From David Maughan Brown in York: The Numbers Game

April 24th

If only Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had thought of it they might have managed to keep their heads on their necks.  Never mind telling the plebs to eat cake if they can’t lay their hands on any bread, their Majesties should just have given the plebs bigger and bigger numbers to satisfy their needs.  Who needs bread, or Covid-19 tests for that matter, if you can be given numbers instead?  Promising the Parisian mob ten million tons of bread by the end of the month should have been enough to stop the French Revolution dead in its tracks.

The UK government has perfected this numbers trick, and there aren’t even any guillotines around to focus their minds.  When Boris was promising 25,000 tests a day and it was pointed out that fewer than 10,000 were being achieved, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care raised the bar to 100,000 a day by the end of April.  Now that the end of April looms and we have achieved a testing capacity of only 40,000 (even if our organizational skills only extend to having 23,000 tests carried out every day), and we obviously don’t have a hope in hell of getting to 100,000 in less than a week, it is time to go stratospheric and promise ten million tests to frontline care workers.  That is sure to distract the masses.  All the care workers need to do is phone up and make an appointment.  Needless to say the system crashed within a few hours, as NHS staff desperate for the tests that should have been available to them weeks ago rushed to make their appointments.

 This after the UK government had declined four invitations to take part in an EU purchasing consortium that will use its 500 million inhabitants’ leverage to acquire desperately needed ventilators and PPE at preferential rates.  Sir Simon McDonald, a senior member of the civil service, was forced to retract his manifestly truthful statement on Tuesday within a few hours after he had made the mistake of acknowledging that the refusal to participate in a post-Brexit EU initiative was ‘political’.

The only thing that can be said in favour of our hopelessly incompetent shambles of a government is that they haven’t as yet suggested that injecting oneself with disinfectant might be a good way to keep safe from the virus.  Given the unknowable, but almost certainly considerable, number of deaths our government’s combination of ideological rigidity, dilatoriness and incompetence will have been responsible for thus far, one might think that the great British public would be taking a pretty dim view of its performance.  Not a bit of it.  A recent poll indicated that 66% of those polled think the government is doing a cracking job of managing the current emergency.  What is more, the inimitable Boris – he who demonstrated his anti-Covid-19 leadership credentials by boasting about shaking the hands of victims and bunking off five of the COBRA emergency committee meetings held to plan for this emergency – has seen his popularity ratings go up by 16% as a reward for his indolence and recklessness.

Those figures lead me to suspect that it may not have been their failure to hit on the cunning wheeze of feeding the Parisian plebs with numbers rather than bread that primarily did for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette after all.  Their sad demise may, rather, be more attributable to the absence from the Paris of their era of any royal praise singers even remotely up to the blindly ideological and wholly amoral standards of our Boris-adoring tabloid press.   

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