2nd May 2020
Boris Johnson – back with the usual bluster
“Boris bounces back to get UK moving” proclaimed the austerity loving apologists at the Daily Mail earlier this week, neatly sidestepping the national scandal of the government’s miserable mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis. With the third highest death rate in the world, a testing rate manipulated to reach the government’s 100,000 test a day target by the end of April and contact tracing still a shambles, the government has little of which to be proud.
Not that this would be in evidence from the daily Downing Street press briefings, the supine ‘analysis’ provided by a parade of commentators on the BBC, or the predominantly right wing newspaper press, with the notable exception of the avowedly left wing Morning Star and the occasional critique in the liberal leaning The Guardian.
In his first Downing St briefing on Thursday, since returning to work following his own bout of COVID-19, UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, suggested that the worst of the virus was over, proclaiming,
“I can confirm today for the first time that we are past the peak of this disease. We are past the peak and we are on the downward slope.”
Seemingly oblivious to the death toll in the UK compared to elsewhere in the world, apart from the United States and Italy, Johnson went on to blithely state that,
“We’re learning lessons everyday but I do think that broadly speaking, we did the right thing at the right time.”
All of which begs the questions as to what a national catastrophe would look like if close to 30,000 deaths, on the official count, in just three months does not qualify.
In response to ongoing pressure from the business sector, keen to resume economic activity whatever the cost to the lives of its workforce, Johnson promised this week to deliver a “comprehensive plan” pledging to cover “how we can continue to suppress the disease and at the same time restart the economy.”
The business sector increasingly have their own ideas about restarting the economy, with British Airways considering 12,000 job losses and Ryanair looking at a 3,000 job cut. That is just for starters. No doubt many other businesses will take the chance to cut back jobs, pay and conditions using the virus crisis as cover. It will be interesting to see how many of the same companies cut executive pay or shareholder dividends once the economy is back up and running.
Johnson also had the temerity to say that he did not like the term ‘austerity’ to describe the brutal cuts imposed upon public services, as part of the policy programme he has supported throughout ten years of Tory government. If this is not Johnson’s attempt to pave the way for even more austerity, dressed up in nicer terminology no doubt, to pay for the present crisis it is hard to see what else it is.
While the fanbase may well have welcomed Johnson’s return his usual bluster failed, once again, to inspire confidence. As The Guardian sketch writer, John Crace, summarised succinctly the day after Johnson’s appearance,
“Boris talked big about the economy bouncing back, avoiding the second peak and enforcing the wearing of face masks. But deep down he knows he’s met his match. Up till now, he’s never found a situation he couldn’t bluster his way out of. Now he’s up against a power greater than himself. In a contest between coronavirus and bullshit, coronavirus wins every time.”
Meanwhile, in the United States the bullshit detector went into overdrive this week. Following his pronouncement that a blast of bleach might be the answer to cleanse a way out of COVID-19, the Donald Trump fake news machine has reached even dizzier heights.
Even though US intelligence agencies have reached the conclusion that it “concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified”, Trump claims to have seen evidence to the contrary, suggesting that the virus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
Quite who is briefing the US President behind the back of his own intelligence services is an interesting question. The Wuhan lab ‘theory’ has been circulating on right wing conspiracy theory websites in the United States for the past couple of months and is progressively making its way into mainstream news media headlines in the US and the UK, with little critique or comment. A masterclass in fake news perpetuation and media manipulation.
Anti-Chinese rhetoric in a US election year should come as no surprise. Even more so when China’s economic power is increasingly seen as a threat to US interests in South East Asia. The US Navy has recently stepped up its presence in the South China Sea. While the world is focussed on fighting COVID-19 it is not beyond the US, especially under the current administration, to be building towards conflict of the more traditional but equally devastating kind. In which case, the whole world may be on the downward slope, to coin a phrase.