The scientist Neil Ferguson, who last week was predicting more than 100,000 cases a day by mid-August, now seems to think Covid, as a mass life-paralysing event, could be gone by September. By the time MPs come back to the House of Commons again, there is a chance politics could have returned to normal. That, frankly, is terrifying.
I have written a daily column on politics for almost six years. I cannot, off the top of my head, think of a single one that has not been about one of three once-in-a-hundred-years events that have all come along at once – those being, Brexit, Covid and Corbyn – and the various general elections that spawned from them.
What on earth is normal politics meant to be like? I have heard murmurings from colleagues who have been at it longer than me that it was, once upon a time, quite normal for a government, or indeed an opposition, to launch some policy or other on, say, schools, or prisons or the environment. The politicians are interviewed, the other side says it’s terrible, the papers get written, the TV packages get broadcast, and then, maybe, you go to the pub and start thinking about tomorrow.
Normal politics seems almost impossible to imagine, but it’s having a little runout this week. Boris Johnson is doing his bit on crime. Making a speech, doing an interview, opening a memorial for police officers killed in the line of duty at the National Arboretum. Naturally, he couldn’t do the last of these things without turning his umbrella inside out and laughing.
Large numbers of voters find the rolling clown show endearing so there’s no point criticising. It has long been suggested, around Westminster, and by people who would know, that when Johnson got stuck on the zipwire at the Olympic Games, he had had excess weights placed in his harness, to make it happen. The clown act is no accident, but people like it, so on it goes.
The analysis of the hour intimates that Labour has been making some headway by exposing a poor government record on crime, and on things like rape conviction rates, and so Johnson’s “crime week” is a direct response.
Who will gain most from the return of “normal” politics? It is impossible to say. For a start, normal politics, though not dead, might be out for a far longer count than suspected. Labour losing in Hartlepool and the Tories losing in Chesham and Amersham suggests things are still well and truly mad. It might be hopelessly optimistic to hold a general election in 2024, infused as it will still be with the divisive madness of Brexit.
I have written many times that the 2024 election could be pleasingly simple. If Boris Johnson hasn’t delivered on his “levelling up” agenda by then, then the Labour areas that voted for him in 2019 will see the broken promises and go back to what they know. But maybe I’m wrong.
We now know the “levelling up” agenda doesn’t mean anything. But in three years’ time, when precious little has been achieved, and promises have not been kept, it is still more likely than not that those highly predisposed to Brexit, and thus to Boris Johnson, will be more forgiving than they would to any other politician. The battle might be over, but the tribes that were formed within it are still fiercely loyal.
The polls are narrowing. The vaccine rollout is – almost – ending. And arguably most significantly of all, the government is no longer directly paying millions of people’s wages.
Politics, in all likelihood, will soon be very boring again. This is no bad thing. It’s long overdue. Boring politics will not suit Boris Johnson of course, although it will at least leave him with rather less to do, a situation to which he is highly unlikely to object. Will it suit Keir Starmer? Who knows? Thing is, for a little while, it really won’t matter. Maybe, at very long last, it will be time to find something else to get angry about.
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