Friday, May 14, 2021
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Covid Galore

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LIKE many others, I laboured under the misapprehension that key government policy was arrived at as a result of informed opinion, detailed analysis, cost-benefit projections, empirical evidence and a host of other parameters.

It therefore came as something of an eye opener to hear our embattled Health Secretary admit that the UK’s vaccine procurement programme was driven not by any of the above but by his enjoyment of a film called Contagion. This 2011 thriller starring Matt Damon centred around a rapidly spreading virus transmitted by respiratory droplets. The movie looked at how government and officials attempted to contain the disease and how supremely simple it is for societal order to be subverted.

With Mr Hancock basking in his apparent fortune in having secured a large quantity of vaccine in the face of Europe’s sclerotic response, perhaps some of his colleagues should likewise seek inspiration from the silver screen.

The approaching fiscal Armageddon and eye-watering national debt should give every person in the UK sleepless nights. Yet our Chancellor of the Exchequer seems unperturbed. I suggest that Rishi purchases a large bucket of popcorn and settles down for a screening of Inside Job (2010).Once again Matt Damon stars in this chronicle of the 2008 crash and its causes. Director Charles Ferguson uses interviews with key players such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Christine Lagarde, Paul Volker and George Soros to paint a gloomy picture of a predictable collapse that cost millions their jobs and homes. There is plenty to ruminate on in this film, and for an ex-Goldman Sachs analyst the more abstruse monetary elements will be simple to follow.

Meanwhile the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, has been toiling away promoting what for many will go down as the largest white elephant of them all, HS2. Despite a budget that already bears the hallmarks of a runaway train and mountains of evidence as to why this gargantuan vanity project should have been strangled at birth, Mr Shapps gamely encourages us to believe that this will be billions well spent, just as swathes of the population become used to home-based working.

To aid the minister in his thankless endeavour he might like to acquaint himself with The Titfield Thunderbolt. One of the legendary Ealing Studio classics, this film directed by Charles Crichton was released in 1953 and features a galaxy of actors including Stanley Holloway and John Gregson. The plot concerns a group of villagers who pull together to keep their branch line from closing in the teeth of stiff competition in the form of the bus company, motto ‘It’s safer by road’.

 In the final scene the Thunderbolt makes its winning run, but I feel sure there will be no such jubilant outcome for HS2, merely a shell-shocked audience gawping in wonderment at the stupidity of it all.

With foreign travel a pleasure that may not be enjoyed for months to come, it might be necessary to look at destinations closer to home. Unfortunately, Mark Drakeford has made plain his objections to tourists crossing the border into Wales and our old friend Nicola Sturgeon has harangued us into avoiding Scotland. Where else can we go? Again there could be inspiration from the movie archives.

Perhaps Passport to Pimlico might fit the bill? This 1949 Ealing Studios gem, featuring Margaret Rutherford and Stanley Holloway, revolves around the detonation of a German bomb which reveals a long-hidden cellar. Here, apart from riches, is discovered an unknown Royal Charter ceding the surrounding land to the last Duke of Burgundy. The charter means that the London district of Pimlico is an autonomous region and not subject to British law including (importantly at the time) rationing or pub hours. The exasperated British Government attempt to regain control by imposing border controls and disconnecting services but the inhabitants fight back.

There surely must be mileage in encouraging such a locality on our doorstep. How wonderful and lucrative would be a Las Vegas-on-Thames? It might be a suitable region for one of the Government’s more under-utilised performers to take control of – what happened to Chris Grayling?

It could be beneficial for all ministers to trawl the cinematic archives, especially the more humorous offerings. The lockdown population might take Whisky Galore to be one of Professor Whitty’s more acceptable diktats!

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Alexander McKibbin
Alexander McKibbin is a retired media executive who worked across domestic and international media.

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