Apparently the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Yet here he we are watching the prime minister make the same fundamental errors he made back in March. It was Johnson himself who coined the phrase ‘dither and delay’ when describing his Brexit opponents; ironically, no other phrase is perhaps so apt in describing his own decision making during this Covid-19 pandemic.
A little over a month ago I asked whether a second wave was inevitable. We had played our part by staying in and following the rules, now it was time for the government to repay the favour by working effectively to stay ahead of the virus.
Spoiler alert: They haven’t.
When I wrote about the inevitability of a second wave back in September cases were rising, but a swift, targeted approach supported by an effective test and trace programme would have helped the government to stay ahead of the curve.
In this case, the targeted approach suggested by SAGE, the government’s scientific advisory group, was to implement a short national lockdown which would then reduce the transmission rate and stem the flow of the virus.
Instead, Johnson launched a localised tier system approach which his chief medical officer, *standing next to him*, said would not be enough.
Now, in what is without a doubt his most embarrassing, catastrophic and politically damaging U-turn yet, Johnson last night introduced a month long lockdown in England in order to prevent a “medical and moral disaster” for the NHS.
His recognition that “no responsible prime minister” could ignore the figures would perhaps hold more weight if it wasn’t for the fact that scientists had warned the government on the 14th of October that the figures were exceeding the worst-case scenario.
Having ignored the science and then chastised any proposition of a circuit breaker, this decision can only be seen as a cataclysmic body blow which encapsulates the incompetence and inaction which has plagued this government’s approach since the start of the pandemic.
I’m certainly no economist, nor am I a policy maker, but it has struck me that throughout the pandemic, whether it be the scale and flexibility of the economic package on offer or the imposing and easing of lockdown, the government has lacked imagination, creativity and political aptitude in their decision making; generally they appear to wait until a reasonable worst case scenario before forcing their hand, all the while blaming the pretence of fiscal responsibility for any perceived inaction.
A case in point would be the government’s decision to extend the furlough scheme throughout November despite having initially replaced it with the less generous Job Support Scheme. Although any extension to the furlough scheme will be welcomed by opposition leaders and business owners, the decision was met with some incredulity by Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester, who asked why workers in Manchester were “only worth 67%?”.
It is worth remembering that not even two weeks ago the government’s negotiations with Manchester regarding tier 3 restrictions fell apart because Johnson was unwilling to extend furlough support from 67% to 80% – 12 days later the nation will receive 80%.
Similarly, Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, took to twitter to say: “it is clear he [Rishi Sunak] could have said yes” with regards to extending the furlough scheme.
Only time will tell if these new restriction will be effective, but one thing is for sure: they were too slow then and they’ve been too slow now – all at a dreadful human cost.