The government is displaying the same incompetence that has defined the years since 2016by Jonathan Lis / May 22, 2020 / Leave a comment
You could be forgiven a sense of déjà vu. The self-aggrandising ministerial statements. The growing dependence on slogans. Wondering if the government is intentionally confusing people or just hopelessly out of control. During this new, much graver crisis, the government is not simply refusing to heed the lessons of Brexit: it is repeating the song almost word for word.
First, of course, is the bluster and exceptionalism. This is not a problem confined to theory. It has demonstrable real-life consequences. It became a tragicomic motif of Brexit to assert that the EU needed us more than we needed them, that we could enjoy the “exact same benefits” of membership, and that we would “take back control” we had unjustly lost.
When coronavirus struck, too, Boris Johnson had his lines ready to go: we had world-class research and testing facilities, and world-class healthcare, and on that basis we were prepared. The intervening disasters have forced the prime minister to confront the seriousness of this disease. Yet even with the highest death toll in Europe, Johnson cannot resist the opportunity to boast about the progress his government has made.
Underlying both cases was the assumption that we were the best at everything. Ministers believed their own hype, and that hype could substitute for a plan.
Then there is the notion of responsibility. Both Brexit and the virus are to be owned not by politicians but by voters. Although nobody in Downing Street this time will claim the virus is the “will of the people,” the government feigns the same transfer of power. It is issuing us with contradictory advice or instructions or both, and blaming us for what inevitably comes next. Of course people continued going to pubs, restaurants and gyms in early March while the government was talking about “herd immunity.” Of course they drove to beauty spots and went sunbathing when the government failed to give clear reasons not to. Of course they are now frequenting parks and beaches in larger numbers, and risking their safety going to work, because the government has advised them they can. Ordinary voters are not epidemiologists, and this is not about common sense or personal freedom. It is the government rejecting accountability and scapegoating the…