by Guy de la Bédoyère
I freely admit that of late I have tried to adopt a more conciliatory tone, frustrated by the polarisation of the debate about how to get out of this crisis and the apparent inability of people to listen to each other. But with the news getting worse every day, vaccines gradually diminishing as an escape as scientists reel back at the earth-shattering discovery that viruses mutate, and lockdowns turning into a permanent policy in the fantasy world of Zero Covid (now they are necessary to help the fight against mutations), I am close to the point of giving up.
Living in Britain in 2021 is like cowering in a submarine while enemy depth charges explode all around you. You daren’t rise to the surface and instead just sink lower and lower. The only difference is it’s our own Government dropping them.
I don’t mean to sound trite. I’m well aware what real despair and depression can do to people. I have seen it at first hand. But as things stand it’s getting more and more difficult to understand what the point of carrying on is, if the only vision of the future the Government and large swathes of the population have is of living in a country where we can’t do anything, can’t see anyone or go anywhere, and have nothing to look forward to except living in a police state to ‘keep us safe’. What the hell for?
We’ve now had the ever-wise-after-the-event expert, Professor Neil Ferguson, telling us social distancing and masks are probably here to stay for the rest of the year thanks to Government ministers’ negligence. One wonders just exactly what would satisfy him?
Today, I turned on the World at One on Radio 4, filled with almost total despair at the news of 10-year prison sentences being added to the list of reasons why this country is turning into a control freak’s paradise. It turned out to be better than I expected. An interview with Paul Hunter, Professor of Medicine at UEA, included the helpful gem that “complete eradication is an unachievable goal” but he still wanted to worry about the extent to which restrictions should stay in place to protect those who haven’t been vaccinated. He rejected the idea that border restrictions could not have any “substantial, ongoing benefit after April… I hope they don’t last very long” but still seemed fairly obsessed with worries about mutated variants.
That was all nothing to what came next. I was overjoyed to hear the Voice of Reason from one of the heroes of the hour (it starts at 28m 45s into the show).
There was a priceless no-punches pulled interview with Charles Walker MP, Vice-Chairman of the 1922 Committee. He strafed the most recent hapless Government double-act by Messrs. Shapps and Hancock like a rocket-firing Hawker Typhoon on a low-level raid in 1944. This is some of what he said. Sarah Montague kicked off with asking him what he felt about how things should be playing out in the next few weeks.
Charles Walker: Very disappointed. The Prime Minister has had a good few weeks where he seems to have been on top of things and then he is somewhat let down by both the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Transport. First the Secretary of State for Health threatening to lock people up for 10 years… 10 years for crying out loud! And then we have the Secretary of State for Transport urging people not even to book domestic holidays. Now there’s a lot of people who will have seen a lot of hope evaporate at that… so, two really depressing interventions from two senior secretaries of state.
An extended exercise in almost studied and deliberate cruelty
He was asked if the goalposts were moving.
CW: They’ve not so much moved as been ripped out and carried off to another playing field… It is just not acceptable behaviour. This is becoming an extended exercise in almost studied and deliberate cruelty for a nation that is now increasingly anxious and under pressure. People need to see their children, they need to see their parents, they need to see the people that they love, they need to have something to look forward to. And we are conducting a massive experiment in creating high levels of anxiety in a population and it’s just not acceptable.
Sarah Montague reminded him that the Government has promised a road map on February 22nd and that surveys suggest people broadly support the Government in that:
CW: I love [that] opinion polls still show that most people are favour in lockdown. I suspect that most people are in favour of lockdown as long as it works for them and that when they do break it they break it in a responsible way. “I’m a very responsible person”, they’ll say, “It’s those ruffians down the road, that’s why we need lockdowns”. So let’s be clear about that. Don’t read too much into opinion polls.
But if the Government is going to set out, as I believe it will, its route map on February 22nd, why on Earth are we getting intervention like the one we’ve just had from the Secretary of State for Transport about booking holidays? We were told that when the vaccine came release would happen and it now seems the Government either knows something that it’s not willing to share with us about the vaccines or is just really facing in multiple directions and is determined to muddy the water and sow confusion and high levels of upset and concern in what is already a very stressed-out population.
Sarah Montague asked Walker if he seriously thinks the Government is trying to hide something about the vaccines.
CW: Well, I don’t know but FOR CRYING OUT LOUD we were told, weren’t we? That the vaccines were the route out of this… We had summer holidays last year when we didn’t have a vaccine. Now we’ve got vaccines coming out of our ears we’re told: don’t book a summer holiday for crying out loud. It does strike me as odd and if it doesn’t it strike you as odd then I think we’re at a completely different place on this.
It’s about time some BLOODY secretaries of state understood this.
He was asked if he had booked a holiday. He dismissed this and said it wasn’t about him:
CW: It’s not about me, it’s about stressed-out people who need something to look forward to, yeah? Mental health is important. Loads of anxious people out there. Loads of them writing to me. Okay? Loads of people who are thinking whether it’s even worth going on at the moment. It’s about time some BLOODY secretaries of state understood this. Okay? Because existing isn’t living for many people.
Sarah Montague asked if he expected the announcement on February 22nd to mark the way out of the lockdown and that it would not return:
CW: That’s exactly what I want and I want the Prime Minister… to get a grip of his cabinet ministers and just remind them that actually after a year of virtual lockdown, what people need is some hope, optimism, and something to look forward to. Families, hugging your children, is really, really important.
I have only one thing to say: why aren’t this man and Jonathan Sumption in charge?