By his own avowal, our inimitable Prime Minister’s buccaneering days are done: “I won’t be buccaneering with people’s lives” he insisted, as he traced the contours of his much trailed ‘roadmap out of lockdown’ at his Downing Street press conference yesterday. In the context of Johnson’s repeated promise to focus on ‘data not dates’ in responding to the pressure to relax the Covid restrictions prematurely from the libertarian loons on his backbenches, Johnson’s roadmap and accompanying announcement of his retirement from buccaneering with people’s lives, over 120,000 deaths too late, was less than entirely convincing. The key milestones on the road consist entirely of dates, not data: March 8th, March 29th, April 12th, May 17th, June 21st by when all restrictions will supposedly be lifted. The five-week gaps between the last three dates are, however, intended to allow for reviews of the data. The roadmap is ‘a one-way road to freedom’, Johnson assured us, but so adept has he become at spectacular U-turns that we can be entirely confident that the mere fact that he is proceeding down a one-way street wont preclude yet another U-turn.
The last one-way road to “freedom” we went down was, it is probably worth remembering, with Brexit. On January 1st this year Johnson, glowing with self-satisfaction, announced that ‘we have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it.’ Brexit is already giving some of our fishermen the freedom to make the most of the opportunity to find other jobs as their businesses go belly-up. It seems doubtful that they would have voted so enthusiastically for a move that would, they were told, return to them the entirety of the UK’s freshly ‘independent’ fishing waters had they known that their quotas would in some instances go down rather than up, that transport delays would see millions of pounds worth of their fish having to be destroyed, and that they wouldn’t be able to export their shell fish catches to the EU at all. In similar fashion, supermarket workers in Northern Ireland have been granted freedom from the irksome business of having to stack goods on their shelves as exporters from England, Scotland and Wales make the most of their freedom not to export their produce to Northern Ireland, freeing themselves thereby from the onerous necessity of filling in the reams of paperwork that Johnson erroneously declared before Brexit that they would be free to bin.
At the vastly more trivial end of the spectrum of damage, tens of thousands of people in this country must be being impacted by unheralded inconveniences arising from the freedom we are now holding in our unappreciative hands. My particular irritation derives from the brand-new exercise bike that that has now been sitting lifelessly in our house for five weeks, all through our week of sub-zero temperatures, because the missing electrical connection is still missing. My weekly phone-calls to Emma, Dominic, Dominic again, Emma again, and finally, yesterday, John – Emma and Dominic’s supervisor – have elicited the information that a batch of 50 of that same missing part (I was obviously not the only victim) arrived on our newly independent shores three weeks ago but had been held up in Customs until two hours before I phoned yesterday. I am told it will arrive with me before the end of the week, but I’m not holding my breath.
Boris Johnson’s roadmap holds out the extremely attractive prospect of our being able to meet up outdoors with our Sheffield and York families over Easter, although separately, and spend time with children and grandchildren. But I’m not holding my breath on that score either. Perhaps Johnson would inspire more confidence that his buccaneering days really are over if he took the trouble to comb his hair occasionally and didn’t always look as if he had just come down off the poop deck of a wind-blown pirate ship wearing a hair-style modelled on an irredeemably worn-out lavatory brush.