After a massively successful vaccine programme and the real prospect of a safe exit from restrictions, the government seems determined to undermine itself at every turn.
No one can shy away or remain unaffected from what this government chooses to do over the coming months; for better or worse, we’ll all be paying the price for this recklessness. The lesson of 2020 is no matter how insulated you think you are from political decision making (a very middle class, isolated position to start with), the government’s very political choices will still find a way to bite you in the arse. And make no mistake of it, what we’re seeing now are fully ideological decisions.
As of Monday, we’re back on the same course of COVID policymaking that the ideologues in No 10 were always secretly wedded to: the old hymn sheet of “let it rip” and disaster capitalist boosterism. The sheer horror of the prospect of the bodies piling up, while palpable to Boris Johnson in the abstract, was too political costly for the Tories to stomach, hence the reluctant lockdowns of March 2020, November 2020, and January 2021, all of them too late, all those choices letting people die who could have been saved had decisive action been taken; in other words, if the government had believed in public health policymaking.
Letting the young suffer with Long COVID, ceding the risk of new variants, and putting the shielding in a permanent miserable state of limbo is much more palpable for Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, and Saajid Javid, hence their willingness to throw caution to the wind. Sure, underpaid NHS staff will be worked to the bone, and the young and the vulnerable are thrown under the bus, but the vaccine programme means that for the foreseeable (save really dire new variants) we won’t see mass deaths on the scale of previous waves. This is truly what they think at the top of government, it’s the only plausible explanation for the current policymaking.
One cannot underestimate how much of an impact the shifting dynamics in cabinet and “the quad” of ministers has had on policymaking. We had Matt Hancock, who, while useless, was a dove on lockdowns and less ideologically opposed to them, and now we have a closet anti-lockdowner in the guise of Saajid Javid, one who rivals Rishi Sunak when it comes to lockdown scepticism, and who will only confirm Johnson’s individualistic instincts on this matter, as the fervently ideological shift to individual responsibility in government policy we’re seeing come later this month demonstrates. Remember, with the previous dynamics within the quad of ministers it still proved almost impossible to convince Johnson to not “let the bodies pile high” (according to Dominic Cummings), therefore now it’s even more ideologically tipped to the anti-lockdown bent, there’s minimal hope of sensible policymaking if this all goes south come winter, and we really would see a willingness in government to “let the bodies pile high” were it to come to that, meaning we should be very thankful Javid took this post AFTER we got so many folks vaccinated.
What makes this so maddening is that this current route when it comes to public policy is the route most likely to land us in the soup again, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. We’ve had a fantastic vaccine rollout, and the government had finally got its act together in various areas, but here they are again, willing to sacrifice all our hard work as a society and the heroic efforts of the NHS, all to satisfy some ideological joyride that holds some bizarre view of hyper individualised freedom above collective solidarity, when solidarity is what got us through this, and what would be most likely to get us out of this.
A government with even an iota of common sense would have stopped these god forsaken variants coming in instead of buckling to the travel industry, and now would be reopening but with masks and public guidance in place, and an acknowledgement that come winter we may need some more restrictions in terms of masks and distancing if we’re to stay open and stave off lockdowns for good. But no, none of that, it’s an unlock fest that (according to extensive polling) barely anyone outside the Tory backbenches wants, and it’ll hurt society, public health, and business equally when if goes belly up (it might not, but this is such a huge avoidable gamble). This isn’t a repeat of previous fiascos, since we have vaccines and the dynamics have shifted, but in many ways it’s worse, because we were so close to being able to unlock sensibly and to stave off lockdowns for good.
At the risk of sounding conspiratorial, it really is a dire state of affairs when blatant back scratching at the expensive of the tax payer won’t get you removed from the Health brief in government, but canoodling in the office will, on the terms of a media baron who may have sat on the footage until such a point he decide we needed a more libertarian health secretary; deeply concerning stuff, Murdoch still pulling the strings quite blatantly when it comes to our politics.
If this goes wrong it will be catastrophic for the government politically, and they’ll deserve every iota of it, because it’s our people and our communities that’ll suffer.