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Boris Johnson. Photo: Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street / cropped from original / CC 2.0, licence linked at bottom of article

Boris Johnson. Photo: Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street / cropped from original / CC 2.0, licence linked at bottom of article

Johnson’s government is gambling that reports of a vaccine will distract us from their disastrous handling of the pandemic, argues Sean Ledwith

Millions around the world will welcome this week’s news that scientists at Oxford University have made a breakthrough in trials for the development a coronavirus vaccine. After months of disorientating and jaw-dropping incompetence by this government and their scientific advisors, people are understandably desperate to grab any crumb of comfort. This glimmer of hope, however, creates the new risk that misplaced optimism replaces sober realism as the best guide to public policy.

Unfortunately, the recent actions of Boris Johnson and his ministers indicate this outcome is highly likely in the UK. From the onset of this calamity at the turn of the year, it is glaringly apparent that the priority of the Tories throughout has been news management rather than public health. Announcing the news from Oxford in the Commons, Health Secretary Matt Hancock could not resist indulging in the delusional jingoism that that has become the hallmark of this disastrous administration:

‘They have played a blinder; they are one of the reasons why the UK is at the forefront of this on vaccines and treatments

World-beating incompetence

Like his boss who is apparently incapable of opening his mouth without uttering the phrase ‘world beating’, Hancock thinks the public will forget that this government is responsible for the worst pandemic death rate on the planet and a sequence of other avoidable blunders in crisis management. Hancock went on to make the facile claim the virus is ‘on the back foot’ echoing Johnson’s equally foolish prediction last week that ‘significant normality’ will be achieved by Christmas.

Having climbed clumsily out of a hole, Johnson and his team seem determined to jump right back in again. They have also now abandoned the daily updates on corona-related fatalities, citing a spurious concern for statistical accuracy. This is likely to increase complacency in the corporate sector regarding the ongoing threat of the virus.

Off-message

It hasn’t taken long for more reliable analysts to pour cold water on the government’s sham operation. Jeremy Farrar from the government’s own Sage body was noticeably off-message giving evidence to the Commons Health Committee on Tuesday:

‘Things will not be done by Christmas. This infection is not going away, it's now a human endemic infection. Even, actually, if we have a vaccine or very good treatments, humanity will still be living with this virus for very many, many years... decades to come.

It is not difficult to imagine Dominic Cummings filling the air in Number 10 with expletives as he watched on. The execrable manipulator in chief is possibly planning a similar fate for Farrar as the one that befell England’s Chief Nursing officer. Ruth May revealed on Monday that her refusal to display sufficient servility to Cummings was the probable reason for her no-show at the Downing Street briefings. May told the Public Accounts Committee how she was prepped in June for an appearance but then mysteriously stood down:

‘I don’t know why I was dropped, chair. At all press briefings, we talk about a lot of these preparation questions. And yes, of course, I was asked about about lockdown and rules to lockdown, yes. I believe that, in my opinion, the rules are clear, they are there for everyone’s safety, and they applied to us all.

Cummings is back

May did not even get as far as Jonathan Van Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, who was similarly culled by the Downing Street spin machine after an appearance in the spring in which he inconveniently stated lockdown rules apply to all – tacitly condemning Cummings. After shamefully escaping the wrath of the public in July and then going to ground for a while, it is obvious that Johnson’s rottweiler is back in the centre of operations behind the PM and has resumed his malignant agenda to reorientate the British state in line with the thinking of the alt-right.

Earlier this month, Cummings gave his team some homework that consisted of reading a book called High Output Management by Andrew Grove. The best known slogan from this go-to text for corporate leeches is ‘only the paranoid survive’ maybe not the most tactful piece of advice during a pandemic! Cummings also ominously warned his inner circle that ‘a hard rain is coming’. The rest of us will have to hope this is not a reference to the recent Sage report that failure to prepare adequately for a second wave of the pandemic could cause 120,000 deaths in the winter.

Mask mess

From this Friday everyone in England will be expected to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets. That will be two weeks after the Scottish devolved government implemented the same measure and four months since a Chinese public health official stated not wearing masks was a serious mistake. The government’s dithering and mixed messaging on this issue just adds to the growing consensus that the Downing Street team that got us into this mess cannot be trusted to get us out.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith

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

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