You’re going to hear a lot about Bolton this week. And not just from me, banging on about Bolton Wanderers’ spectacular promotion last weekend. Although, while we’re on the subject, we were 20th in February and finished 3rd overall. Really, quite something.
Anyway. The real reason is altogether more troubling. COVID cases in the town are rising. Rapidly. The so-called Indian variant seems to be, in part, responsible for cases doubling in the last week and doubling the week before. It’s growing from a minor headache to a major migraine for the government and health officials.
Bolton is my hometown. I am Bolton born and bread and return regularly to see my family and stock up on Carr’s pasties. For me, it’s personal. Bolton’s safety is my family’s safety. And I have watched on as they have been hit the hardest by the virus.
Bolton has spent just three and a half weeks free of restrictions since March 2020. Not for the first time, as the country begins to taste pub lunches and garden parties, Bolton remains in limbo.
The case for more local restrictions – or, at least, a delay to Monday’s easing – may come down to hospitalisations and deaths. If cases aren’t translating into hospital pressure or loss of life in the way they once were, the argument to close businesses and keep people at home becomes harder to make.
The plan being floated by the town’s MPs is for a surge in vaccinations, more support for those who need to isolate and targeted testing in some of the worst affected areas. These are the tools we should have been using to avoid strict measures, and were it not for the misstep of the test and trace programme, we may have been able to avoid lockdown two and three. Bolton could soon tell us if that was ever really possible.
Public health experts are particularly concerned for areas of high black and ethnic minority residents, where large inter-generational households living in close proximity are the norm. We also know that black and ethnic minority communities are more likely to feel the worst affects of the virus and less likely to trust officials and the vaccine.
As Channel 5’s Claudia-Liza explained to us a few months ago, as the vaccine roll out began: some communities are having to suspend decades of mistrust in the media and the institutions of government and believe them when they tell them the vaccine is safe and important to take. That isn’t going to happen overnight. Especially when the government decide, in the midst of this massive drive to get black and asian communities to trust their word, to release a report claiming institutional racism doesn’t exist. It must have untied months of hard persuasion.
We also know these groups are much more likely to do front line jobs like care, hospitality and services. They have been asked to take a greater risk and are more vulnerable for it. As has been said before: we might all be in this together, but some are in it more than others.
It’s too simple to point to one cause, though. The worst-affected areas are also busy, with a university, a college and a community school. Throw that into the mix with a high level of deprivation – people who are more at risk of catching the virus, and can’t afford to isolate if they do – and you have the perfect environment for a virus to spread.
Bolton isn’t an isolated case. It has a problem that’s being replicated in towns across the country – Blackburn, Barnsley, Doncaster, Lincolnshire – where cases are ticking up at an alarming rate. And whatever happens, it needs to happen fast.
This weekend, we’ll speak to the editor of the Bolton News, Steve Thompson and local officials to ask: how do you solve a problem like Bolton?
As the government return to firefighting mode in parts of the north west, they seem equally determined to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
This week, the Queen’s speech included the introduction of voter ID at polling stations. It will come as a hammer blow to the one – ONE – person convicted of voter fraud at the 2019 election. Sure, it might lead to voter suppression, but at least that one – ONE – scallywag won’t get away with it again.
Sometimes, you can start a radio show not really knowing how you feel about a subject. Sometimes, you are absolutely certain. Both can make good radio. One being the process of figuring out how you feel, the other having your rock hard view challenged.
Critics have pointed to the stats on who does and doesn’t have ID. There is a consistent trend amongst working class, young and black communities being less likely to have what they need to vote. They argue that demanding a voter present ID puts an extra barrier up to groups who are already under-represented. Those people have been, traditionally, more likely to vote Labour. That leads us to the accusation that a Tory government are introducing a measure that will make it harder for those who don’t support them to vote.
I’m not sure it’s quite that simple. Especially when the Tories are making such strong in-roads into those voter bases, especially those working class communities we saw tip Hartlepool in their favour just last week.
I think it is bigger than that, and tell us a lot about our politics. Donald Trump’s baseless accusations of a rigged election have whipped up the issue of voter fraud. It was the planting of a seed – and it is often the case that the seeds planted in America grow in the United Kingdom, too. It might not be front and centre of people’s thinking, but deep down, that seed is niggling away. And so it presents the government with an easy opportunity to appease those niggles.
A common component of populism is taking a hard-line against something that isn’t actually real, but creates the perception that you are protecting your people.
This weekend, my rock hard view that the introduction of voter ID causes a problem while trying to solve one that doesn’t exist is up for being challenged.
Meanwhile, a very real problem is coming to a head in Gaza.
A flare up of tensions and violence in the region has left thousands displaced and terrified. The fractions between Israel and Palestine is one of the most complex diplomatic webs to ever face the international community. A peaceful two state solution has never felt further away. If both sides are giving up on that – and with no amount of persuasion looking likely to help – what is the plan now?
This weekend, we’ll speak to a journalist on the ground who can explain how we got here and where we go next.
It goes without saying that we won’t be solving the problem this weekend, but understanding it can help you take a big step in the right direction.
The same goes for how we feel.
On Monday, we reach another milestone in the ‘road map’ out of lockdown. For some, it can be as anxiety inducing as it is exciting, with the prospects of close contact and social pressure adding to the unease.
The first thing to know is: that is fine. It will feel like the world is rejoicing in the new freedoms, but if you don’t, that’s OK.
Life coach Holly Matthews will join us on Sunday to help us navigate the emotional rollercoaster of this next step and we’ll ask how we solve a problem like lockdown-easing anxiety.
See you in the morning.
Weekend Early Breakfast – with Darryl Morris – Saturday and Sunday – 5am-7am.May 14, 2021 | No Comments