Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Off with his hair! Boris in Lockdownland


BORIS is back! Ready to spring to our rescue and save the nation once again. Or so we are told.

We are familiar with Mr Johnson’s working methods when faced with a difficult choice. In the past, he has always asked himself: what will help me to become Prime Minister?

That’s not much good now. Nor is it any any good asking what will help him stay being Prime Minister, because with that majority and the ineptitude of Tory alternatives, immediate survival is hardly a problem.

Mr Johnson knows that the electorate has the collective memory of a goldfish – Brexit, wasn’t that a Cold War disarmament treaty? – but sometimes leadership is of such a quality that that can be overcome. 

The Prime Minister’s job now is to seek and find a cock-up so spectacular that everyone will remember it in four years’ time, and try to step round it.

Let’s save him the trouble of writing his traditional yes and no Telegraph columns, and explore the possibilities.

Should he lift the lockdown straight away?

Good grief, no. Any sudden removal of restrictions would pose a grave risk, namely that people would start thinking the whole thing was pointless all along.

How then should we return gradually to normal life?

This is where the five tests come in. Not a follow-up to the Three Degrees or the Four Tops, the five-test scam was invented by Gordon Brown as a means of preventing Tony Blair from joining the euro, as we would all recall had we greater memory capacity than fish. 

By googling the long-ago days of the first Blair administration, you will see that the last of the five Brown tests was that joining the euro must promote higher growth, stability and a lasting increase in jobs. 

The chances of satisfying that test were slightly longer than the odds on winning the lottery.

How do we satisfy the five virus tests?

They all look nice and reasonable, until you get to number five, which says that ministers must be confident that any adjustment will not risk a second peak.

We are in Lewis Carroll land here. You might as well be confident there won’t be any earthquakes in Japan this year. 

The five tests are there to give Mr Johnson cover for a few days while he works out what to do.

Can the Prime Minister count on help from outside politics?

Even Downing Street’s traditionally faulty antennae have probably detected by now that the lockdown is beginning to cause a little chafing among the public. Mr Johnson could look to great national institutions for further guidance.

The Government’s scientists?

Yes, I know. They think the country can be shut down for a year in order to keep their graphs pointing the right way. I have been puzzling about the mindset myself.

The more I listen to the likes of Professor Whitty, the more I am reminded of British railway management. They think everything would work wonderfully well if only there were no troublesome passengers insisting on trying to catch trains.

They would like to see the whole country turned into one giant rail replacement bus.

The broadcasters?

A marvellous demonstration of devotion to their duty to keep the public informed. Watch how every evening some distinguished correspondent wins the race to get the first question in at the Downing Street briefing, and proceeds to go on for three minutes, with about eight supplementaries.

They are striving to inform the public about how important they are.

I have also been impressed by the innovative determination of the BBC to keep showing Match of the Day when there are no matches to show.

All broadcasters have been cramming the schedules with celebrity chefs. This has been particularly encouraging at a time when nobody is allowed to go to a restaurant.

The churches?

The Government took the view at the outset that churches and places of worship were not providing essential services and should be closed. It was a bit more surprising to find the Archbishop of Canterbury agreeing that parish churches were less essential than pet stores, bicycle shops and off-licences.

To serve the nation’s spiritual needs online, Archbishop Welby has developed a ‘different sort of church’. On Sunday, the online national service was led by a vicar famous for appearing on reality TV talking about reality TV, from the very sofa she appeared on reality TV talking about reality TV on.

The Archbishop has been sharing his thoughts on social media. Among them was the view that ‘this pandemic has highlighted the facts that long-term individualism just doesn’t work. We have all had a stark lesson in the need to embrace community.’

It is probably to teach us the futility of individualism that Archbishop Welby has closed all the churches where people gather as a community and forced them to watch his services on screens, individually.

Is there any evidence the Prime Minister can rely on?

People seem to be able to get along without offices, pubs or going out. The nation cannot, however, cope without hairdressers or nail bars.

Mr Johnson can ignore Tory backbenchers, Tory donors, tycoons, the service industry, the pub trade, the travel trade, and general unhappiness over the way those who try to go to beaches or parks have been turned into public enemies. 

He should not ignore the rise of the clandestine hairdressing industry, with outlaw stylists flitting from house to house, and, for all I know, speakeasy pedicure salons.

Ministers, especially the Prime ones, can be destroyed by a single silly mistake, even a single phrase. The pound in your pocket; brush your teeth in the dark; there was I waiting at the church; that bigoted woman.

Our Prime Minister bothers about interfering with the sacred right to go to the pub. Unless he starts lifting the lockdown, and soon, he is likely to be bothered a lot more about interfering with the sacred right to get your hair done.

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