UNTIL quite recently I used to enjoy being part of a pub pool team playing in a North Essex league. Playing was a serious business; no one wanted to let their mates down.
The league included some outstanding players, many of whom were capable of winning from the break and denying their opponent any shot. Fortunately, that outcome was rare.
More frequently, a top player would break hard, pot three or four balls and leave their opponent horribly snookered. ‘Tucked up’ was the vernacular. A foul resulted in a free table and two shots; even modest players like myself would expect to win with that advantage.
So, every player, whilst shaking hands at the start of every match, would be hoping for at least one definite chance during the frame.
Perhaps there are some parallels in politics. Opportunities come and go; some are taken, some are missed and some mishandled.
Eighteen months ago, no one saw the Covid crisis coming and no one could possibly have anticipated the government response, abdicating responsibility and pursuing a divisive policy inspired by a totalitarian regime and the penal system.
Divisive in the most brutal class terms. Many middle-class professionals, especially those in the public sector, were perfectly content. Working comfortably from home on full pay, less supervision and no commuting.
Such a contrast with vulnerable people in low-paid, customer-centric occupations, often living in challenging domestic circumstances. Millions suckered into ‘furlough’ and only now realising their next destination is Universal Credit. Countless young people who have spent one of the best years of their lives in isolation and misery.
This was Sir Keir Starmer’s big opportunity. Probably the biggest of his life. To live up to his core responsibility as Leader of the Opposition, challenge the vicious authoritarianism, defend civil liberties, call out the incessant propaganda and, crucially, realign Labour as the undisputed champion of working people throughout the land.
But he was just not man enough. In the context of pool, he had a golden opportunity and bottled it. Decided to play it safe when decisive courage was required.
Instead of integrity and opposition, he supported the Government with canine obedience; showing no interest or even basic sensitivity into the plight of low-paid working people. His cynical lockdown record was ‘we support whatever the Government propose but earlier, harder’.
Then in June he doubled down with that utterly toe-curling taking the knee picture with deputy leader Angela Rayner. Long-serving members of the Labour Party in the North would be forgiven for borrowing a line from Jason Statham as ‘Turkish’ in Guy Ritchie’s movie, Snatch: ‘Now we are f**ked.’
Because the Tory government is about to reap all the political rewards of its one astounding success; the deliberate and cynical creation of levels of fear never before seen in these islands. Millions were infected, not with Covid, but with terror – despite all the availability of hard evidence to the contrary.
And now, the vaccine scientists appear to have delivered. However, as a healthy 60-year-old, I remain more concerned about the potential long-term effects of the mRNA vaccines than any risk from Covid. ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ is my personal stance.
But my central point is that the Tory government is likely to be seen as a saviour by the legions of the once-petrified, perhaps now feeling uncomfortable with memories of so many days spent hiding away, shunning other human beings – including family and friends.
There was no alternative will be the mantra, the accepted party line. Lockdowns were absolutely necessary to buy enough time to deliver the miracle vaccines.
The price was worth paying despite the devastating social, economic, educational and health impacts. Not to mention the diabolical policy of emptying the hospitals of elderly patients in the spring of 2020, many of whom were infected, and returning them untested to care homes.
If you have ever visited a care home, you will appreciate that incessant, intimate contact between residents and carers is unavoidable.
There was no alternative. Establishment ranks will close as never before. No rational debate or counter-arguments will be tolerated. Scepticism about the efficacy of lockdown policy will be dismissed as the mutterings of cranks, heretics and ‘granny-killers’. And no credible counter-argument will come from Starmer.
This strategy will result in the glorification of Whitty, Vallance and every SAGE member, who will be credited with the resounding success of the British ‘follow the science’ strategy.
Hancock, Gove and Johnson will exhibit suitable modesty. Honours and gongs will be scattered around. Arise, Sir Neil Ferguson, architect of our salvation.
But all that bullshit and the electoral plight of Labour does not worry me one jot. What does concern me is that the adulation for SAGE and the other lockdown zealots will only cement their new-found lust for authoritarianism, control and power. There was no alternative will so subtlety mutate into There is no alternative.
And next autumn, when Covid case numbers will surely start to rise again, SAGE and all those who benefited during lockdown will start to agitate for a new winter lockdown. Another two or three months of gardening leave on full pay. And to hell with the terrible consequences for children and low-paid workers.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Public Health England’s ‘strategic response director for Covid-19’ has already lodged her warnings with the media. Apparently, ‘the UK should prepare for a difficult autumn due to the threat of new coronavirus variants emerging and a potential surge in other respiratory viruses’.
No matter how flimsy the evidence and well aware of the devastating harm inflicted on the most vulnerable, the Government may find it is the victim of its own cynical strategy, with nowhere to turn, except – reluctantly – to impose yet another indefinite lockdown, as dictated by the SAGE ‘heroes’ and all the vested interests.
And Starmer will have nothing to say. He had his chance.