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I hate to stray into superforecasting, but I wonder whether Boris Johnson’s wheeze of dividing the UK into a number of bitterly resentful regions will feel worth it in the end? He has created a sort of Covid Westeros, where local warlords rail and scheme against him, as do some of his own courtiers. Johnson, the body-positive Joffrey, rules by whim and weakness, convinced of a genius middle way that far more brilliant epidemiologists and economists insist simply does not exist. Even northern Tory MPs are saluting the Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, for whom it hopefully won’t all go a bit Rob Stark. Otherwise, unity hopes are pinned on the Marcus Rashford 2036 World Cup ticket.
In the meantime, it’s such an intriguing strategy to deliberately sow divisions. Or tiers, as Johnson prefers to euphemise them. No wonder half his party wants to tier him a new one over it. Consider Jake Berry, once such a rabid Johnson fan that when Michael Gove torpedoed Bojo’s 2016 leadership bid, Berry thundered of Gove: “There is a very deep pit reserved in hell for such as he.” On Thursday night, Berry’s warning shot was fired in quite a different direction. The 80 northern Conservative MPs “are the prime minister’s majority”, he told Spectator TV “and – bluntly – he needs to look after us”.
It does feel as though the boy king, 56, presides over a somewhat necrotic coalition. This morning, Tim Martin coughed his way through Wetherspoons annual results – a £105m loss, the pub chain’s first ever since 1984 – while casting aspersions on the PM he used to lionise . There’s now almost no one angrier with Johnson than the fervent Brexiteer Martin, with the rage seemingly causing his own mullet to try and creep off down his back without him noticing.
This is a Conservative government whose own allies increasingly wonder what it is conserving. Its energies? Its phone battery? Certainly not the union, with the latest poll this week showing the largest majority yet for Scottish independence. Despite the tireless work Johnson and his two predecessors put in to achieve this, it’s easy to imagine him greeting the news with a confused howl. “But I don’t understand, Scotland – I even went on holiday in you!” As of lunchtime, a no-deal Brexit crisis seems to be scheduled for our immediate future, with defenders of Downing Street’s tactics insisting they can manage two things at once.
And yet, they clearly can’t manage one. How else to explain making the same coronavirus mistakes twice, months apart, and in the context of a public consensus arguably most significantly eroded by the rule-breaking of members of their own inner circle? This week, the Welsh government committed to providing free school meal vouchers over holidays and half-terms well into 2021, at a cost of £11m. But Downing Street has rejected a plea to do the same, despite the humiliating contortions Rashford’s campaign forced it into back in June.
It can, however, find close to £7,000 per day per consultant working on its calamitous test-and-trace programme. Alas, we have seen nor heard nothing for a month from test-and-trace mastermind Dido Harding, who is assumed to be living under this administration’s vast Shitness Protection Programme. If only we could have a Nightingale government. Surely – surely! – you could sling up something better than this in about a week.
Consider the fact that even though it is the approach its senior scientists believe would be most effective, the government believes that Keir Starmer’s having called for a two-week circuit-breaker now makes it “politically impossible”. Setting aside that events will overtake it anyway on that front, what grotesquely warped priorities that implies. As one cabinet minister told James Forsyth, writing in the Times: “If they do it after all this, they’ll be in the worst possible place.” To which the milder end of a response is: so effing what?! Even a career eunuch couldn’t give less of a toss about the “place” the government will be – what about the “place” the people they were elected to serve will be in? Perhaps it should be regarded as an honour to be sacrificed to some mad dick-waving agenda, in which doing the right thing is less important than Johnson’s government not being seen to lose face to the other guy.
And so to Johnson’s ever-evolving “plans”, which typically begin to be leaked divisively to the media (though not local leaders) 37 years before any announcement. By the time of said announcement, things have moved on way beyond what this outdated plan is required to address – yet Johnson takes to the stage and announces the old stuff. The effect is akin to that on a stricken crowd who have gathered in a town square, desperate to hear news of the great medical invention their overlord has promised them. This ruler trundles out to his balcony, flanked by heralds, and with much fanfare intones: “Behold … the leech!”
Cut to the faces in the crowd, all just going: wut?
Inevitably, the situation among the serfs is not sufficiently ameliorated by the parasite rollout, meaning events will summon their ruler back to the balcony in absurdly short order, to announce his next ruse to stay behind the curve. This time, with even more fanfare, he declares: “We have listened to your complaints. And now, accordingly, we present our next 360-degree strategy. Behold … a better class of leech!”
Cut to the crowd, and – hand on heart – you’d have to say the incredulity is tipping towards tetchiness at this point. The general reaction from the serfs is that the leeches are arrant bollocks, that the leeches don’t work, that the leeches are not what the king’s apothecary actually even recommended, that the leeches really hurt, and that it has emerged three of the king’s mates are raking it in as the designated leech suppliers. And so on, and so on, every 36 hours, until the balcony is once again taken with the final word on the matter: “Behold … a tiered system of leeches!”
Cut to the plague pit.
• Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist
Source: The Guardian
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