It all started during Prime Minister’s Questions last Wednesday, where Boris declared he’d reveal his plan to reopen the country on Sunday (incidentally the first PMQs Boris has attended in like forever). Cue the newspapers on Thursday to rejoice and thus setting up the inevitable scenes of street parties that kicked off on Friday as part of VE Day celebrations. The latest Government bungling during the pandemic was fully underway.
Subtle changes to the Government marketing material appeared over the weekend, “Stay Home” became “Stay Alert” (notice how the colours also changed from red to green) which no one really understood – how do you “stay alert” versus a virus you cannot see? Sunday morning saw Ministers scrambling across the various media outlets to try and clarify. It means you can meet one other person who is not a member of your household in the park, but not two people, oh no, in the case of your parents you’d have to choose which one you want to see. Or maybe seeing both parents is actually ok. Dominic Raab wasn’t quite sure himself.
This was all in advance of Boris’ televised address on Sunday evening which we hoped would clarify things. But this is Boris, would we actually get some clarity or would he start blabbering in Latin. Alas no clarity in his pre-prepared speech. The problem with Boris is he wants to be the nice guy, your chum who doesn’t offend. I sense he isn’t a guy who really enjoys confrontation. What the leads to is vague statements and bluster.
Anyway onto Monday – a statement to the House of Commons, which he probably should have done prior to his national address as well as the release of documentation about the plan on how to reopen Britain. Except technically it wasn’t for the whole of the UK, England only as the devolved Government’s are legally in charge of their own countries – and they’ve decided to keep a more strict lockdown in place. More confusion, especially for golf clubs sitting on the border; to open or stay shut???
Encouraging people who cannot work from home to go back to work (with caveats) was a natural first step to kickstart the economy. However the caveats leave more questions than answers. Employees who refuse to go back to work probably have little right to do so (and will no longer eligible for furlough pay). So many may be forced to either work in unsafe conditions or take public transport – the Tube is clearly where the R number will spiral out of control. The risk of a second wave will continue to loom and may even be inevitable, however this will have to be managed with quick lockdown procedures. I’m not sure if businesses that require employees onsite can survive with the continuous uncertainty hanging over them. However most countries will have to try and live with this new reality – a vaccine is too far away and there is a very real chance we may actually reach herd immunity first.
And that is why I sympathise with the Government – ending lockdown was never going to be easy. However more conviction in the message and giving the Public more than 3 days to digest the information before opening things up would have been a better idea. And yes we finally did get some Boris rambling in a foreign tongue in his press conference on Monday. The man really does run off on tangents when left unscripted. Oh and one further advice to our fearless leader, maybe ensure your Cabinet understands what “Stay Alert” means before rolling it out. Or indeed have a slightly more competent Foreign Secretary than Dominic Raab. So folks apply some common sense and in the meantime I’m brushing up on my golf swing!