Presser is not short for presents

Imagine an Advent calendar with nothing behind the numbers, forever

“Continue to shop normally,” Boris Johnson told the nation, using that special meaning of “normally” which describes the kind of shopping you do when your Christmas plans have been turned upside down at the last minute and everywhere that sells presents is suddenly closed.

It was press conference time, for a reason we never got to the bottom of. Perhaps the goal was to reassure that we didn’t need to rush out to the supermarket to stock up on sprouts. It would be just like this government to wait 48 hours to tell people they didn’t need to do any panic buying.

In any case, if reassurance was the goal, they may need to find a new frontman. The assumption of this sketch is that if the prime minister is telling us not to panic buy on Monday, he’ll be holding a clarificatory press conference by Thursday which is just him standing outside the Trafalgar Square Tesco yelling at people to get in there and grab whatever they can. His hair, swept across his head like he’d moussed it while standing in a wind tunnel, was already well on the way to the levels of craziness necessary for such an appearance.

In what appears to be the Brexit-Covid crossover the nation has been crying out for, France has closed its border. But we don’t need to worry, Johnson explained, because “the government has been preparing for a long time for just this kind of event.”

Boris said things would be better, but you’ve been on this ride before, you can make your own judgement

Now, we know what he means, but when you’re telling people that getting things ready for your government’s central policy has accidentally left the nation well prepared for a highly contagious killer virus, you might think it would give you pause for thought. If your education policy turned out to have left GCSE students impressively skilled at cooking with human flesh, you’d have a review. But not Johnson. We will, he said, “prosper mightily” in the event of trade negotiations leaving things looking like, well, this.

To those of us who suspect we know what a no-deal Brexit will look like, it’s especially worrying that Johnson talks about the recovery from the virus in exactly the same way. He was asked why he kept overpromising and underdelivering, and explained that the alternative would have been to lock the entire country down for the whole year. Is that really the only alternative, though? Maybe there’s middle ground between “you can’t leave your house for the next ten months” and “everything’s going to be fine next week oh hang on no it’s not.”

We did learn a couple of things from the press conference. Sir Patrick Vallance was asked why the whole country wasn’t in Tier 4, and replied that it wasn’t a decision for him. Which rather implies that he thinks it should be, and that it probably soon will be. Johnson was asked whether schools would definitely go back on time in January and said he hoped so, which rather implies he thinks they won’t.

And Johnson, the man who promised us things would be better by the summer, and back to normal by Christmas, assured us that we would be in a “very different world” by Easter. He meant things would be better, but you’ve been on this ride before, you can make your own judgement.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover