It was a case of another suit in another street – and another minister all at sea over holidays abroad.
Television news loves interviewing people outside – it might bring drama to an otherwise dull few minutes. So here we were again. I was watching a cabinet minister in a news bulletin, stood on a pavement and struggling to offer any direction of travel on the holiday front.
Vaccine flooded through our veins with spectacular success, so mid-May became the new D-Day for flying away from this lockdown mess. Only it is different now – a cloak of caution drapes ministers’ shoulders. May seems to be melting away.
The minister said: “I wouldn’t book anything just yet for this summer.” This is echoed by a chorus line of scientific advisors; it has become an infuriating expression. Another word trotted out of a long-forgotten cupboard and dusted down is “efficacious”. This fits like a glove for describing our trusty and beloved British vaccine Oxford/AstraZeneca; the one some of our foreign “friends” would like to put in an incinerator – but then fight over to grab their own supplies.
I cannot help it, but I smile whenever I hear the word efficacious. I imagine The Scaffold, with Paul McCartney’s younger brother in the line-up, belting out comedy song Lily The Pink, a 1960s hit.
“For she invented medicinal compound, so efficacious in every case”, as the song goes. Quite apt, I would say, in our current situation.
Anti-Covid vaccine was supposed to give us our freedom back, but its success has us in shackles. Ministers and scientists are terrified of throwing away our gains if we start coming home with new souvenirs – an array of Covid mutant variations.
It is all very well someone in a lofty position warning: “Don’t book anything just yet”. Many of us have already done just that – a decision influenced by the government’s constant playing up of our vaccination success. Being forced to make expensive and stressful last-minute foreign travel bookings on the hoof might be of no consequence to ministers, or MPs and MSPs for that matter. They can afford it, after all. In pandemic Britain they have one of the best jobs around. Guaranteed work for a minimum of five years, with great salaries, perks and gold-plated pensions.
How many others can boast that through Covid-19’s tears?
Many ordinary families must plan and book holidays a year ahead for financial, school and work reasons. And it is often cheaper in advance – a key factor for families juggling budgets.
All this makes Westminster and Holyrood look out of touch with ordinary people. It is a lesson they never learn; it looks feeble.
I heard someone saying the other day that holidays abroad should be the last of our worries after all the deaths and job losses. Yet many dreaming of beaches and sun have been touched already by these catastrophes in some way. They are worn out. Holidays overseas are one of the last great frontiers to cross out of the pandemic.
Fear of people hugging each other in bars and shouting in each other’s faces is another one.
Boris Johnson is expected to give an important update on foreign holidays a week today. If they are going to ban them for the rest of the year then put us out of our misery now instead of chopping and changing constantly.
I still cling for dear life to my booking to the Canaries in mid-September, but it is via Holland and that does not augur well right now.
Maybe the best we can expect is an indefinite limited form of overseas travel to “safe” zones only, with Covid hotspots banned. A narrow choice of options – the world is no longer our oyster, but more of a razor clam. But previous government practice of pulling down shutters while people were away and forcing them to rush home to beat a ban – with a few hours’ notice – has got to stop.
In 100 years they will write with incredulity about how our civil rights drained away in the pandemic. I took hope from a scientific advisor who said a time will come when we have to take risks and live with it as variants will always be in our midst. In a free society loss of civil liberties requires tolerance yet travel is a basic human desire we all crave.
Former prime minister Benjamin Disraeli once said: “Travel teaches toleration.”
But being banned from travelling makes toleration wear pretty thin.