Monday, May 20, 2024
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Manchester Untied, the anti-Covid dream team


From: The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 

To: The Mayor of Greater Manchester 

Dear Andy, 

I need to run something past you, in confidence I trust, that might be to both our advantages.  

You’ll remember the fuss you kicked up when we were putting Manchester in Tier 3 last year – ‘canaries in the coalmine for an experimental lockdown strategy’, which you said that not even the Government’s medical advisers thought would work?  

As I said at the time, I quite understood your point. The problem was that I was so much in hock to Cummings and his ‘zero-Covid at any cost’ policies that I couldn’t call him a wuss and say in public what he’s been repeating this week, that I thought that overreaction to Covid was a greater danger than the virus itself.  

It’s even more true now. The virus is down to negligible levels and I’ve nailed my shirt to the mast over the 21 June reopening, but I’ve got too many refusing to back anything like a proper reopening and it looks like we will be stuck with masks for a decade, if not a century. 

You know exactly what a problem that causes. If mask-wearing is compulsory in shops, cinemas, theatres, museums, practically everywhere, Project Fear will roll on. Far too many will stay at home, spend next to nothing and the economy will tank. We shan’t have any income from tourism or overseas students – all a right mess.  

And this is where you come in. 

You go back to your ‘canaries in the coalmine’ line and propose that Manchester be a great scientific experiment, that in Greater Manchester all Covid precautions be made voluntary with immediate effect.  

That means no compulsory masks, no handing drinks over on an untouched tray, no compulsory quotas for cinemas and concert halls, but that the general public, and businesses, be allowed to make their own minds up about Covid and do what they choose to do, rather than what the Government tells them to. What could be more libertarian? 

It will need to be a joint announcement (without the ‘canaries’  line, please). You could say about your concerns that the North not be left behind and that you think it the proper time to make a move with the potential to benefit all in your area.  

I’ll come alongside and say that I’d agree to this move as a proper scientific investigation of the way ahead. Actually there’ve been plenty of scientists who’ve been saying for a while that we should have been finding out whether all this lockdown stuff has been a complete waste of time or not. They say it’s the sort of scientific experiment that should be being done anyway. 

You know how it works. Government decides what is politically expedient and then assembles a group of scientists who advise to do what the Government wants to do.  

I can drum up sufficient sober scientists who will say, at these low Covid times, it is proper to have different ways of responding to see how they affect the outcomes. We’ll obviously do everything by the book – monitoring infection rates, return of business confidence, economic growth, etc, etc. To be honest, I’m quite interested in finding out the facts.  

You’d go on about those in the North being made of sterner stuff, seeing the economic realities of life, etc, etc, wanting to play their part in finding out the real scientific facts behind the lockdown. There could be nothing more statesmanlike – the first sensible and positive suggestion made by a senior Labour figure. It wouldn’t half outflank Starmer.   

My bet is that dropping compulsory Covid regulations in your area won’t make much difference to anything that happens. If that’s true, full-ahead to full opening and I’ll let you take your fair share of credit. If there are massive changes in the infection rate, we can reintroduce precautions well before there are any significantly bad effects.   

Don’t worry about me. The great thing is that Cummings has claimed so much responsibility for the lockdown that, if it turns out that lockdowns do next to nothing, I can blame it all on him. 

We’d need to act quickly. Instant action. Have a think and give me a ring.  

Yours ever, 


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Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse is a physicist and author. He is a former headmaster, independent school inspector and A level chief examiner.

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