We are in unprecedented times, where the word ‘unprecedented’ is being used an unprecedented amount of times in both speech and print. Never before in history have those without any previous epidemiological experience styled themselves as epidemiologists. Never has there been such an exponential rise in those looking at exponential graphs.
It’s thrown everything into flux, bizarre flux, as it mostly involves staying at home and doing little whatsoever, a banality crashing into the apocalyptic and sitting down to watch Netflix together. From a purely local perspective, the response has been brilliant, with locals mobilising (while sitting inside, of course) to ensure the most vulnerable are looked after, and that we look after each other.
A less welcome return has been some rather pernicious attitudes to how the media should act in covering this pandemic. It’s generally agreed that their are wartime parallels at work, with the rationing of, errrr, toilet roll; the restrictions on movement and a general sense that we are all should act collectively to beat this invader.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. But we’ll not discuss the Labour leadership contest now (which is actually mentioned in the last few lines of the Book of Revelation, after those chaps on horses), but rather the man trapped in Downing Street while he cosplays the role he’s always dreamed of. Our own Poundshop Winnie, Boris Johnson.
While he may come off his webcam occasionally to take private selfies of himself donning a hat while chuffing on a fat cigar, the facts point to Boris actually being more of a Chamberlain, initially offering appeasement to the Coronavirus in the form of letting it run riot through the population with the misplaced concept of herd immunity. It was only when the simple maths of such a strategy were pointed out to him (that for everyone to get the virus would mean hundreds of thousands of deaths, even if the fatality rate is below 1%). Some Churchill. I don’t recall the speech that our Wartime Leader made that said “We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them on…actually, you can take a chunk of the elderly. And those with underlying conditions. And the asthmatics. And…”
Yet here we are. What’s more HOLD ON STOP THIS BLOG IMMEDIATELY.
WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING?
WE ARE IN A CRISIS AND YOU’RE TAKING CHEAP SHOTS AT A PRIME MINISTER WHO WE ARE RELIANT ON BEING STRONG AND FIRM AT THIS AWFUL TIME?
HE IS DOING HIS BEST AND WE SHOULD ALL LISTEN TO HIM AND READ HIS LETTER, THAT IN NO WAY IS A EXPENSIVE BIT OF ONANISTIC GUFF PUTTING STRAIN UPON AN ALREADY BELEAGUERED POSTAL SERVICE AND COSTING THE EQUIVALENT OF MANY, MANY ITEMS OF PPE FOR NHS STAFF.
NO, WE SHOULD ALL CHERISH THE LETTER AND HAVE IT FRAMED. TAKE THE PIC OF THE GRANDCHILDREN DOWN FROM THE MANTLEPIECE- WE HAVEN’T SEEN THEM IN WEEKS ANYHOW -AND DISPLAY IT PROUDLY: OUR WARTIME PM BRAVELY SENDING US A PERSONAL LETTER FROM HIS BUNKER. STOP KNOCKING THE GOVERNMENT AT SUCH A CRITICAL TIME.
…and so on. There is a feeling amongst many that this is not the time for journalism, this is not the time for critical observation and reflection. To pull together, we should accept our betters and follow orders absolutely. Anything less is the way of the traitor.
Yet now is when strong, critical journalism is more essential than ever. It is literally a matter of life and death.
Boris Johnson’s baffling initial reaction to the virus – having a protracted holiday, refusing to hold a COBRA meeting before the weekend was out, boasting that it was nothing to worry about and he had, like some tight-collared, crinkle-shirted Princess Di, shook hands with those suffering from Corvid-19. This has been well-documented, not least in this fantastic overview despatched from the PM’s birthplace. His attitude and refusal to act undoubtedly cost lives. Such is the responsibility of a leader: get things wrong, people suffer. The media need to be free to say this. Again, it literally is a matter of life and death.
It is also well documented that when draconian restrictions are put in place, leaders get quite the taste for them and look into maintaining such powers long after the crisis has ebbed. Over in Hungary, the far-right anti-semitic PM Victor Orban has granted himself terrifying new powers to govern and kill off dissent. Over in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has postponed standing trial on several corruption trial, handily at a time when he was in a precarious position after failing to form a government. Over in the US, Trump has on one (tiny) hand stated that the pandemic is a hoax, on the other attempting to buy up a company working on a vaccine for the exclusive use of Americans.
We need to be vigilant, we need to be critical. We need to congratulate when required, and I very much congratulate Chancellor Rishi Sunak on his recent discovery of the legendary Magic Moneytree, and the adjacent understanding that the ‘household budget’ analogy used to describe the nation’s finances deceptive, destructive bunkum.
“The first casualty of war is the truth”, said Aeschylus, the ancient Greek founder of dramatic tragedy. To question, to demand honesty, is not blind belligerence. It is not working against the national cause, or the national interest. It is, however, an essential component of democracy and, for better or worse, the buffer between dictatorship, the brakes on tyranny. To say this is no time for journalism fundamentally misunderstands journalism’s role.
“Memory is the mother of all wisdom” was another zinger from our aforementioned Greek friend. It is essential that when this is over, the narrative is honest, the narrative is clear. There has been many, and there will be many more unnecessary deaths due to the exceptionalism, ego and sheer laziness of Boris Johnson. His letter should arrive today. There is a toilet paper crisis. Perhaps my earlier criticism of its utility was misplaced.
Many things happening in my life right now to adjust to the new normal, with The Beestonian looking at finding a new way of keeping going while our distributors are closed. Please have a read online if you can’t get a copy: in a uncharacteristic act of foresight we went with the theme of ‘Community’ and the cover is almost clairvoyant in its germane nature. We set themes and cover art a couple of months before publication, so had no idea: these were the days when Boris Johnson’s energies were more focused on seeing if he could get Big Ben to bong on Brexit day…..