I bled a radiator this week. Not that I want to pander to toxic gender stereotypes, but I bloody nailed it because I’m a bloody man. We had a problem with the boiler. It started making a disturbing rumbling noise on Monday. After several days of doing what men also do – ignoring it – I identified the problem, found the right tools and set about fixing it.
I made the right calls, I picked the tools and I made a difference to my rumbling boiler. It’s a simple approach, painfully lacking in the handling of increased infections in the north of England.
OK, fine, this analogy is weak. I think we both know I just wanted to boast about bleeding a radiator.
But the problem in the north of England is a serious one. Infection rates are on the up, measures aren’t working and people are losing patience.
Andy Burnham has spent the last few months exhaling in frustration on every TV and radio show that will have him. In a tweet this morning, he complained that the first he’d heard of plans to shut down northern hospitality was on the front page of The Times. That could be considered an unfortunate communication breakdown. Somebody in No.10 accidentally briefed the press before Matt Hancock could do a ring-around of the regional mayors. Sorry, Andy, Matt was going to call. Fine – if it weren’t the third such tweet from Andy Burnham in the last few weeks. The list of local authority bosses and health officials who have complained of being left in the dark on decision making is growing so long, it’ll soon breach Boris Johnson’s two page rule for briefing documents.
It leaves us with a lot of questions this weekend – but one particular elephant just won’t leave the room. Why are the current restrictions not cutting it? Weeks, months, after freedoms were curtailed, infections continue to rise. Rapidly. All roads lead to test and trace, inevitably. A functioning system of checking who does and doesn’t have the virus, and cutting them off from circulation, would surely prevent the need for sledge-hammer restrictions. But in it’s absence, what are we left with?
This weekend we’ll ask… what is happening in the north? Why are local leaders still out in the cold? Why haven’t the measures introduced so far made much difference? What’s next? And… will it work?
Expect communication to play a central role. It feels like a confused and insulted population have decided to calucate their own risks and decide which bits of the measures they do and don’t stick to. This is one of No.10’s recent failures that they have tried to fix this week. They may still be unable to communicate with local leaders, but the conversation with the public should, in theory, be greatly improved by the appointment of new spokesperson Allegra Stratton. Formerly of Newsnight and Peston fame, if you didn’t know her already, you will soon. She’ll be fronting a new daily, White House style televised press conference that will spare us all the torture of the Prime Minister’s bumbling and fumbling. It will also save him the embarrassment of unraveling in front of the country. It has been fine currency for his political opponents and has cost him dearly. Giving the Prime Minister somebody to hide behind shouldn’t be a moment of cheer for any civilised democracy, but while our health and wellbeing are at stake, we can allow ourselves to be more welcoming.
This weekend, we’ll consider if having Stratton as the face of No.10 is likely to make any real difference to the growing hostility and complacency. And is the job of speaking for this government – still riddled with inconsistencies, egos and an increasing list of enemies – simply a poison chalice?
Making this sort of change is a delicate balance. We have learnt the hard way that getting people to tweak their lives and take a hit for the greater good takes a gentle negotiation, with leadership and persuasive power in short supply. One man, however, continues to hold the nation’s attention in a way that Stratton and No.10 could only dream of.
This week, Sir David Attenborough told a new BBC podcast that in oder to protect the natural world, ‘the excesses of capitalism need to be curbed’ and that ‘greed does not bring joy’. Anybody who has ordered Dominos on a Tuesday night knows the truth of the second statement. Greed is laced with regret and disgust and, eventually, a blind hunger for more. Case made, case won. Curbing the excesses of Capitalism is an altogether thornier issue.
Although the two are intrinsically linked, it is hard to embark on this conversation without an eruption into a culture war. It is harder still when Capitalism can point to prosperity and stake a claim to have done as much good as it has damage. The devil may be in the detail of Sir David’s point. It’s the excesses bit that often tips us into problematic territory. A post-Thatcher generation of leaders who are romantically attached to the idea of Capitalism, private sector success and profit making, have taken it from an ideology to a dogma. Combine that with the powerful forces of market fundamentalism and ‘excuse me, shouldn’t we think about the trees?’ doesn’t stand much of a chance.
It’s a big subject, but we’ll take a dive in this weekend and ask if it’s possible to meet somewhere in the middle. Can we make the tweaks needed to protect our ecosystem without unsettling the vested interests that could stand in the way?
Will we – can we – make a difference?
It’s a question the Trump team are asking themselves, mainly via email from quarantine. Behind on lots of the key metrics, Donald Trump needs a shift. And, boy, has he tried hard to make one. The number of infections linked to the President’s own Coronavirus diagnosis rose beyond 27 this week, against the backdrop of his remarkable hard man act. It’s difficult to know where to begin – and that’s before you consider the effect of the Vice Presidential debate, largely dominated by an audacious fly.
Our Road to the White House series continues and we’ll ask that key question that we can’t escape – will it make a difference?
Weekend Early Breakfast with Darryl Morris – Saturday and Sunday – 5am-7am.October 10, 2020 | No Comments