Take a moment.
How would you rate the management of the current Covid-19 crisis by our political masters?
Here is a short roll call:
We still have the second highest death toll in the world.
We treated people in Care Homes appallingly.
We chose the wrong testing system.
We were the only country in the world to insist on a central testing system.
Our testing system is still not in place.
Our testing in the Isle of Wight was a fiasco.
PPE for our NHS staff did not arrive on time nor was it compliant.
Masks didn’t need to be worn.
Masks did need to be worn.
Visitors were not quarantined.
Visitors were quarantined.
School reopening cock-ups.
Death of the High Street.
Cancer deaths could be the highest ever.
Huge job losses.
Economic fallout from ten years of austerity.
Underfunding and disorientation of the NHS.
Tory leadership disappointing.
Whitehall belongs to yesterday.
Science was to be followed.
Science wasn’t to be followed.
Cummings allowed to go to Durham.
Parliament not recalled.
Parliament made to vote in a five mile line (I might have made that up).
Unlike NZ, lockdown was delayed.
Unlike NZ, spikes of outbreaks were not given in national or local statistics.
National statistics were inconsistent.
I may have over-egged this a little, but I am sure you would understand that if we were to write an end of term report for how Covid-19 has been dealt with by OUR government, it would rate at best a D+ with a “Must do better next time.”
That we had the second and now the third highest death toll in the world, given our population, is shameful. We are, after all, only the twenty-first most populous nation in the world. No-one seems that interested as to how this has happened.
Well, next time is here with us and it has been running co-terminally with Covid-19. You might remember its name; it is called Brexit. We are about to drop out of the EU without an agreement, to which about a third of our population will be absolutely thrilled. Polls for the past four years since we voted to ‘Leave‘ have almost all been ‘Remain’ and since the pandemic they have started to edge up to 60% to stay.
But as we know polls don’t vote. And the PM does not want to postpone leaving just because Covid has exhausted Whitehall and Parliament.
Nonetheless, here we are as a Nation totally and utterly divided. Three of our four Nations want to stay in the EU but the largest – England – does not. This will fast-forward a single Ireland (a good thing, and inside the EU), a disenfranchised Wales (a terrible thing) and maybe an independent Scotland (a good thing and also inside the EU). This may take a decade or so to finesse as there has been no hard edged planning for the UK to leave the EU. There have been talks with EU officials stretching back three years but we have had no access to the minutes or the reports or even the exact demands by the UK. We have had the ‘new’ politics: the EU has said the UK doesn’t understand and the UK has said the EU doesn’t understand. This has been a most immature approach. We should have asked our five living Prime Ministers to represent us. We needed a new way of doing politics, but now it is all too late.
A ‘no deal’ means we have to start our conversation with the EU, with the Commonwealth, with America, China, Japan, South Korea, Zambia, Argentina et al. There are 193 countries in the UN though only the top 20 need an immediate new trade treaty. Where are they?
In a recent document the Government said “We will not agree to any obligations for our laws to be aligned with the EU’s.” Failure, which is what the Brexiteers want, means we would fall back on the dysfunctional World Trade Organisation. To date fifty countries covering 18 deals have been signed but they are only worth 8% of our total needs. Does the Government think after Covid we are mugs? It seems to me that what has changed is that our political class has been relegated from Premier League to non-league. And the thought that Liam Fox – who couldn’t achieve a single deal as our Secretary of State for International Trade from 2016-19 – will run the World Trade Organisation is frankly for the birds. But it would at least connect the political failures.
During Covid we were connected differently. We found Zoom or its equivalent. We tuned in. I would Zoom all my business meetings. Soon I realised I no longer needed to commute even if I could. I was Zooming five times a day. Sometimes this was to do with work, sometimes it was catching up with think pieces and political arguments. My sense is that all public entities, be they the UN or the EU or the UK Parliament, are toast. We can go to meetings on Zoom. We have to fundamentally rethink work. For sure we still need to go to some meetings, but these can be concertinaed into one or two days. Only our Parliament doesn’t get it. Zoom is another pandemic and it means a fundamental shift in how we conduct ourselves.
Put Covid, Brexit and Zoom as an entity and you can see that Covid was frankly an indictment of the paucity of ability across Government and Whitehall, which clearly were not fit for purpose. Brexit will be worse, you have to trust me on that…. We are four years in and where are we? The excitement is with ‘Zoom’. This is the new pandemic and we are only two days in.