Post from Toby, who has been talking to people close to Downing Street, trying to figure out why Boris is railroading the country into a second lockdown in spite of the data suggesting it’s completely unnecessary. This is what he’s been able to find out.
No one in Downing Street – or, rather, the Quad (Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and Matt Hancock), since they’re making all the big political calls – is pretending the data hasn’t been deliberately skewed to create a rationale for Lockdown 2.0, which is why we’ve all been asking what the hell is going on – how on Earth a daily death rate of 4,000 could possibly be achieved without the entire population being simultaneously infected (in which case it would be all over in a few weeks anyway)? But the Quad is worried that in certain northern cities, e.g. Leeds, where post-lockdown disobedience has combined with urban lifestyles (blame the plebs, etc.), there is a prospect of hospitals becoming overwhelmed and that has got them rattled. (We don’t think there is, obviously.)
Note, this anxiety isn’t primarily due to Covid admissions, which aren’t expected to be higher than they were at the spring peak. Rather, this time round NHS Trusts have been ordered not to turn away non-Covid patients if they can accommodate them so some hotspot hospitals are having to cope with operating at their usual winter capacity levels alongside an influx of Covid patients. They’re not at breaking point yet, in part because the influx of Covid patients is being compensated for by a lower-than-usual number of patients being admitted for other respiratory infections. But because the reasons for that aren’t understood, the at-risk hospitals can’t count on respiratory infections not increasing, alongside rising Covid admissions, which could push them over the edge. Could the system flex to accommodate any overspill, with patients being admitted to neighbouring ICUs? Probably (this is normal), but another difficulty is that there are fewer specialist intensive care nurses than there were in March/spring, partly because some of them have asked to be reassigned to other departments after the stress of the first wave and partly because hospitals are obsessively testing all their staff using the unreliable PCR test because they’re terrified of “healthcare-associated infections” (nosocomial transmission of the virus). The upshot is there are fewer intensive care nurses and of those that are left many have been sent home and told to self-isolate for 10 days. Another issue is that those with young children who’ve been sent home from school and told to self-isolate – because a child in their bubble has tested positive – are having to stay at home to care for their kids. And yet another issue is that some schools and NHS trusts are telling nurses to self-isolate for 14 days if one of their children has been identified as a “contact” of an infected person, even though that’s not something NHS Test and Trace insists upon.
So the Quad is terrified that some hospital trusts in northern areas will become overwhelmed and the BBC will start broadcasting pictures of people dying in corridors on the nightly news – which is political Kryptonite, according to the Rasputin-like figure of Dom Cummings. People will ask, “What was the point of Lockdown 1.0 if the precise thing it was designed to avoid is now happening?” Forget about protecting the NHS; it’s all about protecting the Conservative Party’s brand with an eye on the next General Election.
But the Quad is terrified that if they only clamp down on northern cities, as they’ve sort of being trying to do up to now, then the myth of a disease-laden, persecuted and under-funded north, already being wailed about by Messrs Burnham et al, will take even more root. Boris and his top team are paralysed with fear of being accused of abandoning their new friends in the north. So a national lockdown, even though it’s completely unnecessary and they all privately accept that, is a desperate propaganda exercise intended, in a rather futile and half-baked manner, to restore the national Blitz spirit of the spring even if it means a one-man shop in Penzance and a gift shop in Guildford have to shut their doors forever. They’re also concerned that without said Blitz bollocks, the ornery northerners, whipped up by Burnham’s rhetoric, won’t comply with any new regulations.
Boris is also desperate not to go down in history as the Prime Minister who cancelled Christmas, hence the promise about December 2nd, although it’s also because Rishi insisted on making any extension of the Furlough scheme time-limited because HM Treasury long ago ran out of cash and the staff of the Debt Management Office are having a collective nervous breakdown. At some point, the tap has to be turned off or no one will take our paper.
In effect, they are caught in a trap of their own making. Lockdown 2.0 is another needless measure designed to minimise the political fall-out from the countless other pointless measures they’ve taken. The economy has been thrown to the wolves in order to buy yet more time for the Conservatives to save face. In reality, the Quad know there’s no better than a modest chance of a vaccine existing or working in anything like an effective enough way to make a difference any time soon. Indeed, it might never come, and the four horsemen know that, too. And everyone in the Government knows that the PCR test is hopelessly shonky and NHS Test and Trace, which was only ever a £12 billion PR exercise, is a slow motion car crash that, thanks to false positives and the staggering incompetence of the various companies Hancock has outsourced delivery to, creates as many problems as it solves. But at least it’s one of the few ways the Government can be seen to be doing something – anything – even if it’s a shitshow. According to one insider, it’s the equivalent of juggling plates in an effort to stop a rainstorm.
In short, they’re at a loss to know what to do. Lockdown 2.0 is a last roll of the dice. They’ve run out of ideas, although they never really had any to begin with.
One final point: this isn’t a case of SAGE pulling the strings, browbeating Boris and co into doing their bidding via its envoys Witless and Unbalanced. Rather, the CMO and the CSO are doing the bidding of the Quad, slavishly pumping out propaganda in order to justify Lockdown 2.0. Dom has the two dupes by the short and curlies. They love the power and the spotlight and will say anything, even if it’s transparent balls, to keep it.