North by north west

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past

How many of us, on being asked in 2015 that awkward interview question, ‘So where do you see yourself in five years’ time’, would have got it right?

I’m guessing probably only Boris Johnson, and only then because his answer would have been “I see myself as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.

He may have imagined himself Captain of the good ship Britannia, standing on the bridge, peaked cap shading his eyes from the sunlight sparkling off the clear waters ahead as he steered the country through to its destiny. Instead, he’s in a rowing boat, with one paddle, going round and round in circles, and Dominic Cummings has pinched the peaked cap and is using it to surreptitiously fill the boat with water. The same Dominic Cummings who, if today’s FT is to be believed, has been the one pushing for the £10,000 fines for Covid-infractions. The irony of that just beggars belief. Except nothing that happens in Westminster at the moment would surprise me anymore.

Further north, Andy Burham has clearly been spoiling for a fight, possibly miffed at the number of Labour constituencies that turned blue at the December 2019 election. Well, Andy, hang on in there, with South Yorkshire about to go into tier 3 along with the rest of the Northern Powerhouse – remember that? – that blue wall will be turning red pretty damn quickly.

Is it right that we do all we can to slow the spread of Covid-19 and ease the strain on hospitals and the NHS? Of course, it is. Is it right that we should shut down the entire country, even for two weeks, in order to do so? No, probably not. Folkestone in Kent has one of the lowest rates of Covid infection in the country. It’s also struggled economically in the last couple of decades. It’s not right that its businesses, having pulled themselves back up by their bootstraps since the earlier lockdown, should have to close up again.

Equally though, the numbers being bandied around also seem unfair. How is it right that billions were spent on sourcing PPE from companies that had never made it before, that management consultants were being paid £7000 a day to work on the test and trace system, yet the money being offered to support the Northern cities in a circuit-breaker lockdown falls far short of what they need? Always assuming, of course, that such a circuit-breaker will work and isn’t too little, too late and with way too much notice. Look at what happened when they announced the 10pm curfew – everyone went out for a last hurrah and filled the streets. Like that wasn’t easily foreseeable. £12

So many questions, so many different answers to each one, depending on who you ask and what your political perspective is. The problem is that there is so much information out there that none of us really know what or who to believe. So, we believe none of it and just bumble along, masks-on, hand-washing and sanitising as we go, questioning whether we really do need to go to the supermarket for that loaf of bread or can we manage for another day or so and hoping we can get through this by Christmas. If they don’t sort this Rule of Six out, I’m going to have to get through an awful lot of Cadburys selection boxes and mince pies on my own.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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