It’s been encouraging to hear for yonks now that this idea of quarantining overseas arrivals in hotels will finally get around to being discussed at today’s meeting of the government’s Covid-O committee. The O stands for “Oh my God, I hate Mondays, let’s sack it off till Tuesday instead”. I know none of us wishes to come off as impatient, but what are we actually doing here – trying to give the new variants a sporting chance?
Intriguing that even at this stage the UK should regard itself as the scratch golfer of pandemic-handling, happy to allow the virus 32 shots, endless mulligans and several weeks of frictionless travel. Then again, maybe you have to take your wins where you can. For the past month, the virus has been the only thing able to cross our borders without getting tied up in red tape.
Either way, Boris Johnson’s government continues to make pandemic decisions with all the speed of the Supreme Soviet Secretariat. Don’t ask for agile turnarounds. It would honestly be quicker to get Brezhnev to greenlight a clean energy programme.
This is great for people who really enjoy lockdowns, who ideally want to wear four masks at once, who enjoy unnecessarily deep economic collapse, and who believe that a generation of children getting thrown under the bus is the price you have to pay for whatever version of purity they prioritise. For everyone else, it’s the most giant, toxic, damaging, endlessly mishandled arseache.
Right back last spring, pandemic lesson 101 was that once lockdown is rationally inevitable, the time to do it is now. The later you man up and actually push the button, the longer you will have to lock down for, the more economically and socially punishing it will consequently be, and the more deaths there will be. We learned this – or should have – many, many long months ago.
Even if you are the type of politician or individual who is – how to phrase this? – more relaxed about high death rates, you presumably care about the economy and social freedoms. So in short: what the gibbering shit are you doing? Why, more than nine months after we made this mistake first, do you still call for the same stripe of mistake to be made and expect a different outcome? As for the parliamentary restriction sceptics, who are partly responsible for the length of our current lockdown, where do they get off now shrieking about its extended harms?
As it goes, I hope schools do start going back in mid-February, and am thrilled to read Public Heath England declaring primary schools safe to open after half-term. But spare me the giving-of-a-toss about children by the likes of Mark Harper and Steve Baker from the so-called Covid Recovery Group (CRG). Has there ever been a misnomer like it? You might as well call the Luftwaffe the East End Recovery Group. These guys are the cowboy builders of the pandemic. They turn your leaking pipe into a collapsed central heating system, then tell you only they can fix it.
In case they’ve forgotten, Mark and Steve & Co spent most of late autumn and early winter raging noisy public war against any form of lockdown or restrictions – and Boris Johnson listened to them. So when are such people going to take some responsibility for the fact that the schools have ended up having to close because in the end infection was so out of control there was nothing else for it?
When are the “Covid Recovery Group” going to take some responsibility for the fact their science-free objections to taking action in timely fashion means we all have to pay a heftier and lengthier price at the back end of the lockdown instead? The answer, of course, is never. Because what they wield is power without responsibility. They can seemingly make the prime minister do what they want, at least until things have gone so tits up that he has no choice but to U-turn. Yet despite being exactly the type who always bang on about people taking personal responsibility, they never take any themselves. Taking personal responsibility is for the likes of the poor and the obese.
And so it is that we have to listen to people such as Steve Baker posturing that they don’t like the predictable and predicted effects of precisely the things they spent October, November and December demanding. Come to that, what is Steve Baker even doing on a Zoom feed? He should be standing in the freezing cold on docks offering to fill in forms for fishermen about to lose their businesses thanks to another one of his brainwaves.
Which brings us to the conclusion that the new awkward squad is largely the same as the old awkward squad. Many of the personnel from the Brextremist European Research Group (ERG) have simply migrated to the CRG, and the rest of us are once more dragged along for the ride. The UK’s decades-long subservience to this relatively small number of Conservative wingnuts recalls nothing so much as Kingsley Amis’s relationship to his own libido. “For 50 years,” he reflected, “it was like being chained to an idiot.”
• Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist