A big news day today – for the first time the death toll figures will include those in care homes, giving a more complete picture, and the PM has become a father again. While it’s a relief that he won’t be taking paternity leave so soon after returning to ‘run the country’, media fawning over the birth could lead to the risk of the PM being held less to account than he should be. At PMQs, Keir Starmer said we were on track ‘to have one of the worst death rates in Europe’.
A wag tweeted: ‘Get divorced, get elected to lead party, win landslide election, get engaged, get Covid-19, almost die from Covid-19, have a baby. Quite a year for Boris. I finally put up some shelves after deliberating for 12 months… ‘
Another pleaded: ‘Please, media, stop being so seduced by #Borisbaby that you’re turning even more of a blind eye to the PM’s failings’.
Following concerns that SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) membership was too narrow, it’s positive although rather late in the day that the government has urgently approached researchers at universities to help them expand the pool of scientific experts, specifically in the fields of public health epidemiology, emergency response and logistics. Public health has long been neglected too long, partly as responsibility for it moved to local authorities from the NHS in 2013 but councils have been too cash-strapped and perhaps without the right expertise to rise fully to that challenge. We’re told SAGE members will be named, so details won’t have to be rooted out by investigative journalists.
An interesting Guardian article examines why, given the delays and errors in the handling of COVID19, the PM’s ratings remain so high (60%). The answer, it’s suggested, lies in having lowered our expectations so that even a trip to a newly reopened council tip seems a bonus and that we’re broadly divided between lockdown accepters and resisters. Whereas accepters (the biggest category) tend to be middle-class, comfortably off and coping moderately well so far, resisters are more likely to be in insecure employment, living in cramped spaces with no garden and chafing at the restrictions. ‘The happiest people in lockdown are those most capable of finding solace in small things, and it’s this dramatic lowering of expectations under pressure that might help explain the baffling paradox in politics right now’. The accepters are also thought to be more natural conformists, which could be problematic. ‘Their positivity helps them cope, but also makes them slow to question authority. They’ll be dangerously open to the defence Johnson is now apparently trying to build ahead of any public inquiry…’ There does seem to be a worrying reluctance in some quarters to challenge and criticise authority, when this is precisely what we should be doing in a mature democracy, holding our elected representatives to account when the media are not always doing it.
Amid evidence that alcohol service referrals have dropped (and many services have been cut over the years) there is concern that people are drinking more during lockdown – a fifth of those already drinking alcohol admit to drinking more since lockdown began and sales have risen by a third. It’s probably not surprising that isolation, anxiety and having to deal with massive changes overnight are leading to this. We are all having to adapt very quickly to what Martin Blakebrough, CEO at addiction charity Kaleidoscope, has called ‘a new and strange reality’.
BBC4’s The Rules of Drinking series (tonight at 9 pm) examines the history of what it calls ‘our complicated relationship with drinking’, governed by unwritten and unspoken rules, such as going to a bar being a rite of passage for young men in the 1940s and 1950s. I see there are 12 episodes in this series and it would be interesting to check if any of them cover the UK phenomenon of binge drinking, which doesn’t characterise other European countries.
Given the confusing verbiage of the daily Downing Street Briefings, it was useful to get via Sky News that crucial number: coronavirus deaths in the UK have risen sharply to 26,097 (hospitals, care homes and community). There are almost no words for this. This means the UK has now overtaken both France and Spain for the total number of confirmed coronavirus deaths and is not far behind Italy. There seems to be a notion underpinning these briefings that if the NHS is praised to the skies and sadness expressed at the death toll it somehow reduces its impact and distracts attention from those responsible. Another characteristic of these briefings seems to be an even more pronounced use of a soundbite lexicon, designed for obfuscation or avoidance of difficult questions, ranging from ‘That’s a very good question’ to ‘working round the clock’, ‘straining every sinew’ and ‘ramping up’ this, that and the other.