What on earth is going on in the UK? Seriously, what on earth is going on? As one equally revered and hated politician once said, all political careers end in failure. Once success is tasted the politician’s love for themselves and for the tainted limelight is so addictive that they continue on, no matter what world they traverse, until the cheers, dimly heard through the bomb-proof glass, and beyond the ranks of paid for security cease to be those of adulation but instead sublimate into derision.
Boris Johnson has now reached that point. In every career, there is that moment when the ratchet clicks, and nothing can be done, the dial cannot be turned back.
On Sunday, the whole population of the United Kingdom heard the click.
The occasion was his discovery that he had been what is called “pinged”. That is he had been in proximity to someone that had been tested positive for the virus. According to the rules set out for the population, this means that he would need to self-isolate for ten days. It was not just him, but also the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak.
Over the past few weeks, the Indian (or more politically correctly – the Delta) variant has shown itself to be very easy to transmit. Over half a million people have been pinged and it has meant the closing of countless schools, businesses, even the Metropolitan subway line in London. The thing is being pinged does not mean one has the lurgi, just that one has been proximate. The Bluetooth setting on the official Covid App produced by the National Health Service is set to sensitive meaning that people can be pinged if their next-door neighbour has been tested positive, expectations are that millions will soon be in this situation, locked up, economically impotent, isolated. And here was the Prime Minister being pinged. Worse still Monday the 19th is being described as ‘freedom day’, the day in which the mask mandate falls and we are supposed to be finally on track to basic normality
We are all in it together. Except we aren’t. Unlike the rest of us, he, the Chancellor, and Michael Gove, one of the most senior Cabinet Ministers, did not need to isolate themselves. A press release was sent out by No 10, the three ministers were not going to isolate because they were part of a trial scheme, meaning that if one tests negative, the need for isolation is removed. Supposedly 20 organisations were part of this trial scheme, one that had been launched with no fanfare – and whose participants would be announced after the trial is completed in 4 months time.
Better yet, within those organisations, those who are allowed to skip the isolation are picked, or so we are told, entirely at random.
We had the spectacle of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the main architect of the lockdown, Gove, all being randomly selected for a pass.
As Sunday went on, I stopped in coffee shops, a couple of churches, took public transport. The mood was revolutionary. The English are, by and large, a phlegmatic people, we do not complain, we queue, we queue, politely for generations. We mustn’t grumble, we put up with things other, more voluble nations would never stomach. We had our revolution in 1645, and we have generally forgotten about it and the passions that ensued.
But quiet pensioners with mauve rinsed haircuts; young black men, with headphones and gym-sculpted torsos; civil servants on Sunday constitutionals, were seething. People talking to each other on the bus (this is London – we just don’t talk to people on the bus) and the mood is darker than Epstein’s soul.
This mood must have filtered through to the Prime Minister’s office. Late in the afternoon he released a twitter video. On it he claims that he never intended not to self-isolate. Somehow, he had in the intervening period managed to escape the broiling hot metropolis to his free-of-charge manor house in the country, Chequers. He would be there, isolating in rural grandeur, as he told us, he always meant to.
Our Government really does think we are idiots – maybe some of us are – but his promises are as thin as his marital fidelity. He put out a press release only our earlier saying the exact opposite.
In a Government of U-turns this was one that will take a medal. The people have finally seen through the bonhomistic charade, his flush is busted. Never again will an aphorism cover for a policy vacuum.
He is done, we are dome. It just remains to be seen how his zombie premiership can last, despite its huge majority. The only thing left in his favour is the utter banal, bland incompetence of the opposition. But out in the towns, cities, villages, and suburbia of the United Kingdom, finally he has made it clear. He has no clothes.
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