Boris Johnson at Covid-19 press conference Boris Johnson at Covid-19 press conference, Photo: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, linked at bottom of article

The moralising tone of ministers is a transparent attempt to deflect attention from their catastrophic incompetence, argues Sean Ledwith

It has not been possible to watch the news this week without seeing a Tory minister pop up to berate the public for supposedly failing to observe social distancing rules or some other infringement of the pandemic restrictions. This transparent attempt by the Tories to offload their own culpability has been dutifully reported by the supine BBC with barely any questioning.  On Monday Johnson tried to argue our complacency is responsible for the catastrophic surge of the virus that has taken place since Christmas:

My worry is that this is the moment when that degree of false confidence, false complacency, and that when you look at what has happened in the NHS that complacency is not merited. More important than us just pushing out new rules, people have got to follow the guidance.

Yesterday the execrable Priti Patel tried to weigh in and lecture the public on their responsibility for turning Britain into the covid hub of the planet:  With characteristic absurdity, however, she  proceeded to contradict herself by simultaneously arguing that the current restrictions are tough enough and yet may need to be tightened as people are flouting them:

The rules are tough enough. You’ve already heard – 45,000 fixed penalty notices have been issued just in the time since we’ve been in this pandemic. So they are tough enough. The message is clear. We urge everybody to continue to follow the rules. The more we follow the rules, the sooner we can drive this awful atrocious disease down.

Taking the mickey

Earlier today, Matt Hancock joined in this latest Tory ruse to distract attention from their consistently horrendous management of the crisis:

People should not take the mickey out of the rules and they shouldn’t stretch the rules, people should respect the rules, because they’re there for a reason and that’s to keep everybody safe.

Hancock’s hypocritical moralising is particularly egregious in light of the recent footage that has emerged of his boss taking a bike ride from the Olympic Stadium in East London to Downing Street, a journey of seven miles that presumably also included  the equivalent outward bound trip. Tory ministers are queuing up to mount their moral high horses and claim we are to blame for this mess and yet somehow fail to see how Johnson’s antics totally undermine the stay local message.

This hectoring and individualistic line is in line with the classic Thatcherite notion of overstating personal responsibility for social problems and underplaying the role of the state in securing the health and welfare of the population. The magnitude of the government’s failings over recent weeks dwarf any supposed failure on the part of a minority of the population to observe the restrictions. Proceeding with the Christmas loosening of bubbles, opening the schools for one day at the start of this term and even now failing to shut down non-essential workplaces make a mockery of the attempt to blame the public for this mess.

Cummings effect

One factor that is guaranteed never to come out of any ministerial mouth is an acceptance of the disastrous effect the condoning of Dominic Cummings’ flouting of the rules last year had on public behaviour.  Patricia Riddell from Reading University rightly observes the corrosive effect that lamentable episode had on the public’s willingness to heed government messaging during the pandemic:

If you’re saying we are doing this to support the NHS, yet the mouthpiece that’s telling you that has done the clap for carers but not given the nurses a wage rise, or has built the Nightingale hospitals and then they just disappeared; if their behaviour is not matching the value that they are trying to instil in us, then people are just going to think, ‘Well why should we be setting a higher personal value than you’re prepared to demonstrate?’”

Bloody bungles

We are becoming almost numb to the calamitous failure of Johnson and his corrupt crew but yesterday’s data from the ONS that excess deaths have now surpassed those of WW2 is truly jaw dropping. In 2020 there were 697 000 deaths, that is almost 85 000 more deaths than would normally be expected. This is an annual increase of 14%, the highest rise since the Second World War. In other words, Johnson’s bungled response to the pandemic throughout 2020   has been responsible for more UK civilian deaths than Adolf Hitler. Worth remembering that next time a Tory minister tries to lecture us for a walk in the park.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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