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Lockdown day number what-does-it-even-matter-any-more, and what’s the general picture? The police are coming under criticism for acting overzealously in enforcing the coronavirus restrictions – but I urge people to embrace the proactivity and harness it creatively. If you’re a woman being stalked, why not tell the cops you’ve seen the guy having a cup of coffee on a moor? It could finally spark their interest.
Meanwhile, some people are exasperated that Boris Johnson was seen seven miles away from Downing Street on Sunday – and I agree. It’s much too close. Ideally, I would like him to be one ocean, two deserts and seven miles (of solid lead) away from any seat of power.
According to Downing Street, the prime minister bicycled to the Olympic park with his security detail on Sunday. It is thought he went for exercise, and not because it’s his happy place, dating back to the 2012 Games when he was London mayor. Success, public euphoria, couple of after-hours knee-tremblers round the back of the handball court … Good times.
Back in the dystopian present, I’m afraid I can’t get worked up about the distance he biked – though at a time when many are vocally confused about the rules, he might have glommed on that being spotted out of his area was going to be viewed as licence to bend the rules by people looking for a licence.
For me, the most telling part of the story was that the prime minister was so “concerned” by how many people had ALSO gone to the Olympic Park on Sunday that he raised it in the Downing Street meeting that very evening. This feels much more in line with Johnson’s general sense of self-awareness and personal responsibility. Perhaps he’d benefit from a version of a former transport campaign in Germany, which saw the erection of roadside billboards reading: “You are not stuck in traffic – you are traffic.” Clearly the PM regarded himself as among the park-goers, but not of them.
This would certainly fit with his administration’s tireless attempts to get itself off the hook for the horrendous situation the country is now in. Individuals are ordered to take responsibility, but governments never are, despite having infinitely bigger levers to pull as far as combating the spread of the virus goes.
In fact, compliance is high. There is no clear evidence to suggest that rule-breaking is more widespread or serious than it was during the first lockdown last year. The rules are more relaxed than they were – and much of what people are being encouraged by the authorities to see as selfish and transgressive is in fact permitted under the government’s own restrictions.
So you have to ask in whose interests it is to suggest lawlessness is rife and everywhere. It’s definitely in the interests of newspapers, who have to fill their pages and webspace with something or other, and may even have run out of very boring writers to wet their pants about TV shows they approve or disapprove of. And so it is that photographers who might have previously snapped celebrities or exciting events have adapted and found that pictures taken on beaches or in parks with telephoto lenses can be very saleable, given the images make individuals look bunched up, when in fact they are much more reasonably spaced apart.
Spreads of these pictures have adorned the Daily Mail and others this week, and throughout the tougher months of the pandemic last year. Faced with these flagrant breaches of the rules/unhelpful visual tricks, you can see why people tell pollsters they want to see even more draconian restrictions. Their view seems to be shared by Labour leader Keir Starmer, whose incredible paranormal gift is being able to see three-quarters of a single news cycle into the future.
Primarily, though, the idea that a significant proportion of the population is behaving dangerously benefits the government. It is extremely convenient for those in power to suggest that the grim depth of this stage of the Covid crisis is down to individual failures of compliance now, as opposed to much larger strategic ones several weeks ago for which it alone is responsible.
The scale of what is happening now is not the fault of individuals; it is the fault of a government which appeared to learn absolutely nothing from the first wave of the virus and has gone on to repeat almost every error in the second, predictably more dangerous, wave taking place in the winter months. The level of deaths we are seeing is a result of what the government was doing several weeks ago, not what your neighbour was or wasn’t doing yesterday.
Even compliance issues can be traced back to government. I wondered at the time whether Dominic Cummings’ notorious drive to Barnard Castle to “test his eyesight” might be the most influential thing he did in government (as opposed to in campaigning) – it has without question been the most devastating to public trust, as extensive polling has since revealed. Much more recently, Johnson’s truly fiascoid handling of Christmas caused such anger and confusion among people who had laid careful plans and spent hard-earned money that many quite understandably will have ended up breaking the rules. We have yet to even see the full effect of that. And once a rule has been broken, the next is a little easier to flout too.
All the talk from Johnson’s administration now is that this week is “enforcement week” – and of course, we all have a responsibility. But in a government with this much of a hard-on for the second world war, you’d expect at least someone to clock the flaw in endlessly harking back to it with the exhortation “everyone has to play their part”. Well yes, they do, as they did in the war. But if the government of the day had decided not to install any anti-aircraft defences, or to order the blackout until it was much too late, then people might rightly have had something to say about how much of their individual fault all the additional deaths were.
Source: The Guardian
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