England officially moves out of a ‘national lockdown’ next week, but with 98 percent of the population placed in the toughest Tiers 2 and 3, it’s clear that Prime Minister Johnson has once again pulled a fast one.
The great American comedian George Carlin didn’t like words that concealed the truth. He noted that in the First World War the phrase ‘shell-shock’ was used to describe the condition when a fighting person’s nervous system was stressed to its absolute peak. “‘Shell shock’ Simple, honest direct language. Then, in the Second World War the very same condition was rebranded ‘battle fatigue’. Then came the Korean War and the phrase became ‘operational exhaustion’. After that came Vietnam and ‘operational exhaustion’ became ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’. And the pain is completely buried under jargon,” he observed.
Carlin’s famous sketch (you can watch it on YouTube), springs readily to mind when you consider what’s been happening in England in 2020. We’ve been in some form of lockdown since March but, like ‘shell-shock’, it keeps being rebranded to make it more palatable.
‘Lockdowns’ were fine as a product to sell in the spring as they had novelty value, but why, if they were so successful then do we need them again? And if they weren’t successful, why continue with them? It’s obvious that the powers-that-be need different names to keep us swallowing the same medicine. They need to sugar-coat the pill they want us to swallow. It’s for this reason that in the autumn, ‘lockdowns’ were rebranded ‘circuit-breakers’ and called for by the ‘Opposition’.
“We need a two or three week circuit breaker” was the cry from the people unhappy that the original restrictions were eased at all in the summer. Johnson rejected a ‘circuit-breaker’ but instead did his own rebranding. England would have a ‘tier’ system. This would be different from a ‘national lockdown’ because it would be more sensitive to local variations. This week we saw ‘tiers’ are merely a euphemism for the continuation of a ‘national lockdown’. As George Carlin noted, the pain is buried under the jargon.
Consider this: before November, 29 million people were in the lowest ‘tier’. But now just Cornwall, the Scilly Isles and the Isle of Wight are. That’s just 714,000 people. But even here, despite the very low level of ‘cases’, there are restrictions. There is no Tier Zero. Johnson’s tier system is like the Eagles’ Hotel California. You can check out, but you can never leave.
Some 34 million people now face tougher restrictions than before the November national lockdown. From next week 55 million people will live in tiers where households mixing indoors are banned. Under pressure from his own backbenchers Johnson promised that ‘national lockdown’ would end on December 2 but all he’s done is continue it through the back door, with the only difference being that ‘non-essential’ shops, gyms, museums etc will be open.
As for the ‘tier’ system being more ‘responsive’ to local infections, that’s poppycock. The front page of Friday’s Daily Mail has the headline ‘Tiers of Rage and Disbelief’. The paper notes that the picturesque village of Penshurst in Kent – which has had just a ‘handful of cases’ and no deaths with Covid-19 – faces the prospect of being in lockdown until the spring, because the whole of Kent has been moved up from Tier 1 to Tier 3.
A similar fate has befallen Stratford-upon-Avon, the historic birthplace of William Shakespeare. Pre-November’s lockdown it was in Tier 1, now it’s in Tier 3, even though ‘case rates’ are only around 100 per 100,000 people! Talk about ‘Now is the winter of our discontent‘!
The Daily Mirror meanwhile mentions the Dorset fishing village of West Bay, the only place in England with NO positive cases since March. And guess what, it’s been pushed up to Tier 2.
The decision as to which places go into which tier clearly isn’t based on ‘following the science’ but on politics. With large swathes of ‘Red Wall’ Northern England in Tier 3, the government feels obliged to push up Tory shires to higher tiers too so they can’t be accused by the likes of Andy Burnham, the faux-populist Mayor of Manchester of favouring the south. It’s politics, and not science that is the reason why you won’t be able to go to the pub, not even for a sit-down meal in Stratford-upon-Avon, likewise in many Tory-held rural areas in the north and south, where ‘case rates’ are even lower.
Johnson, reacting to the backlash from his own backbenchers over what he has done sought to reassure them that if everyone kept to the rules, and more people got tested, regions could move down to a lower tier at the periodic reassessment. “Your tier is not your destiny – every area has the means of escape,” he claimed. But there was a different message from the chillingly Richelieu-esque figure of Chris Whitty at Thursday’s presser. The woefully misnamed chief medical officer (there is nothing remotely ‘witty’ about the man dubbed ‘Professor Gloom’ ) said that Tier 2 would only hold infection levels and Tier 1 would see them go up. As the Forest of Dean Tory MP Mark Harper noted, that strongly suggests that there’ll be no downward movement from Tier 2 until at least the spring.
Boris Johnson also warned that if there is any “ease off now” England will face the prospect of a “new year national lockdown with all the damage that would mean.” Yes, he used the ‘l’ word. A clear case of ‘We can always go back to calling it ‘shell-shock’ and not ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ if you refuse to do what you’re told’.