YOU can tell when a British PM is in trouble: he calls for the Army. He then usually learns that, rightly, the power of a soldier on the street is very tightly constrained. Sure, they are allowed to build hospitals, roads in the Highlands and to help out with floods or foot and mouth, but none of that involves interfering with civilians going about their business, lawful or otherwise. Even in the Northern Ireland troubles (at more than 40 years surely the longest temporary measure in history) soldiers had no more rights than civilians. They were granted a power to detain for four hours, but not to arrest. When soldiers killed people they had to answer to the law as a private individual. (Quite a few of them are still dealing with the consequences of that 40 years on – in spite of several political promises to prevent such post facto prosecutions).
Which means that BoJo (I no longer afford him the respect of calling him Prime Minister) can’t use them to do what the 43 Constabularies of the United Kingdom do. So, the Times says, his plan is to use the Army to ‘backfill’ and perform office jobs and guard key installations. Luckily for us (and our troops) this is a tad problematic too.
Successive governments have already backfilled police office jobs, so there are very few policemen involved in them. And soldiers are not great typists – if the Blond Bluffer wants typists he should phone a temp agency. Except they’re probably all working from home.
Guarding ‘installations’ is equally tricky. As soldiers have no power of arrest I can’t see them guarding Parliament or Downing Street. (The soldiers at Buckingham Palace are there for show – try breaking in and you will be stopped by a policeman, not a soldier.) There are some military installations that are guarded by the MoD’s own police force, universally known as ‘Modplod’. If the Blond Buffoon had looked into the details, he would have fond that Modplod’s power is constrained by locations; they can arrest you for trying to break into a MoD base, but they can’t arrest you on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly outside the Dog and Duck. Now, it may well be that the government has given itself the power to extend the remit of Modplod by Statutory Instrument (although given BoJo’s record on legislative detail, where the ‘oven-ready’ Brexit deal turned out to be half-baked at best, it might not have) but he can’t give soldiers the same powers as Modplod. So those installations will end up being guarded by people without the power of arrest. Which means not guarded at all, actually.
Why does BoJo need more coppers? Because the public don’t share the analysis of his scientific advisers.
We know that until there is a vaccine this disease is endemic. We also suspect that a vaccine won’t be available any time soon, so the greater hope is herd immunity.
It seems that a good proportion of the population, possibly 20 per cent, some 13million, have had Covid without suffering symptoms. Of course, this is a hard number to measure – why would you seek a Covid test if you felt OK (let’s skip over where you might get one)?
We also know that we consented to lockdown to ensure the NHS was not overwhelmed. And that we (well, the Army actually – soldiers, not drones, Mr Cummings) built the Nightingale hospitals in ten days, but they turned out not to be necessary. Amazingly the government has not scrapped them, so we have thousands of spare ICU beds if needed.
Which is why I was bemused by the Whitty and Vallance show. Firstly Sir Patrick Vallance went to great pains to point out that what he was presenting was a scenario, not a prediction. That’s right, he was saying not that we scientists believe that this is going to happen, simply that if you do the maths on the assumption that symptomatic covid cases double every week, by October you have 200 deaths per day. (Courtesy of the Army, there will be plenty of ICU beds, so the NHS won’t be swamped.) Neither he nor Chris Whitty gave any justification of the assumptions behind the scenario.
Commendably they pointed out the adverse impacts of BoJo’s propose measures – although they stopped short of pointing out that if you kill the economy the NHS is the first victim.
The Blond Berk got himself into this mess when he declared war on the pandemic (presumably with Mr Cummings’s drones) rather than sticking to the sensible, successful policy of protecting NHS capacity (now more than doubled). I don’t think the Army can save him from his current predicament – even if it wanted to.