This week’s staggered return to school comes in tandem with a stuttering return to the office and a stupefying muddle for holidaymakers. All part of the new world disorder. And, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson’s discovering the hard way that as you sow, so shall you reap.
‘All is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds.’
The Prime Minister’s noted for his Panglossian optimism. But a more recent literary line than that from Voltaire’s Candide springs to mind. From Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
‘The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.’
Johnson’s eighty-strong majority in parliament is grounds for optimism in anyone’s book. But what’s been by almost everyone’s reckoning a ham-fisted handling of the coronavirus pandemic, is anything but.
And the emergence – again, by almost everyone’s reckoning – of a sure-footed opposition leader is the last thing he needs.
Tory MP’s back in business after the summer recess will have noted the new and, from their point of view, alarming shift in the polls.
According to an Opinium survey for the Observer, Labour is now level-pegging with them. Meaning in just five months they’ve mislaid a twenty-six point lead.
Whoops-a-daisy? You could put it like that.
And, even more wee wees on Bojo’s birthday cake, the ConservativeHome website has found Tory members’ support for his corona convolutions has nose-dived.
Since April it’s slithered from pushing a hundred per cent to less than half that.
This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been trying to have a lovely holiday in Portugal.
First it looked like they’d face quarantine on their return. With that in mind, many spent hundreds on early flights home. Money down the drain, as the self-isolation thing was off after all.
Not, however, if they were heading home to Wales or Scotland instead of England.
The transport secretary Grant Shapps accepted all this ‘creates confusion’. Okay, he’s fessed up then, but that might not help.
Chancellor Sunak, Dishy Rishi to his own potentially diminishing band of brothers, has also given openness a go. And may also receive scant thanks for his trouble.
He told the new intake of Conservative MP’s the government must be honest about recouping the cost of coronavirus.
There will not be, he assured them, ‘a horror show of tax rises with no end in sight’. But there were in prospect ‘difficult’ decisions.
To translate that into real-person-speak: ‘We’re going to have to whack ’em up a bit. Get used to it.’
And the response from Sir Graham Brady, the Tory backbenchers’ official shop steward? ‘We should be very, very cautious in exploring tax increases.’
That bit, translated likewise, is as follows: ‘In your dreams, sunshine.’ Come the autumn budget, not that far off, there will be rebellions. And the dissidents may well win.
Happy days? Not.
The Conservative party’s always traded as a broad church. But these days it’s that wide it practically spans the Angel Gabriel to Mephistopheles.
David Cameron’s easy-going middle-of-the-road jaunt crashed with Brexit. Leaving his old support base sitting up stonily in bed with the hardcore Europhobes, who think of nothing much else. While the diehard Thatcherites are only interested in lower taxes and spending cuts.
Which leaves Boris Johnson wobbling on a far more fragile firmament than the parliamentary mathematics suggest.
Though he’s been urging the kids to go back to the classrooms he could be forgiven for wishing he could have skipped his own return to school. Tricky one, as he’s supposed to be the headmaster.
And as for getting the grownups back to their desks as well, he needs to get the cane out for the little snits in Whitehall House.
The government’s publicity splurge designed to get people back to their offices has itself had to be put back, because so many civil servants are setting a bad example. By continuing to work from home.
And they’re not alone. Research by the business advisory firm Blick Rothenberg has revealed a widespread belief in the private sector that full-time office work is a thing of the past.
The lockdown gave bosses a chance to see the future, and many have decided it works. Sixty per cent of those questioned believe staff will spend only two or three days in the office – even when normality returns.
And when might that be then?
Here’s something the government does seem to be getting right.
Ministers are prepared to change the law if necessary, to enable them to fast track approval for a coronavirus vaccine this side of Christmas.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has announced not only that trials are going well, but also that pharmacists, paramedics, vets and indeed folk with no clinical training could be allowed to administer the jab. That way, he added, millions of people will be able to get it quickly.
Oh, and btw, Britain has contracts for no fewer than six different vaccines. It’s got to be risk free, obvs, but the policy is first up, first served up.
And, another hopeful aside, the drug company AstraZeneca has signed a fifteen-million-dollar deal with an Oxford firm to produce it.
What’s more, two of the manufacturing suites will be up and running in the next couple of months – a lot earlier than originally planned.
Across The Pond, the Donald’s apparently not so concerned about the safety first bit, in his efforts to get the stuff on stream in time to sway the presidential election.
And he’s had quite a week, what with reports emerging that he refused to visit a First World War cemetery in France on the grounds Yankee soldiers were ‘losers’ and ‘suckers’.
He maintains the allegation, that first appeared in the American publication The Atlantic, is ‘totally false’.
Whether or not that’s worse than ‘fake news’ is hard to tell.
But he can’t argue with the television footage of him claiming that protesters, whom he described as ‘anarchists’, are in the habit of throwing cans of soup at the cops. Or, oddly enough, bags of it.
His Democratic rival Joe Biden, by contrast, troubled to meet the family of Jacob Blake, the black man shot seven times in the back by a white police officer.
Mr Biden also maintained, witheringly, that Trump’s behaviour ‘legitimises the dark side of human nature’.
Back in Blighty, meanwhile, many people see Dominic Cummings, aka Bojo’s strap-on brain, as a dark force in politics.
At least he took the trouble last week to shove on a suit and a proper shirt, instead of the usual ragbag of rubbish he flings on to annoy anyone with any sense of style.
On the subject of which, the Times has produced a helpful cut-out-and-keep set of guidelines to help us through the pandemic.
For example, cotton facemasks from Etsy are IN. OUT is hoicking your T-shirt up over your face in Tesco, like you did at school whenever a classmate farted.
If the paper of record says so, it must be so.
Also, we learn, taking up jogging is IN. OUT is, again a direct quote, just letting your body calcify into a juddering orb of cholesterol because what’s the point of anything any more.
Finally, the Thunderer proclaims, it’s IN to experience a warm glow of social responsibility when you buy a cheese sandwich in a city centre branch of Pret.
OUT, the august publication tells us, in terms, is taking a packed lunch to work, like the city-murdering bastard you are.
Tut tut, we can’t have that now, can we?
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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