Wednesday 16 December 2020

It's not only coronavirus which is infectious


For the PM, procrastination is a way of life – this article highlights example after example. One of the 'advantages' of delaying a decision is that the longer the delay the fewer alternative options remain, making the ultimate decision easier, or even inevitable. Brexit is a classic example: the main decisions he’s taken since becoming PM have been those which close out options rather than maximising the range of choice (such as, for example, the pig-headed decision to legislate against any extension to the timetable). We are down to only two choices – no deal at all, or a very bad deal – not because that was always inevitable, but partly because other options have been closed down by inaction and delay.

It’s a bad enough approach for Brexit, where the main damage will be economic, but it’s even worse an approach to dealing with a pandemic where many families are paying the cost not just in economic terms but in terms of the lives of their loved ones. With a population of 66 million, and a death toll to date (and we’re a long way from the end) of somewhere between 64,000 and 85,000 depending on which figures one considers the most accurate, the pandemic has already seen the premature death of around 1 person in every 1,000 in the UK. No government could have avoided any premature deaths in the circumstances, but premature death on this scale was not inevitable and is a direct result of government action – or, more often, inaction.

Yet still the reluctance to act continues. Whilst the principle of having a common approach to Christmas across the four administrations of the UK was always a good one, there was no particular genius in warning that “…falling in line with England doesn’t look like the smartest idea…”, yet that is what a ’four nations’ approach was always likely to amount to. It is clear that three of the four administrations are getting serious cold feet about the proposed relaxation and that the scientists have had their reservations from the outset, only going along with the proposal for fear that people would ignore the rules anyway. Whilst discussions continue, it seems that the English PM has already decided to ignore the views of the other three First Ministers and plough ahead regardless, briefing the media that there will be no change without waiting until discussions have concluded. The reluctance of Mark Drakeford to change the pre-announced rules at this late stage is understandable, but Boris Johnson is putting him in an invidious position. If the rules need to change based on changed facts, then the sooner that is announced the better so that people have more time to make alternative plans. The danger in continuing to try and reach a common approach is that Johnson’s prevarication becomes like a virus itself, infecting the devolved administrations and their leaders with an inability to show leadership and take clear decisions.


dafis said...

I happen to agree that it is best not to reverse the "policy" relating to a more "relaxed" regulation over Xmas. That said I do not come to that conclusion because I am convinced by anything said by Boris or any of his ministers. It is simply a recognition that a significant segment of the public at large are in no mood to accept some severe disciplines that interfere with their "rights" to enjoy Xmas.

The relatively rapid decline in public resilience over recent months is quite remarkable. This is a public which was encouraged to show its "Dunkirk spirit" or some other variant of the old stock of WW2 claptrap by the ruling cliques only months ago. That didn't last long because all those old cliches, if they were ever true, have long been replaced by a compulsion to see one's mates, visit the local pub and any other activity which makes it easy for a bug to transmit and multiply.

Whenever the shit has hit the fan the default option has been to clamp down on everybody including those showing restraint rather than applying severe sanctions on those found to be unrestrained in their misconducts. Even our Mr Drakeford has been guilty of this, probably because he recognises that piss artists and other delinquents in core constituencies may vote Labour if they vote at all. However Drakeford is a minor offender on the poor leadership scale compared to the idiots in London.
I guess the only real conclusion one can draw from all this is that the public's ability to withstand stress has diminshed, and it cannot derive example or inspiration from the conduct of Boris and his cohorts. Selfish useless bastards one and all.

John Dixon said...


"It is simply a recognition that a significant segment of the public at large are in no mood to accept some severe disciplines that interfere with their "rights" to enjoy Xmas." I understand that position. I could argue that the public mood on this has been impacted by government indecisiveness and mixed messaging (without even needing to mention long distance eye tests). I could also highlight that the 'right' to enjoy Christmas doesn't really include the 'right' to kill granny early next year.

That would all be true, but saying it isn't enough to change that public mood, even if a good proportion of he public understand and accept the message. At this stage, it is inevitable that a proportion of the public will have made their plans and will not change them even if the rules change, and I see absolutely no public interest in having police forces around the UK checking on private residences over the 5-day period to check how many people are present and issuing fines for non-compliance where applicable. But having said all that, and bearing in mind that the objective of any set of rules in these circumstances is not to maximise the number of people being caught, shamed and fined, but rather to reduce the level of avoidable social contact, the question, surely, is this: would changing the rules even at this late stage cause enough people to revise their plans and change their actions to have a significant impact on the spread of the virus? My own gut feel for that (and I admit that I have no hard evidence to back this up) is that it would reduce the level of social contact to some extent because some people at least would, however reluctantly, comply, but that the number doing so will reduce the later any change of decision is announced. Prevarication (which is part of what this post was about) decreases the impact of any decision to the point at which its effect becomes so negligible as to be not worth doing. The point at which that happens is an unknowable variable, but 'running down the clock' (which is what is happening at present) is not a responsible response from government.

dafis said...

Bear with me being "uber righteous". Even with the relaxations in place this household was not intending to let rip over the Xmas easement of conditions. Had they opened the pubs we would not have gone as we understood the risks. My concern is that the socially incontinent among us just don't have any regard for others. Let them kill themselves but the bit I don't like is that they want to kill others in the process. Of course flippant flip flopping by likes of Boris and his cohorts doesn't help but there is a growing undercurrent of dissent among our public which is disconcerting. It is not a conscious urge to harm others, just an overwhelming drive to immediate self gratification. Childlike but very toxic.

John Dixon said...

"...there is a growing undercurrent of dissent among our public which is disconcerting. It is not a conscious urge to harm others, just an overwhelming drive to immediate self gratification." I agree entirely with that point. I'm not convinced, though, that shifting all the blame on to people who think that way is fair or reasonable, although neither do I think it reasonable to absolve them of all blame. There is, though, an underlying long-term trend towards 'outsourcing' responsibility for taking what are, in essence, moral or ethical decisions by conflating 'legal' and 'moral'. The fact that something is 'legal' or 'allowed under the rules' is (or should be!) inadequate justification for doing something. But when we have political leaders who use precisely that argument to justify claiming for duck houses or moat cleaning, and who present as the 'norm' the idea that personal greed is not only acceptable but desirable, I find it hard to argue that the less well-off should be held to higher standards than the rich and the powerful.