Don’t worry everyone, we’re being ‘guided by the science’ – and that means never, ever, challenging the government

It’s impossible to fault our leaders. Even if they fall short of their ambitious targets, no one said anything about sticking to them

Mark Steel
Thursday 23 April 2020 18:56
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Coronavirus: Dominic Raab says virus has been a 'immense physical, economic and mental strain' in UK

The important thing, the government says, is it was “guided by the science”.

So, asked why it allowed race meetings and football matches, and pubs to stay open longer than almost anywhere in Europe, Dominic Raab said what else? “We must continue to be guided by the science.”

Our leaders are being truthful; they just haven’t specified which science.

The only explanation is that the “science” actually comes from a 12-year-old from Gloucester who’s skipped all his science lessons to help his dad arrange illegal dog-fighting in the woods, and has written: “siense – my dadd toled me you Only get viruss if yore a wankerr” in his notebook.

Whichever version it is, most scientists have called the government’s initial approach crazy. Because now its aim is to reach its target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April. At the moment it’s on 19,000, but there’s a week left, so there’s no rush.

Raab explained the “upward curve” could last until the last few days of that deadline, so this must be to make it more exciting.

At midnight on 30 April, on live TV, Dermot O’Leary will stand six feet from Raab and reveal the results are in. There will be a “thump-thump” heartbeat noise for 10 seconds and O’Leary will announce how many tests there were; if it’s 100,000, glitter will fall from the ceiling and a band will play “We are the Champions” and Raab will weep and be joined on stage by his wife and a puppy.

When he was questioned about why the government was so far behind its target, Raab said: “The important thing is to have a target.” Because the target is far more important than the actual number. If it doesn’t improve on 18,000 tests a day, it won’t matter because it can make an even better target, of 20 million tests a day.

This should be the rule for the Olympic Games. After the marathon, the winner should be announced as the wheezy man from Texas, who finished in six days but had a target of 25 minutes.

So the government can’t be faulted, even after the report in The Sunday Times condemned it as disastrous.

For example, Sir Simon McDonald, foreign office permanent secretary, said it had been a “political decision” not to take part in an EU scheme to buy ventilators. This contradicted the government’s claim, which was it didn’t take part in the scheme because it hadn’t received the email telling them about it.

To be fair, it’s a reasonable excuse to say you didn’t get the e-mail, if the issue is why you forgot to bring a cake to the office when it was the birthday of Barbara who works on reception.

But is this the way we respond to global crises? Boris Johnson is supposed to be a devotee of Churchill, so maybe in 1940, we didn’t rescue anyone from Dunkirk, as we didn’t see the email that Hitler had invaded France, because it went straight into spam by mistake.

It was also suggested Johnson didn’t attend the meetings on how to respond to the virus, because “he liked his country breaks”.

This is what makes him such a man of the people. One day, a report will inform us he wasn’t available for the summit on nuclear weapons because “he always goes out for a curry on a Thursday”.

His supporters insist we mustn’t ask questions about this at the moment, and if it turned out Johnson had faked his illness to spend a week robbing banks with an alibi, and had sprayed the virus across Italy with a watering can after a drunken party, and ate the bat that caused it all in the first place, they’d still say “now is not the time to be critical”.

It’s reasonable to suggest Johnson and co haven’t made a series of mistakes. Because what could look like mistakes has been a deliberate strategy, to behave differently from the rest of Europe and keep most business open, hoping the virus was like rude people on Facebook and Twitter: ignore it and it will just go away.

So we’ve done worse than almost anywhere, and now some politicians and newspapers demand we end the restrictions, as the number of infections is going down. But the reason the number of infections is going down is because of the restrictions. It’s like seeing the bathroom’s flooded because you left the taps on full blast, so you turned the taps off. Then the flooding stops so you say “as it’s stopped, we might as well end these silly restrictions, and turn the taps on full blast again”.

And like so much of our thinking, this seems to flow from America, where old folk in interviews have said: “I don’t see why I should be kept in, if it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go, just accept it and infect 17 other people so they cark it as well.”

And where protestors against the lockdown carrying placards that say “Social Distancing equals communism”, shout: “These liberal governors are trying to take away our right to go about our business. If everyone’s at home, lawful Americans have no one to shoot at the shopping mall when they’re in a bad mood, and that ain’t right.”

That’s right, because one of Karl Marx’s famous quotes went: “When the mighty working masses roar, we will create a society in which no man or woman shall stand closer than six feet from the next outside Sainsbury’s.”

This is the country we like to copy. We’re in safe hands.

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