Artillery Row Sketch

Boris and Saj go large

Covid cases are going back up – so, time to get the party started

“This pandemic is far from over,” Boris Johnson began, sonorously, from his zillion-dollar media suite. “We must reconcile ourselves sadly to more deaths. In these circumstances, we must take a careful and a balanced decision.”

“We are in the face of an increasing epidemic at the moment, and therefore we need to behave accordingly in terms of trying to limit transmission,” Sir Patrick Vallance added.

“The epidemic is clearly significant and rising,” Chris Whitty said.

And so, the decision is… PARTY TIME! Things are going in the wrong direction, and we must make them go faster! It was as though each section of the announcement had been written by a different person who wasn’t allowed to see the previous bits. As Johnson is discovering, government is an endless game of Consequences.

In order to placate The Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, the new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, was making a simultaneous announcement in the Commons. Sir Lindsay positively beamed at Javid when he called him to speak.

As is his way, Javid delivered his announcement of the Great Liberation with all the rhetorical panache of a deputy regional dishwasher sales manager listing indifferent results for the third quarter. If Matt Hancock was watching from his love nest, it must have been galling for him to think how much more he would have made of the moment.

But the reaction to Javid’s statement made it much clearer why these disjointed announcements were being made. Although social distancing restrictions continue to be supported by the public as a whole, they are deeply unpopular with a key section of the electorate: Tory MPs.

Many Conservatives seem to view Covid as essentially imaginary. Despite the virus having proved a greater danger to their leader than the Labour Party ever has been, they talk about is as if it were some sort of plot, probably one cooked up by Brussels, a bit like the rules of international trade.

Javid explained to a silent chamber that by the time we get to Freedom Hour, “the number of daily cases will be far higher than they are today.” People would, he said, be “understandably cautious” about whether what was proposed was safe, though the Conservative benches behind him didn’t look like they understood.

However, Javid continued, “we cannot put our lives on hold for ever.” At this, there came from behind him a sole cry, “Eyah-eyah-eyah!”

As experienced bird-watchers can identify the cry of the goshawk or the marsh warbler, so the Sketch has tuned its ears to the noises of the different species that flock to the House of Commons. That cry was instantly recognisable as the sound of the Tory MP Who At Long Last Is Hearing A Bit Of Plain Common Sense From This Government Instead Of All That Socialist Nonsense We’ve Had For Bloody Months Now.

Javid is an interesting man who somehow manages to be a dull speaker

As the health secretary went on, it was taken up by others. “EYAH-EYAH-EYAH,” they cried. At the Carlton Club, it was the signal to put more champagne on ice. The only thing that would have made the Conservative benches happier is if Javid had announced that the new NHS guidance was that there was nothing wrong with Covid patients that wouldn’t be cured by getting out of bed and doing a proper day’s work.

The health secretary, an interesting man who somehow manages to be a dull speaker, had never had a reception like it. “We will revoke all guidance including the two-meter rule,” he intoned. “Hallelujah!” came the cry, and not a Church of England-intoned “he is risen indeed hallelujah” type of Hallelujah, but a proper, full-throated “Hallelujah!”, of the sort given by someone who has met the risen Jesus for the first time. Or, alternatively, has just heard that facemasks are no longer obligatory on public transport.

Over in Downing Street, Johnson had switched back to caution. “I don’t want people to think this is the moment to get demob happy, that this is the end of Covid,” he said. “This is very far from the end.” People should support the England football team “enthusiastically but in a responsible way”.

And there we have it: it’s not over, but you can act as if it is, but you shouldn’t. The prime minister is banking on the rest of us exercising more self-restraint than he has ever managed. Perhaps we will, and let’s hope the vaccines do what’s necessary. It would just have been nice if any of the people announcing the move had sounded like they believed in it.

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