My children have a number of annoying Christmas toys that make tinny renditions of festive songs. Of them all, I was particularly relieved to see the back of Teddy last week as he was banished back to the attic on twelfth night.
Teddy holds a felt book and reads out a twee Christmas story in a slow lisping voice. He sounds like Mickey Mouse on Mogadon. The denouement of his tale is this incredibly bad advice, “If you dream hard enough, all your dreams can come true at Christmas.”
I dreamed pretty hard but I still didn’t scoop the Euromillions jackpot on December 25.
Maybe it’s lockdown driving me crazy, but I’ve begun to wonder if Boris Johnson has traded in Dominic Cummings for Teddy as his chief adviser. Teddy’s childish and unrealistic mantra seems to run through this government’s approach. See the PM’s sombre address to the nation in which he said we could get millions vaccinated by Valentine’s Day “with a fair wind”. It’s nice to be optimistic in this gloomy time but governments don’t get the luxury of building luck into their calculations. Time and again in their reaction to the pandemic the Tory administration in Westminster has failed to engage with the worst case scenario, over promised and under delivered.
Vaccine alone not enough
It’s now obvious that relieving restrictions in December was a very bad call. Yet Johnson and his hangers on really seemed to believe that if they dreamed hard enough the virus would take Christmas off. Instead it took off over Christmas.
All administrations across the UK seem to have thrown their lot in with the vaccine as the solution to this crisis.
Clearly, it’s a solution. But a more wide-ranging, thorough approach is necessary.
Whatever happened to mass testing? Test and trace only seems to have been world beating in the expense it occurred with limited returns. Both appear to have been sidelined in favour of the pursuit of mass vaccination.
And yet something doesn’t stack up. If the government has such faith in vaccines why so coy about ending lockdown?
If they genuinely believe the pandemic ends when a certain proportion of the population have been inoculated then put a closing date on it. Instead of pussyfooting around with vague warnings to the public to behave and worrying folk further with the threat to withdraw vital support bubbles just clamp down now with a firm promise of release at a set point in the future. Shut the coffee shops and the playgrounds, clamp down on click and collect, order everyone to stay at home for two months solid. The population will wear that if they know that enough vaccine will have been doled out by March to guarantee they’ll be handed back their freedoms before Easter.
The economy will take a hit. But if business has certainty that it’s time limited with a defined end point they can plan, adapt with confidence and thrive again in the future.
The answer is because the government doesn’t know for certain that the vaccine alone will end this. They are hoping.
We golfers know it as the ‘hit-and-hope’ strategy. Bad golfers like me are particularly familiar with it because it’s only ever born of desperation and lack of talent. One time in a hundred it might win you the hole. It’ll never win you the game.
Far better to set out with a range of options, the best possible equipment and advice, a fully formed game plan for every eventuality. (Is it obvious how much I’m missing being able to get on the course?)
We’re going to be living with coronavirus for years to come. England’s chief medical officer let the cat out of the bag when he warned there may be continued restrictions come next Christmas. The arrival of vaccines doesn’t kill coronavirus, but it gives us the upper hand and means hopefully we won’t have to worry about hospitals falling over in future.
Administrations across the UK ought to level with the electorate about this. But the government in Westminster needs to be honest with itself before it can do that.
Boris Johnson’s penchant for rhetoric over reality is looking like a fatal weakness. With the emphasis on fatal.
The way to help people cope with the current restrictions is not to try buy them off with the freedom to go buy a muffin. It’s by trading in Boris Johnson’s gimcrack boosterism for an honest outlook and proper policies that treat coronavirus like a new reality rather than a temporary inconvenience. If Johnson can’t offer that he ought to take his fair wind and his immature outlook and get in the attic with Teddy, and let someone else take a turn.
James Millar is a political commentator and author and a former Westminster correspondent for The Sunday Post