We haven’t got locusts. I suppose we should be grateful that we haven’t got locusts, or at least that we haven’t got them yet. But we have got pestilence, in the shape of what may soon be a global pandemic, and we have got floods. And we have Boris Johnson as our Prime Minister.
Thousands of people in this country have currently had to put their lives on hold. Many have watched their possessions being washed down the river that used to be their street. Some are sleeping on friends’ sofas. Some have lost their businesses and don’t yet know if they’ll get them back. Many now realise that when the rain stops, and the damage has been repaired, which may take months, they are stuck in homes they now can’t sell. And they are wondering what the hell has happened to the Prime Minister. He hasn’t yet visited a single family or home. Yesterday, when he was asked if he might go and see some of the people who had been made homeless, he refused to reply.
This isn’t surprising, of course. The time for visits, and mops, and expressions of sympathy, has gone. That was before 12th December, the date that set our fate for generations. That was when Boris Johnson had to pretend to care. But he got the votes he wanted, got the victory he wanted and got the Downing Street home. Earlier this week, a Tory MP told the journalist Katy Balls that some of the new Tory MPs were disappointed. “The new intake” he said, “many of whom won seats in the red wall, got used to the Prime Minister making regular visits and getting involved through the election campaign. They’d thought this would continue.” Oh bless! Poor lambs! They actually thought Boris Johnson was capable of giving a sh**. Darlings! Sweethearts! Fools.
Which brings us to pestilence. Coronavirus. A looming global pandemic. A looming economic catastrophe, too. The WHO, which was famously slow to respond to the ebola crisis (which I covered in a piece in the Sunday Times magazine) has today said that the world should “prepare for a pandemic”. The virus is now in 38 countries and has also just hit Nigeria. There are nearly 200 million people in Nigeria and most of them don’t have access to free healthcare. A pandemic is a virus that spreads across multiple continents, a virus for which there’s no cure. That means millions could soon be infected. Even if only a small percentage of them die, that’s an awful lot of deaths.
Death is terrible, of course, but this isn’t just about death. Yesterday, there was a record plunge in the US stock market. The FTSE 100 slumped by 3.5 per cent. Financial analysts have said that we’re looking at economic havoc on a scale not seen since the 2008 global crisis. If you have a pension, or investments, you should be worried. We are talking global recession. We are talking mass job losses. We are talking mass economic pain.
If this isn’t contained soon, we will all be affected. Operations will be delayed. Schools will be closed. Businesses will go bust. I’ve actually been awake half the night worrying about the virus and its implications, which extend into so many areas of our lives. The Today programme this morning was a litany of misery, confirming that my anxieties were not unfounded. And then we got to what has now become a standard BBC pronouncement. “Given the severity of the crisis, we have for several days been asking a minister to talk about the coronavirus,” said the presenter, Martha Kearney, “but the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, hasn’t appeared. This is because the government has decided not to talk to our listeners.”
In the light of a global pandemic and economic turbulence, the government “has decided not to talk to our listeners”. Why? You might well ask why. Because an unelected advisor, who lives in a big house in Islington but wears hoodies to show how much he likes “disruption”, has decided he doesn’t like the BBC.
This government doesn’t give a flying fig about the seven million of us who listen to the Today programme each week. It doesn’t care about those of us who watch Newsnight. It doesn’t care about those of us who read broadsheets, unless it’s the broadsheet that, until recently, paid our Prime Minister more than a quarter of a million a year for a weekly column that took him a couple of hours to write. It doesn’t care about any of us. We are minnows, nobodies, flies to be swatted away.
So who does it care about?
Our Home Secretary, for example, who has been accused of mass bullying of civil servants in several government departments and apparently asked the permanent secretary at the Home Office to sack the director of communications on Christmas Eve. Who does she care about?
Prit Patel smiled last week as she announced the new points-based immigration system, the system that would not have allowed her parents anywhere near the UK. She smiled as she talked about the “low skilled” workers who would now be locked out of the country, locked out of the care homes where they do their hard, exacting, “low skilled” work. Our country, she said, would now focus on “the brightest and the best”. Yes, Priti Patel really did say she wanted only “the brightest and the best”.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, for example. Otherwise known as Michael Gove. Who does he care about?
Yesterday, he told the House of Commons that the Government would “respect the withdrawal agreement, implementing the Northern Ireland protocol”, which places a customs border between Britain and Northern Ireland. He then said “there will be no border down the Irish Sea”. It is literally not possible for both of these things to be true. We can therefore assume that he doesn’t give a monkey’s about anyone who cares about things like truth.
And the Prime Minister? Who does he care about? Does he, for example, care about the 66 million people who will face higher prices and serious disruption if we have the no-deal Brexit he appears to be marching us towards? Does he care about the businesses that will sink under the weight of the new red tape? That’s not just the big businesses, it’s the 250,000 SMEs which will be doing customs forms for the first time. Does he care about the farmers, who, on the WTO terms he appears to want, face tariffs of 85% on beef?
My partner lives next door to a cattle farmer. Does Boris Johnson care about her?
Johnson, or perhaps we should say Dominic Cummings, has banned the word “Brexit”. Brexit, according to the “lines to take” document that was leaked this week, is something that has been “done”. He has banned the phrase “no deal”. MPs have been told that they now have to call a no-deal Brexit the “Australia option”. Australia has no trade deal with the EU and trades on WTO terms. It’s pure Orwell double-speak. It is literally designed to pull the wool over our eyes.
It’s still just about possible, I suppose, that we’ll get some kind of “bare-bones” trade deal, but because of the time frame and constraints Johnson has imposed on us, this is likely to be as near to a no-deal Brexit, sorry, Australia option, as you get.
This will affect us all for generations to come.
Does Boris Johnson care?
Well, it sure as hell doesn’t look like it. When he said “fuck business”, he clearly meant it. He doesn’t care about people’s jobs. The people he’s relying on to re-elect him are older and don’t have jobs. By the time he faces them again, the floods will have gone and the coronavirus will have done its stuff and given him a very handy excuse for major economic disruption.
I’ve been wondering for a while what Boris Johnson actually wants to do with the power he has got. It’s clear now. Nothing. He wants to do nothing. He just wants to cling on to power, keep his head down and keep his own job.