Boris has defended his much ridiculed shiny new ‘Stay alert. Control the virus. Save lives’ slogan by asserting that he is relying on people to use their common sense. His increasingly tetchy Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, by contrast, has adopted the tactic of responding to anyone who asks what the slogan is supposed to mean by boldly asserting that everyone obviously knows what it means. Given that the First Minister of Scotland has asserted that she has no idea what it means and will stick to the original easily understood ‘Stay at Home’ slogan, thanks very much, one can only conclude that the United Kingdom is not as quite as united as it says on the tin.
Common sense appears to be in short supply, so Boris is gambling once again. One of the BBC correspondents gave us the “shocking news” recently that the sales of new cars had gone down by 97% in the UK in April. Anyone one who is “shocked” when he discovers that car sales have gone down in a month when every motor showroom in the country has been closed should not be allowed near the air-waves. The more interesting question was how, in those circumstances, even 3% of previous sales had been maintained. The news that GDP fell by 2% in the first quarter when it was only the last ten days of the quarter that were affected by the lockdown has similarly led reporters to scurry around asking economists whether they think that means we might be heading into a recession. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, who is the only cabinet minister who gives the impression that he has any idea what he is doing (in spite of apparently being a Brexit supporter), must have had his tongue firmly in his cheek this morning when he said he thought it possible that those figures might suggest a recession could be on its way.
The government guidance on how to interpret the new slogan is not, in itself, a shining example of common sense. We are allowed to play basketball in the park, but people can’t meet both their parents in a park simultaneously, even if they remain socially distanced. The First Secretary of State had to be corrected when he said he thought common sense dictated that the latter would be OK, and one can only assume that nobody responsible for the guidance has ever watched anyone playing basketball. Similarly, I can drive 50 miles to take a walk in the Lake District but I can’t take a flask of tea and sit down for a chat, appropriately socially distanced, in a lonely friend’s garden. Why? Because I might have to go through the house to get to the garden, and it isn’t permissible to meet people in their houses. My daughter, who I know has been rigorously socially distancing, can’t come to my house, but any estate agent, who might for all I know be stupid enough to shake the hands of Covid-19 patients, can. One can only conclude that common sense isn’t so common after all. If you are looking for some from a government, try New Zealand or Scotland.