Project Fear version 2 finally has much of the country afraid, and the British state apparatus is breathing a deep sigh of relief now it at last has Johnson and Cummings if not on the run, then at least on the back foot.
A virus which will soon have killed 30,000 people worldwide (the average global death toll from flu was described in 2017 by the Lancet as varying between 250,000 and 500,000*) has been successfully packaged as the end of civilisation.
That is unless Britain’s civil service is allowed to reassert itself on a grand scale. There has been a budget package involving a huge increase in state-spending commitments. This was trumpeted as a return to socialism – by none other than the Daily Telegraph.
Of course, in reality, it could be just as easily called a return to absolute monarchism – many 17th-century kings or princes took similar steps to tackle epidemics (serious or exaggerated) threatening their realms. There is nothing even vaguely “socialist” about the Chancellor’s measures, unless socialists want to admit that what they really care about is getting more power.
In addition, draconian public-order laws have been put into force – another tactic to discredit the elected government while giving the state apparatus a precedent for ordering people around.
The BBC – plus broadsheet newspapers like the Boris-loathing Times, the EU-loving Independent, and the generally rabid Guardian – are clearly smug to have retaken the news narrative away from the two mop-haired blond men they all loathe so deeply. The nature of that loathing might deserve another article, but the “shameless” way that Donald and Boris seem able to tryst with young leggy women far more attractive than the wife or husband of most grand fromages in the media might be a clue.
A Financial Times front page below-the-fold article recently remarked how tired Boris is looking, gloating that he has lost the initiative since COVID-19 became the main story. Coronavirus is indeed the dream chance to retake control of what everyone talks and thinks about.
How many people might die from the new coronavirus? If it rises from 30,000 to say 110,000 across the whole world in the next couple of months, then it will have not have reached even 1/2 of the lowest estimate for annual global deaths from flu given above. If deaths go no higher than 70,000 or so, we should definitely be asking how this caused such intense fear, to such interestingly political ends.
Britain’s civil service, after campaigning sneakily for the removal of Home Secretary Priti Patel and failing, is now in a state of huge excitement. Taking to heart Macmillan’s famous reply that the hardest thing about being prime minister was “Events, dear boy, events,” they have finally found an unexpected turn of events to throw the hated Boris Johnson and his feared adviser Dominic Cummings off balance.
In a curious 1964 novel by children’s writer Susan Cooper, set in the then distant future of 1980, a politician called ‘Mandrake’ revives WW2 government posters asking “Is your journey really necessary?”, introduces economic controls, and slowly pulls Britain back into a semi-feudal state by getting people to stay at home and stop wastefully travelling around. It reads most uncannily as a forecast of the oil-hike-and-coal-strike-forced power cuts of the early 1970s. That was the Britain that had shop windows lit by candles when the grid was down.
However, police forces today are using special powers, in a country where COVID-19 deaths have just passed a mere 1,000, to stop people even leaving their homes. Shops are closing, streets are emptying, the economy is slowing, and the bureaucratic dream of a quiet, orderly, submissive nation seems to be taking shape.
If this doesn’t sound overblown, consider that Hungary, where a mere ten people have died of this disease, put soldiers on the streets of the capital today, Saturday March 28th. Sceptical Austrians note that their 60 coronavirus deaths come some distance behind their normal annual toll of around 2,500 deaths from flu.
French people widely share the French civil service’s belief that all of life descends from the state like sunshine, whereas British people by and large don’t see it that way. That doesn’t stop Britain’s civil servants from yearning for the life France’s state-anointed elite enjoy. The establishment that were enraged when Priti Patel called for paedophile grooming gangs to be investigated more fully are today overjoyed at how seriously a minor epidemic might now change the national agenda their way.
Increasing testing for COVID-19 is revealing it is widespread, in most cases harmless, and the death rate is declining as a result. Once 2%, the inferred death rate has now fallen below 1% and is still falling. Italian statistics are being picked apart by critics who point out that many Italian deaths are recorded for people who die with coronavirus, but not from it. The inferred infection speed is necessarily also falling. The fact that EU negotiator Barnier caught it, BoJo himself, not to mention other gilded officials that don’t spend time on crowded buses, also suggests it has been present among a big ratio of Europeans for months already.
This new virus doesn’t have to be a kind of flu to make it salient that it has so far killed far far fewer than many recent flu outbreaks. It is also replacing many flu deaths, since similar victims are dying.
Italy is Europe’s worst-hit country, and it isn’t well-reported that this is due to the large number of leather-working firms China bought around Milan in recent years, and the Chinese sweatshop labourers they flew in to toil in them. The average age of Italian victims is still around 80, with 90% over 70 years of age. There are already medicines which are working, not only anti-malarial and anti-HIV, but also some others. Existing Japanese antiviral Favipiravir for example was showing good results in curing Chinese hospital patients of coronavirus already weeks ago.
This means that the deep-state forces welcoming this public panic have only a few more weeks to undermine Johnson and Trump. Sweden is choosing not to impose curfews or close its borders. When this is referred to by British media outlets as a “huge experiment” they neglect to mention that the curfew policy they helped forced onto Johnson is an experiment just as huge.
The window of opportunity Johnson’s opponents were given by the Chinese police state’s incompetence (or malice) is already closing.
Mark Griffith is a financial trader whose weblog http://www.otherlanguages.org follows news on artificial intelligence, economics, and other subjects. He is researching a book on how AI will change the way people live.