Part 1 was published here yesterday
Driving into town this week was, for the most part, quite pleasant. The town seemed to be quietly recovering from the virus restrictions and people were once again walking around in pairs or small groups, often walking the dog too.
St Mary on the Wold benefits from being within 20 miles of three what were once ‘market towns’ but are now anything but. Local industry has almost died out and no one can seem to remember when the last cattle market was held, but nevertheless we convince ourselves that the towns, like the air conditioned view from our cars, are just as we would like to think they are. The reality is somewhat different. Decades of neglect of the infrastructure, coupled with the decline in industry and local jobs and the never-ending demand for more ‘executive style detached’ homes built in their hundreds to accommodate the flight from the cities, has led to overcrowded roads, poor maintenance and severely strained public services.
While all in the garden was lovely and the weather tranquil this was fine. People either overlooked, or more likely refused to notice, that much of the town centre was decaying, dirty and tired, with people for whatever reason often aggressively begging and sleeping on the streets, that due to high rents and associated business costs, large retail and often well-established family stores were closing. “It’s the internet,” people said. “High Streets are a thing of the past, we are a service industry economy now, we need to attract ‘high quality’ leisure accommodation and desirable leisure activities.” And so it went on, anyone suggesting that selling, by so many outlets, expensive coffee and scones to hundreds of thousands of international visitors may cause problems had their objections overruled. “The visitors are never going to stop coming here, we are the jewel in the tourism crown,” except of course they did stop coming and the jewel turned out to be paste.
There have been several seismic events this century (how strange it seems to be writing that, how time flies when you are enjoying yourself). 9/11 was commemorated this week and in years to come, as far as the UK is concerned, 23/3/20 will be another one. Scared witless by a combination of ‘expert’ predictions that many at the time suggested might be flawed, and the combined might of the MSM wanting to put pressure on Boris, the whole country got behind another brilliant marketing slogan ‘Save the NHS’. So England, at least, came to an emergency stop. Not since their driving test had so many people stopped so quickly on the command of one person. It must be said that while most people were behind the decision, not all were happy with the restrictions, the methodology or the reasons behind it. But hey ‘deniers’, as they were soon called by the press, this is only temporary and hasn’t Dishi Rishi told you that all is well and the government has your backs? What they meant was the chosen, including public servants and teachers were being well looked after, and all the debts of the NHS written off while unnoticed small businesses and many self-employed enjoyed few if any benefits as they worried about redundancy or financial disaster.
Services and companies started to fall apart as, conditioned by expert marketing, the country – well most of it – accepted the restrictions, watched in anguish as older people died and countless others of whatever age suddenly found their treatment postponed or cancelled. Business owners counted the escalating cost as their livelihoods disappeared. None of this is new of course, a walk through our town today shows struggling retailers, small and large shops, closed never to re-open. The hospitality sector which was showing, as Norman Lamont (resurrected in the media this week) once said, the green shoots of recovery, has suddenly this week been hit by a ‘double whammy’ and another ‘black swan’ event of more restrictions.
“The ‘R’ factor is going up,” screamed the headlines. Local ‘lockdowns’ competed in the media with the mask controversy, social distancing, heavy handed or non-existent policing of supposedly illegal events, ‘we want action, we want action’ write and shout the pundits, all experts on psychology, immunisation, virology, statistics and public health issues, all with all the answers from the safety of the office at home, the TV or radio studio.
“What are you going to do Boris?” was the unheard question with various ministers and scientists popping up in the media trying to get the attention of a public, 52% of whom according to one poll is so terrified by the lack of clarity and doubt planted in their minds by the media that the virus health and safety is their main concern. “For goodness sake ‘nanny’ please save us. Tell us what to do.” And so they have. Apparently after a decisive and bad-tempered exchange and yet again media-driven panic, a new raft of restrictions has been ordained. In Birmingham, England’s second city, the dictat came, not as you would have expected by Secretary of State Matt Hancock, but read out by the Mayor of Birmingham. In earlier times the Mayor would have read out the ‘act’ flanked by the Chief Constable and other notable figures, if the amount of anger brewing in many communities over these latest restrictions and fear-mongering by the media continues, that may well be a sight we will see again, particularly in Birmingham as this now affects 1.7 million people who from Tuesday, for some reason, will not be able among other things to associate or visit neighbours.
As I write there are sensational headlines of ‘England on the brink’, ‘the virus is spreading’ and England – note not the United Kingdom – is losing control. The Prime Minister is now talking about a carrot and stick approach to enforcement as it slowly seems to be dawning on the political bubble that they are indeed in danger of losing control and not only of the virus. Covid marshals without any power to enforce anything are to be introduced on the streets, recruited and paid for by local government on salary plus expenses of £31,000 a year, the very local government that Grant Shapps was complaining about earlier this month which has already misused and wasted thousands on Covid traffic and safety schemes which in many places are now abandoned.
You could not make it up, or the fact that Boris is considering not only a curfew but starting a national snitch line for people to report their neighbours for what they see as infringements, presumably the schools will encourage children to do the same, there are historical precedents as many eastern Europeans will tell you.
It’s amazing how far this media styled modern-day Churchill wants more and more enforcement for our own health and safety, as long as somebody else takes responsibility. As an admirer of Churchill is this where his authoritarian streak comes from? Did he get the idea from a Churchill speech prior to the first post war election, when he warned that socialists will always need some kind of ‘gestapo’ to keep order? The way things are going that could prove to be a prescient warning from the past.
Boris needs to heed, in my view, that eventually the public will demand accountability for not only the draconian attack on civil liberties but the coming economic devastation caused in part by a government that looks indecisive and incompetent, and compared to other countries despite all the talk about British soft power and influence, the handling of the virus emergency, the failure of policing, not to mention the testing and the world beating NHS track and trace system failures, has shown to the world at large that we are no longer as good or as competent as both they and we have been told we were.