service at Oxford Circus at the start of the rush hour on a Friday night. Perhaps they should rename the station Adlestrop after the Edward Thomas poem.
”The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
In the large pub across the road from Lambeth North station we were the only customers.
At the Imperial War Museum we were among a trickle of visitors permitted by its system of pre-booked slots.
As we entered a deserted store selling top-brand outdoor gear on Oxford Street, a uniformed security person gruffly directed us to use the hand sanitizer. After that, we got down to the new normal business of outnumbering the staff.
God knows what the shop’s cash flow looks like. Or what’s happening to its supply chain now that it only needs to order stock every other year. Both the items our son bought were hugely discounted in any case, which only worsened the business’s haemorrhaging revenue.
After eating at a virtually empty restaurant around the corner from Paddington, we caught a thinly-occupied train home. Our car sat almost by itself in the new-normally-unneeded station car park.
Britain, Boris Johnson style
This is Boris Johnson’s Britain, many weeks after the SARS-CoV-2 peaked and started to go away of its own accord – as epidemics do.
Coronavirus is currently barely more likely to kill you than driving to work – if people still did that. Especially now that Public Health England has had to stop over-counting COVID-19 deaths by a factor of four.
Mind you, a week after ‘discovering’ its statistical cock-up PHE still hasn’t got round to reducing its official published COVID death toll by 5,000 as it should.
It is true that the UK government is one among many when it comes to ludicrously-disproportionate responses to the virus. But surely it takes a very special kind of ass-backward fuckwittery to inflict the level of unnecessary societal harm achieved by Johnson and Cummings in Britain.
Johnson, we know, is a compulsive chancer who never bothers with details. Cummings, as I’ve said before, is a living warning against giving someone who thinks it’s clever to “move fast and break things” responsibility for anything that actually matters.
Lefty stand-ups like Alexei Sayle in the Eighties used to jokingly compare the effects of Thatcherism to a neutron bomb. Designed to eliminate people while leaving buildings and property intact.
Only now it is the 2020s, and it’s Johnsonism, and it’s not a joke. The government’s coronavirus measures have neutron-bombed health, retail, entertainment, education, hospitality and travel. Hospitals, shops, pubs, theatre, exams, trains, buses and planes are just about keeping going but 75% of the people whose custom they need to survive in the long term have been regulated into economic immobility.
Coronavirus isn’t to blame. It leaves 99.9% of the population alive. No, what’s removed three-quarters of activity from the streets of the UK’s capital is this government’s idiotic response to it, magnified by months of non-stop fearmongering by the media.
But hey, it’s holiday time. Stuff taking responsibility for sorting out his own omnishambles; our Blusterer-in-Chief has just strolled away from it all to go camping in Scotland.
Presumably he calculated that the simmering public anger that is now detectable everywhere – and I mean among Conservative voters as much as anyone else – won’t come to the boil before he gets back for an orgy of buck-passing.
But the media’s response? I’m not so sure.
They’re out of their London bubbles now; off on their hols to consort with like-minded professionals in Europe and beyond. Only now they are finding their former friends aren’t so like-minded. Or even all that friendly. To their dismay, Britain’s media elites are finding the country they so closely identify with, and imagined they were envied for representing, has become a laughing stock.
The headline on the online version of the inews piece linked above – ‘Europeans are in disbelief at how Britain is handling the coronavirus crisis’ – pulls its punches. The print version was blunter: ‘Incompetence has moved beyond farce’.
Being pitied is not something these commentators are used to. And while the more honest among them will acknowledge their own role as rabid cheerleaders for the new normal, that won’t stop the pack as a whole turning viciously on Johnson when they get back next month – just as the economy really lands in the brown stuff.
There are inescapable thermodynamic reasons why the UK economy, like all complex industrial economies, has entered long-term “degrowth”.
But our government and media have combined around coronavirus to already inflict widespread damage to livelihoods. This will make most people’s upcoming experience of diminishing prosperity over the next decade far nastier than it needed to be.
Maybe, just maybe, the experience of being derided by their ‘friends’ will stiffen the backbones of a sufficient number of opinion formers to get them to demand a U-turn on the(ir own) coronavirus stupidity.
Some proper reporting at last on how dangerous the virus actually isn’t. And support for end to – and a lot of apologising for – the pointless and hugely damaging restrictions foisted on millions who are no risk to themselves or others.
I can’t see Johnson or Cummings personally surviving a U-turn of that magnitude. They’ve dug themselves in too deep. But the government might.
Yes, it believes it can count on the BBC to stick to the official pandemic narrative, and to spin questionable government data into second, third, fourth and fifth waves as needed. But the Beeb’s journos aren’t immune to the waves of schadenfreude breaking over them in Tuscany and Provence. They’ll be taking memories of that experience into self-isolation with them on their return.
As for the corporate media, whenever you read a news report of this or that firm shedding x-thousand jobs “due to the pandemic”, just substitute ‘Advertiser A’ and ‘Advertiser B’ for the firms’ names. That’s how the rest of the media judge Johnson’s ability to keep things in proportion.
Standing in an almost empty Trafalgar Square on a warm Friday afternoon in August did prompt me to muse on how best to commemorate the COVID debacle.
The fuck-ups of the Johnson administration have been monumental by any recent historical standard. Certainly epic enough to warrant taking Nelson down from his perch for a few months and putting him on the fourth plinth so we can get a close look at a proper leader.
In the meantime, the top of Nelson’s column would be the safest place to stick Johnson. Where he can’t do any further harm. And where he’ll have a panoramic platform from which to look around at his works and despair.