Wednesday, 25 March 2020
On Getting 'Back to Normal!'
With all due regard to the prospect of getting 'back to normal,' at some indeterminate time after the ravages of the Coronavirus, it would appear that no nation is yet talking a wholly good game. Instead we have those who are 'currently' talking a lot- often misinformation from several notable sources- and those who are talking rather less.
The UK's Prime Minister, Boris Johnson- still I have to sit up, take stock and to drive down the deathly chill in my chest, whenever I even consider those two entities so dreadfully juxtaposed- has positioned himself in the former category, amongst the 'talk-a-lots.' Bouncing around, between such poles there is not yet an ultimate 'right,' more frequently an 'ostensibly wrong,' position. Instead, there can currently only be 'aspiring-towards-open' and 'dishonest-through-evasion' options, uneasily bracketing a whole cornucopia of variables that lie somewhere betwixt the two.
I would have to surmise that the UK's PM has currently wedged himself at a comfortable 'social distance' from Trump's fantasy US, yet still he is definitely rather more verbose than he is honest. However, he is talking. Matt Hancock instead looks entirely baffled to have to impart so very much fog in such a short duration. "We might even have to police this," he's thinking... "with what!"
But, the cupboard (cabinet) is bare. Who next IDS?
Still, it is far from ironic that the UK government's stated desire to usher the 'Good Ship UK' 'back to normal' is more determinedly steering its rhetoric towards those worryingly tumultuous and dishonest of waters. Obviously, it goes without saying that I passionately hope that Mr Johnson's 12 week target can be met. At this stage many would happily settle for 13, 14, even 15 weeks! But, I've paid attention to his record and optimism eludes me, as it currently eludes our former neighbours in Europe and beyond. One Greek paper, Ethos,' described Johnson's efforts as being, "more dangerous than coronavirus," Singapore's national development minister, Lawrence Wong, commented, that the UK had "... abandoned any measure to contain or restrain the virus." The New York Times- no doubt thoroughly versed in the translation of evasion- thought he was, "... a leader acting under duress... playing catch-up to a private sector (some of it) that has already acted on its own." "Boris Johnson is gambling with the health of his citizens," bemoaned an Irish Times.
Already it is inevitable that too many of us will not live to witness the UK's and the entire planet's eventual docking, half-mast, at that safe haven of port 'Back-to-Normal.' And already it is clear that it is going to be either the 'whole ship,'- more lightly populated- or is is going to be 'nothing' that properly completes this journey. Misguided thoughts upon a third option, as have been Trump's, would see the globe dreadfully transformed- dreadfully transformed for humanity, maybe not so dreadfully so for nature? Already nature has benefited!
At such chilling times gleaning also human positives is proving to be more tenuous. So, is there anything to be learned?
First, we should consider what may be meant by 'back to normal.' But, in doing so, we absolutely must not permit our lords and masters to set our course without first wholly considering the times before, the times of 'viral supremacy,' the now! And they must be rounded upon to further consider the times yet before those, the times formally labelled as 'normal!'
Back to normal, then!
A first question, and a glaring one, might be how the UK government intends to help the UK through the contagion. Here, even we socialists cannot have been overly outraged at the Chancellor's commitment to support all contracted employees to the value of 80% of current salaries (up to £2,500 per month). Of course, we know that Corbyn would certainly have done at least as well, because this aspect of state support is really socialism, currently and in very small part, therefore, best left to socialists, the ones with the compassion.
But then, we must also look at those self-employed citizens, those who have, by comparison, been short-changed. They have been told that they must, if denied employment, rely instead upon the UK's rightly discredited Universal Credit- "You are currently Five-hundred-thousand-six-hundred-and seventeen in the queue."- or else jump through the requisite hoops in order to access Unemployment Benefits. Eventually, and if successful, they may access as little as £94.25 per week, some of them. Here, we know that a true socialist PM would have faired far better. Why not instead a more fitting commitment to a living Universal Income?
In order to better grasp the UK's response always keep in sight the capitalist's mantra, 'Nationalise debt and privatise profit!' Think back to the treatment of the culpable banks, in 2008! And search also between and behind the token words.
Chancellor Sunak has 'told' Andrew Marr (Sunday 22nd) that supporting the self-employed is a more difficult economic manoeuvre. Certainly, the treatment of these people is a far more familiar Conservative response. The UK has first strong-armed this section of our population into the gig (and zero-hours) economy- many lives already made far more tenuous- then it has cut them adrift. Thus, the UK government has failed in its dusted-down, yo-yo pledge to ensure that "we are all in this together!" Undoubtedly, this trough is far, far deeper but, in other respects it closely reflects this same (non) pledge of the 2008 crash. So, make no mistake, "We are all in this together!" is effectively a worthless pledge. But in working to 'get back to normal,' in the UK, it has become entirely a familiar one.
Except, this is different, and significantly so. Whereas in the US, the gaseous Trump still presides over an interstate economic battle for precious resources, here it might appear that the UK has almost, within its highly flawed system, done something half-right. Except, really, we know that it has not, that it cannot! Boris and his cabal do not operate within an ideology of what is right. So, what then is their pseudo-socialist angle?
Allow me to suggest that instead of protecting all of the people, the Conservative government is really looking to protect, ostensibly, the bigger corporations, semi-hibernating their respective workforces, slimmed down, ready for a sprint start upon reaching that mythical 'back to normal' state. Looking to gain the delusional Brexit head-start! Thus, we find ourselves currently adrift of the WHO's suggested scientific approach to engagement with this deadly pandemic. The UK, it appears, has hand-picked its top medical team such that they might suitably adapt their science so that it conforms more closely to 'back to normal!' So, sprinkled in amongst the undoubted science- often ever so slightly lagging behind- we might notice elements of softening and of modification, such that the former economic model is never given to resting the engine, instead always ticking over, hidden in the back garage. Thus the self employed are deemed less worthy of this current dose of socialism, more disposable!
The Golumesque Dominic Cummings- for those who know of the character, really, he is far more 'Gormenghast's' Steerpike- perhaps put it best, when he was heard to utter the highly significant words, "... herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad!" And, in these words, shared in the government's think-tank, we have this government's more honest idea of 'getting back to normal!' Here, where the 'herd immunity' concept was first seen to light up the gathered faces; those such as scientific advisor, Sir Patric Vallance, NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens, figures from big tech, and others, like Mark Easton from the Nudge Unit's 'behavioural scientists' (surely an oxymoron). Herd Immunity was briefly the love-child of Cummings's superforecasting dogma. That is until many a school child was seen to be able to calculate that any herd immunity, that which might reap 1% of the UK's under 70s, could see the number of deaths exceeding half-a-million people. And then only if the over 70 year-olds were fully-leak-proof-protected, and how's that working out? Thanks, Dom!
Whitehall is currently fire-fighting that particular leak- Cummings's words- but ask yourself, 'does Cummings seem like the kind of man who would dare to say such a thing?' The man who was seen to casually shrug, when it was put to him that his Brexit rhetoric was risking angry (often vociferously bigoted) crowds resorting to violence upon the capital's streets? Of course, he said it! Or he thought it out loud!
But we could get 'back to normal!' Maybe. Theoretically.
Still, we can so easily see that the desperate needs of the millionaires must be preserved at the serious risk of death to tens of thousands, as those on £94 or less are driven back to work, through the 'selfish' need to eat and to feed a family, 'selfishly' flouting the government's 'social distancing' rules. And not just the sort of social distancing daily practiced by the likes of Jacob Rees Mogg.
Stop press, the Prince of Wales has the virus! Heavens, where to self isolate? Maybe he and the good duchess could self isolate in separate wings of Birkhall on the Balmoral Estate? Remember to keep the two staffs socially distanced from one another!
As we everyday people quickly realise that 'my enemy's enemy can temporarily be (if never 'my friend,' then) my collaborator,' so the panic-buying seems, at least in Norwich, to have eased. Maybe, in the shorter term, the food supply chains just could remain intact. The low-paid lady at my checkout, on Tuesday, was charming if a bit frightened. In contrast the woman in front of me had bagged the full two dozen toilet roll allocation, leaving the shelves again empty for those still queuing outside. Two days previously I'd witnessed a woman 'thoughtfully,' if rather theatrically, pronounce that she wished to return her dozen toilet rolls "for the benefit of others." Then I watched on, as her mask fell away, "I can't fit any more bags in the loft!" Social distancing was well observed yesterday (24th). Mostly! There are those who have recognised that humanity really does beat this all together, or it fails in factions. Maybe then we have to pretend that we have an uneasy truce. Otherwise!
I know that there are a great many who have recognised the "all in this together!" call to battle for the empty words that they are, but then this virus will not be taking sides. Remember, you Donalds and Dominics, socialism places everyone on the same side, without all that need to constantly crane the necks of the minions!
With little else to do other than to watch or listen to the news of humanity's teetering dominion over nature, the evidence is every day there before most of us; the selfless actions of lower-paid workers keeping the UK afloat. Bus and train drivers, food producers, supermarket staff, the tens of thousands who are charged with caring for others, those working in the food banks, those still working with the children of NHS staff, those on the front line, anyone redistributing or selling food, or medicines, all of them at greater risk, many of them already insecure, far too many of them struggling in the gig economy. If the virus could make judgments it might almost recognise that we are collectively caring for one another more like a socialist state! Take away the ever-present threat of death and we could almost be enjoying it. Some of us! Those who can still afford to eat!
But, don't look too closely! All of those doctors operating without UK citizenship are still being expected to pay an NHS surcharge, just incase they contract Covid-19 whilst battling the same contagion in others, and then need to avail themselves of some reciprocal treatment. In the event of a death are they, do we think, still expected to pay for their own repatriation, or funeral service?
So, if and when the war is won, quite what is this 'back to normal' to which we are all battling?
Is it perhaps the "There are no easy rides here, sonny!" society of the beloved IDS? Is 'back to normal!' that same normal that regards the zero-hour culture as being driven by disposables? Back to a society with strangled unemployment benefits? A sudden turn-around to the state of 'nobody here can afford to be sick?' Back to the investor security of instant evictions? Back to hidden food-banks? Back to stepping over the street homeless, as we rush headlong into somebody else's profit-margins? Back to corner-cutting social care? Back to share-holder heaven? Back to denying the elderly and infirm their choice of a dignified death, as we instead pick their savings clean? How we've missed you all!
Back to a state of having to listen to Priti Patel telling the nation how "deeply sorry, from the bottom of my heart," she is for Teresa May's persecution of the Windrush families, and the nation having to pretend that they believe her. Please! What are the chances? Bet now!
Back to unqualified assistants standing in front of classes at the local academy? Secretly and 'efficiently' cutting away all of that surplus fat in the NHS- the 'fat' that may well have just saved thousands, fingers crossed! Back to virtual policing and sleeping police measures? Back to under-regulating future housing stock- new investment shoeboxes for the developer's portfolio? Perhaps the 250,000 volunteers for the health service can stay- might have to open up a few more food banks. Back to incentivising tax cuts for the holed-up entrepreneurs, an economy again made safe for the remote islanders? Back to incentivising service cuts for the unemployed? Comic Relief to salve the wealthy consciences of the tax evaders?
Think! What would any fictitious God want? If this God is a benign one what lessons might this God enact in preservation of such a precious jewel as Planet Earth?
Don't be daft! Such an event'll never happen again- note to self to ignore pollution and climate change, the ongoing mass extinction, oh and the impending food crisis... Back in the bubble, everyone! Back to normal!