From David Maughan Brown in York: Roosting chickens

October 14th

Flocks of chickens are coming home to roost on our Prime Minister, the supposedly Honourable Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and it isn’t just the odd stray feather they are contributing to his general air of lazy dishevelment.  When the great moment came on Monday for the unveiling the new Covid-19 tiered lockdown system that had been trailed so extensively for the better part of the previous week, Boris Johnson’s Chief Medical Officer, standing a socially distanced few feet beside him, calmly asserted that he had no confidence that it would work.  Immediately after the news conference, the Scientific Advisory Council for Emergencies (SAGE) released the minutes of a meeting it had held on 21st September at which the Government’s own hand-picked scientists unequivocally advocated a short, sharp, ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown as the only way to get the rapidly escalating incidence of infections under control. Boris Johnson rejected their advice and implemented his Rule of Six and the 10pm curfew on restaurants and bars instead, thereby comprehensively demolishing any last remnants of his endlessly repeated claim to have been ‘following the science.’  He can no longer get away with blaming the scientists.

The latest figures show that very nearly 20,000 people were diagnosed as Covid-19 positive in UK yesterday.  There has been an exponential increase in the number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths in the weeks since Boris and his lackeys took that September decision, and we are headed within the next two weeks to equal the March and April numbers in intensive care and we haven’t hit winter yet.  The trailing of the severe Tier 3 restrictions in Liverpool five days in advance inevitably resulted in the predicted partying in the streets on Tuesday night in anticipation of the midnight implementation of the new rules.  The almost unbelievable stupidity of that crowd differed only from the stupidity of the similarly maskless crowd that flocked to Donald Trump’s recent election rally in Florida in that, whereas the stupidity in Florida was suicidal given the age-profile of that crowd, in Liverpool the sozzled revellers appeared to consist largely of young people who probably won’t die themselves but will inevitably be passing the virus on to their elders, some of whom most certainly will die.  The measures brought in by Boris on 21st September as an alternative to the lockdown simply haven’t worked, and there is no reason whatever to imagine that his new Tier system will work either.   The number of infections in York, currently in tier 1, has increased by almost 50% in the past 24 hours.

If the current exponential growth in infections and deaths is stripping the Emperor of whatever clothes he had left, the wedges Johnson’s incompetence has succeeded in driving between the different nations of the supposedly United Kingdom will soon be making his unsightly nakedness even more glaringly apparent.  Northern Ireland has decided to implement the national lockdown Boris is refusing to agree to.  In two weeks time it will be possible to compare the results of the two different approaches to the crisis.  In the meantime the government of Wales has felt obliged to take the extraordinary step of trying to protect the public health of its citizens by banning cars from the North West of England.  Scotland, one gathers, is contemplating taking similar measures.  So some parts of the UK are, indeed, taking control of their borders – but, again, not in the way Boris anticipated.

The flocks of chickens do not cluck in unison.  Johnson is caught between several competing factions.  One flock consist of the supposedly ‘libertarian’, Tory backbenchers who oppose any kind of lockdown on the basis of the damage it does to the economy.   Closer inspection would probably reveal that that group really doesn’t care how many plebs in ‘the North’ die, just as long as their own shares in in the Wetherspoons pub chain don’t take too much of a hit.  That group would be better described as braying rather than clucking.  Another group, including extra-parliamentary experts, is warning the government about the destitution that will result if a lockdown is implemented without adequate support for those whose incomes will suffer: parents won’t be able to buy shoes for their children; women will have to prostitute themselves to keep food on their children’s plates.  The official opposition is demanding a national lockdown along the lines of SAGE’s September recommendations.  The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, is still threatening to bring legal action against the government and refusing to cooperate if restrictions in his area of responsibility are raised to Tier 3 without adequate financial support being put in place

If the variously suicidal or homicidal crowds of revellers and Trump devotees can be fairly described as stupid, their idiocy does not begin to compare with Johnson’s stupidity as he steadfastly lumbers towards a ‘no deal’ Brexit in 10 weeks time, apparently intent on making sure that the worst crisis in UK since World War II gets a whole lot more catastrophic for everybody involved.   And ‘everybody’ includes the entire continent of Europe, even if it will be vastly more catastrophic for us in the still ‘United Kingdom’. Having opportunistically lied and cheated his way into the position from which he can do greatest damage to the country he is supposed to be leading, Johnson fully deserves everything the roosting chickens can dump on him.   If I sound close to despair, it is because I am.

From David Maughan Brown in York: A second wave, a second botched response

October 12th

The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is now assertively with us in the UK, and the government of England, having apparently learnt nothing whatever from the experience of the first wave, is busy botching its response to the second wave just as badly.  For the past five days the media have been trailing a momentous speech that Boris was due to make in parliament today in response to the rapidly increasing number of infections and hospitalisations, to be followed by the news conference I can hear droning on in the background as I write.   Boris’s unique contribution to the history of governance – government via deliberate leaks to, and covert briefing of, the media – has saved everyone who pays any attention to said media the pain of having to watch him and hear him telling us what, well before this last weekend, we already knew to be coming up the track at us.   After six months of concentrated deliberation by the great minds in Downing St., they have had the bright idea of instituting the kind of tiered lockdown system successfully implemented in South Africa six months ago.  All that today’s grand announcement amounted to, apart from the predicted three-tier system, was the equally well trailed fact that Liverpool is destined to enter Tier 3 – the severest level of restriction, with no social mixing, no pubs open, etc. – on Wednesday, the only area to do so.

The government’s dilemmas as the pandemic threatens to get out of control again, which I don’t envy them, include:  how to balance the competing demands of public health and the economy; how to communicate the extent of the crisis to an increasingly sceptical public; how to establish an appropriate balance between centralised and regionalised decision making; and how to provide the necessary resources to combat the virus in terms both of equipment, person-power and an efficient test and trace system.  

At every level the response is being botched again.  Where the Public Health/Economy dilemma is concerned, the painfully obvious question to ask is, why on a Wednesday start covertly briefing about further restriction measures that won’t be formally announced until the following Monday and only implemented on the Wednesday?  That could only serve as an invitation to anyone who felt so inclined to spend the weekend doing his or her best to contract the virus, with only one possible outcome where the infection statistics are concerned.   And what conceivable logic can there be to introducing exactly the same restrictions for pubs etc. in the Tier 3 areas as in March, but reducing the financial support offered to employers to the point of making both the retention of staff, and meeting the costs of living for any staff who are retained, unviable?  Where communication is concerned, it is probably too late to simplify and improve the desperately poor communication of the past few months with any realistic hope that everyone will listen: too many people in England, in marked contrast to Scotland and Wales, no longer trust government.  After very belatedly waking up to the idea of consulting the leaders of the supposedly devolved regions in ‘the North’ (after already having decided what he intended to do), Boris claims that he now has the agreement of those leaders to his decisions: this, like so much else he says, is untrue, as evidenced by the intention of a group of them to bring legal action against the government for implementing the measures without providing adequate support.  The test and trace system is, in spite of Boris’s boasts and promises, still wholly inadequate – and must have had a part to play in the surge of new infections.  

Associating Boris with botching brought a distant echo to mind, which, when I thought about it, I realised came from very vague memories of reading stories about Billy Bunter (Boris Botcher/Billy Bunter), the corpulent clown of the Lower Fourth Form at Greyfriars School, when I was about ten years old.  For a very quick memory refresher I resorted to Google where one can find Wikipedia listing Billy Bunter’s chief characteristics besides his corpulence. He was, we are told: ‘obtuse, lazy, racist, … deceitful, slothful, self-important and conceited’ but combined these with a ‘cheery optimism’ and ‘comically transparent untruthfulness.’   It would be very unfair to imply that Boris is corpulent, given his partly successful efforts to reduce his weight after his hospital experience.

From David Maughan Brown in York: Sunny Sunday

May 3rd

The headline BBC news item this morning was based on an in-depth interview Boris granted to The Sun on Sunday in which he gave an account of his recent two-day sojourn in the Intensive Care Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.   Unlike Icarus, I don’t on principle go anywhere near The Sun, of which more later, so I have to rely on the Independent’s report about The Sun on Sunday’s report about what Boris said.  He is reported to have asserted that he had to be “forced” to go to hospital because he was feeling “pretty rough”, and described the experience as a “tough old moment” during which he had kept asking himself: “How am I going to get out of this?’’  A colloquial interpretation of the stiff-upper-lipped public-school-speak understatement would go something along the lines of: “It was a bloody nightmare.”  As I am quite sure it must have been.  

Two other quotations from the reported interview drew my attention.  The first was Boris’s statement that “They had a strategy to deal with a ‘Death of Stalin’ – type scenario”.  This answered, at least in part, the currently frequently asked question as to whether his experience might have changed him.  Prior to his illness Boris was inclined to think of himself as Churchill rather than as the dodgiest member of the Yalta triumvirate.  The second was his comment that when he became so ill that there was a 50-50 chance that he would have to be intubated and put on a ventilator ‘they were starting to think about how to handle it [his death] presentationally.”  Leaving aside the obvious point that it certainly wouldn’t do “presentationally” to point out that the Prime Minister would have brought his own death upon himself by recklessly ignoring how dangerous the virus was to which he had succumbed, I found myself wondering whether this concern about how his death would be handled “presentationally” might not reveal a subconscious recognition that his entire adult life had been largely “presentational”.

For inveterate UK media watchers – and lockdown provides far too much scope and temptation to join that sad subset of people who should, but currently can’t, get out more often – Boris’s decision to bestow his musings on The Sun on Sunday is telling.   The Sun on Sunday and its daily counterpart, The Sun, are the UK’s leading Sunday and daily newspapers when it comes to sales, to the tune of around 100,000 copies each more than their closest rivals from the Mail stable.  The Sun, with its unspeakably contemptible coverage of the Hillsborough disaster, also leads so far in what has always seemed a highly competitive tabloid rivalry to see who can produce the most shameful demonstration of what journalism shouldn’t be.  Right now I wouldn’t, however, bet against it, or one of its rivals, plumbing even lower depths with nakedly racist treatment of Megan Markle.   

The Sun’s banner-headlined version of the “The Truth” at Hillsborough, which exonerated the police from their responsibility for the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans by depicting them as a bunch of drunken football hooligans who picked the pockets of their crushed their fellow fans, and urinated on police trying to save the lives of the victims, was extraordinarily influential all the way up the political food chain to Margaret Thatcher.  It took 23 years, during which The Sun was boycotted in Liverpool, for the truth to be uncovered by the Hillsborough Independent Panel and publicly acknowledged that the original story had been a tissue of lies fed to the newspaper by the South Yorkshire Police. The Sun finally printed a fulsome apology in September 2012, acknowledging that ‘the people of Liverpool may never forgive us for the injustice we did them.’  The people of Liverpool haven’t forgiven them; The Sun is still boycotted in Liverpool.  But Boris Johnson is the last politician I can think of who would ever have been concerned about a media outlet carrying lies.   Any Tory leader must, by definition, keep on the good side of Rupert Murdoch the non-British media baron who owns the The Sun.  All five Liverpool constituencies voted Labour in the 2019 General Election with a minimum of 70% of the votes cast, so where the Tories are concerned Liverpool is a lost cause.  And why would Boris ever consider overlooking 100,000 potential members of the Boris Adoration Choir for the sake of a mere matter of principle?

from John T. in Brighton, UK: the obliteration of sport …

“I’m gutted” to dip into my football lexicon. I’ve been pre-empted to borrow from the bridge equivalent. For a while I’ve been thinking about another blog and earmarked this one specifically for today for one good reason. Then in yesterday’s Observer Kenan Malik nicks my thunder with an excellent article on a similar theme – corona and sport. Apart from trundling around on my bike my sporting base is largely block W1G at The Amex aka Brighton and Hove Albion, the boundary at Hove or an armchair. In the flesh is so much more atmospheric – my brother could watch England rugby on terrestrial telly but will happily travel from Cornwall to Twickers as a day out with adrenaline flowing, euphoria or dismay both mitigated by a pint or two ….of champers or beer depending on the outcome.

As a season ticket holder I’m sure that our first response as the fixture list comes out is to look for the zingers, the not-to-be-missed and for some at Brighton that would be arch rivals Crystal Palace but for me it’s Liverpool as a club that’s had a cachet for as long as I can remember. Bill Shankly was not only a great manager but had the odd pithy comment in his broad Scottish brogue perhaps most famously declaring football more important than life or death. His current counterpart Jurgen Klopp was perhaps closer to the truth as the coronavirus took a hold “football is the most important of the least important things but today football isn’t important at all”. Great teams over the years but has there been one better than the present –  World club champions, European champions and now 25 points clear at the top of The Premiership?

To borrow a much used word of late, that’s unprecedented. Why specifically today for the blog as alluded to above? Well as Rod Stewart sang “Tonight’s the Night” …or at least it should have been. I should have been at The Amex for an 8pm kick off to watch first hand the brilliant team and their charismatic manager, no rain and perfect conditions – today it doesn’t feel like it’s not important but of course it is in reality. 

And there’s something even bigger about Liverpool and a key feature of sport that we are missing. The crowd, the social side, it’s like a family – we celebrate the highs together and commiserate as we drift towards the dreaded “bottom three”. Congratulations to Michael Ball and Captain Tom on reaching the top with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” but I’m afraid it will never top the Kop’s version in full voice. The Anfield anthem sends a shiver down the spine. I wish we had a song …so I started to write one:

Beware, before the season’s throu’

The mighty Seagulls will shit on you.

But they won’t – we lose more games than we win. And the BBC would probably ban us. So I gave up.

It’s not just a social event. Sport is an escape whereby for a few hours the mundane and the stress moves to the back-burner. A couple of hours watching Sussex cricket is so much more peaceful and genteel but has a remarkable calming effect lacking , at least for me, the passion that accompanies football. Willow on leather and some gentle applause is almost Ye Olde England. And it’s a chance to witness the thoroughbreds playing at a high level  – those who achieved what we might have aspired to but quickly realised was never to be. The Open golf comes South once every five to ten years and for the first time ever I have a ticket for Day 1 at Sandwich but I’ve no doubt it’ll be cancelled. Surely watching the very best golfers in the World will clarify why they make the game look ridiculously easy whilst us hackers tack from rough to rough and three putt to boot.

And then sport offers the chance to express a bit of national pride. For years we waited for a British winner at Wimbledon only to meet a debate as to whether strictly speaking Andy wasn’t one of us – he’s Scottish so keep your hands off him you Sassenachs. Will it happen again in my lifetime I wonder, certainly not this year thanks to corona? And of course The Olympics, arguably the pinnacle of international sport, has been postponed for a year.

So there it is the buzz, the highs and lows, the social contacts of sport knocked out (boxing is one sport I eschew) not by a hunky muscleman or a nifty sprinter but by a spiky little ball (that’s as near as it gets to sport) of genetic material coated in lipid and a mere 80-billionth of a metre diameter.  As Kipling said :

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 

And treat those two impostors just the same

For many of us the obliteration of sport feels like a disaster and we can but hope that a vaccine will kick the virus into touch and the good days and evenings resume before too long but I’m not optimistic.