As expected, more bluster from Boris this evening. Viewed rationally, the Cummings affair is a storm in teacup, a concocted media frenzy cum vendetta. No doubt Cummings himself was acting rationally. But after eight weeks in lock down following government rules, which for many have involved great personal sacrifice, these are not normal times.
People are angry, not because they are suffering a periodic fit of morality, but because, once again, there has been no admission from government that a mistake was made, no apology, no explanation, and all communicated with a casual, arrogant disregard.
It is not only that they engage in spin, evasion and passing the buck. We expect nothing less, or more, of our politicians. The bluster of Boris may even be judged a refreshing change from the robotic mantras of Mrs May. It might even be thought that some element of spin and evasion, of managing public relations, is desirable in a crisis; though we also remember that when Ian McDonald fronted the MoD press briefings during the Falklands War, his deadpan delivery was both admirably reassuring and effective in ensuring the then government won the ‘propaganda war’ against the Argentinian junta.
It is the assumption that the populace can be fobbed off with any old public relations blather. What grates is that the likes of Johnson, Hancock and Sunak believe that we, the populace, are so servile, so lacking in critical faculties, so credulous, that we will swallow the turd (to borrow one of Johnson’s metaphors) we are served without a murmur of protest.
Whatever one’s view of the crisis, it is difficult to deny that serious mistakes have been made and thousands of lives have needlessly been lost. Even hardened ‘it’s only the flu’ and ‘they’re stealing our liberties’ conspiracy theorists would be hard pressed to deny that – for example – we have failed to protect our care homes.
Even the government’s own scientific advisors now admit, both on and off the record, that serious mistakes have been made. There is now even an alternative SAGE headed by the government’s former chief scientific advisor Sir David King. Yet still we are told that the right action was taken at the right time in the light of the best scientific evidence in the best of all possible worlds. Confronted with Keir Starmer’s surgical analysis of the government’s failings over contact tracing and care homes, all we got from Boris Johnson was more ‘rolling out’, ‘ramping up’, ‘night and day’, ‘absolutely focused’, ‘world-beating’ bluster.
We are to believe that it does not matter whether the government has acted competently, or efficiently, or strategically. There is no need for us to know the detail or weigh the evidence. There is no need for comparative graphs and statistics (unless they serve the government’s purpose), or for scientific advice to be published so that we can make our own judgements.
There is no need for questions to be answered or responsibility assumed. All that matters is that we have faith. That we believe and trust that our representatives are working ‘night and day’, ‘straining every sinew’, ‘working round the clock’. That they are ‘absolutely determined’, ‘absolutely focused’, and ‘throwing everything at it’. That their achievements are ‘absolutely brilliant’, ‘astonishing’, ‘fantastic’, ‘world-leading’, and delivered ‘in record time’. That they are engaged in a perpetual process of ‘rolling out’ and ‘ramping up’. So long as the hyperbole flow in an endless stream at the daily press conferences, we can rest satisfied and reassured.
What breeds such arrogant disregard for the people, such contempt for the masses, and such utter detachment from reality? Is it the air of ‘effortless superiority’ cultivated in certain Oxbridge colleges that is to blame, that vague mix of idleness and duty that has traditionally propelled our gilded youth toward politics? Is it the sense of privilege and entitlement of the products of our great public schools?
Is it the apotheosis of a new class of slick managerial sloganizing PR men, for whom presentation and marketing are all important? Is it narcissism, the inability to accept criticism without suffering personal slight? Is it the age-old lust for power and greed for riches, which nowadays takes the form of fat directorships and consultancy fees? Or is it simply the complacency of a liberal governing class, no longer burdened by the sense of paternal responsibility that decent Tories used to feel, and devoid of any moral compass?