Surely, this is the biggest U-turn of them all?
Last week, in a chaotic and delayed address to the nation, Boris Johnson set out England’s plans to be plunged into lockdown number 2, despite weeks of arguing against it in favour of the Tier system.
Johnson, in his tiresome attacks against the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, continuously denied the value of a circuit breaker that would have prevented another lockdown of this scale. But the idea of having a circuit breaker was not just a matter of a political making – it was backed by the science. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) told the government directly that a circuit breaker in England would slow the spread of Coronavirus at a meeting on September 21.
Alas, it was ignored and now we are facing a minimum of four weeks in a second lockdown. The government have had a complex relationship with science throughout this pandemic and have chosen to pick and choose what to follow in accordance with what suits them. Instead of being “driven by the science”, they are led by their political agendas. But in this case, it has well and truly flopped as Johnson had to abandon his vision of getting the country back on track.
The virus will be with us for months, if not years to come. But one thing is for certain – England’s second national lockdown could have been avoided, which reveals stark incompetence at the heart of those in power.
Back in March, the government firmly established a culture of anti-compliance. During the Dominic Cummings saga, this was well and truly set in stone. Cummings, the Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister, tested positive for Coronavirus on March 27, but then made a trip to Durham just days after. Despite the furore this caused, Cummings was let off the hook and Johnson told everyone to “move on”
We may have moved on from this distant memory – but the culture of anti-compliance rife within the government and the rest of the establishment has not. Stanley Johnson, the father of the Prime Minister, was spotted shopping without wearing a face covering on 29 September. Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the opposition, was documented breaking the rule of six, after attending a dinner with eight other people. Margaret Ferrier, a Scottish MP, knowingly travelled from London to Scotland after experiencing symptoms and testing positive for Covid-19. Need I go on?
The rule-makers are in essence, the rule-breakers.
And this message of not taking the virus seriously and the failure of compliance from the top-level naturally trickles down the masses. It is no surprise that we have found ourselves back in this mess when the government cannot get their behaviour in order. The culture of anti-compliance was firmly established in the first weeks of handling this deadly virus, which has culminated in this colossal failure. It is of no wonder that England is now seeing themselves in a second lockdown – but this could have been avoided.
Back in May, Johnson announced that the Test, Track and Trace (TTT) system and an NHS app, which was unveiled in September, would be the key to keeping the public safe and learning to live with this virus. After spending over £10 billion, it is failing us deeply which has cost lives and plunged England into an avoidable second lockdown. This is littered with ironies, as the PM himself always recognised the importance of an efficient TTT system, stating,
“And I think the brutal reality is this country didn’t learn the lessons of Sars or Mers and we didn’t have a test operation ready to go on the scale that we needed.”
Now, months on from when TTT began, we know that more than half a million (598,930) people have not been reached by the app and told to self-isolate. And as the pandemic was picking up again, 131,136 people were not reached by the system in the week leading up to October 28. It seems the PM’s key tool to coping with the virus is rendered itself incapacitated within the first few months of its birth.
A failing TTT system, coupled with the creation of a culture of anti-compliance from the rule-makers themselves, is at the heart of Britain’s failure to control this pandemic. Indeed, a pandemic of this nature would have been a tough challenge for any leader – however, the sheer incompetence and the joint will to ignore scientific advice is not only a complete political failure – but is one that has cost lives.
We are being led through a deadly pandemic by a group of career politicians – who are grappled by the performative act of being able to lead and the power that gives them. But now, as Britain continues to grapple with a second wave, the government by backtracking have proven blatantly that they have no political authority left whatsoever, and moreover, that they cannot lead during a crisis when it really matters.
The government’s continuous incompetence and dithering indecision has ended up costing lives. A second lockdown will have severe economic and social implications – but importantly, it could have been avoided. One must hope that by plunging England further into a crisis, the government will use this time to improve the Test, Track and Trace system, but this hope is eroding by the day.