Whatever they say tomorrow (and I think by the time the presser actually starts at 7pm, everyone will know exactly what they're going to say because it's all been leaked to the press) it's going to have a limited effect on what people are doing. There are lots of people who are going out and doing outdoor-type things because the weather has finally changed its mind to something tolerable, rather than actively unpleasant. We have been locked down - give or take - for the last four months, and only had a few months of relative freedom before that. It's no surprise that people are using their opportunity to go out and exercise, and there were considerably more cars parked and people walking around at the various places I cycled past this morning than there have been for probably the whole of the last 12 months. And the effect on people who are being told that schools are safe to reopen and that hospitality is going to be reopening relatively soon seems to be that everyone is looking at the situation and thinking that they can start to get back to normal.
So why am I worried? Put simply, the criteria for making decisions about how to handle the end of lockdown seem to be how well an announcement plays with the general public. There's no will or desire at the top to lead, especially when the leading is along difficult paths. There's far too much of the playing to the gallery that Boris Johnson is used to being able to do, turning round to check how his jokes are going down with the crowd behind him, rather than - and I hesitate to put it bluntly and come across as partisan - the kind of statesmanlike behaviour that is on show from the leaders of other countries at various times. The shift is palpable, as far as I can make out from my own memories. Even the ones I didn't like (the PMs, the Chancellors, the Foreign Secretaries) would at least put some value on appearing to be above corruption and incompetence, even if at some level they weren't. Appearances now don't seem to matter, or at least not in the same way. The current UK government seems to be comfortable with lawbreaking, bullying, incompetence and instability, to the extent that these things are not resignation issues for ministers any more. Which is terrifying: because if you can be shown to be corrupt in office and yet somehow remain in that office in what is supposed to be a functioning democracy in this country, what exactly needs to happen in order for someone to be pressured to resign? And the truly terrifying thing, from my perspective, is how little this sort of stuff seems to matter to some people who can vote. It's all about this nebulous sense of what these people represent, rather than anything concrete about policy or competence. Keir Starmer, for example, is streets ahead of Johnson in his command of detail in the facts, and routinely makes Johnson look lazy, careless, even stupid at PMQs. But there is talk of him resigning or being ousted. And that talk is amplified, reported, trends on Twitter... Johnson has a higher approval rating than he has any right to expect, and it seems to come from the idea that he, despite being enormously privileged, having a very inflated sense of his own ability, and his history of lying and general brattishness, is a born leader. Starmer, not so much. We seem to be frightened of him exactly because all of that detail and precision in the argument is dull, whereas Johnson's shtick isn't.
There have also been a few instances of the horrific shithousery that is accusing the opposition of scoring political points over matters of real import. I suppose neither side is above using that line, but as a way of trying to avoid being held to account in the business of government, it should be instantly disallowed. As in, any interviewer or commentator should, at the point of hearing that, shut the person saying it up, and then repeat whatever the question is and demand an actual answer. Actually, that wouldn't be a bad start for a lot of political interviewing. The training that seems to be in place - how often have you actually heard a politician of any stripe use the word 'no' or indeed 'yes' in an interview? - to turn the question round to the agenda of the day is clearly doing something. After all, the current government seems to have developed it to a level where no question can be asked which forces someone to admit a mistake or a blunder post hoc.
Anyway, political commentary isn't really my thing, but I have found myself driven almost mad recently by the way that things have been handled. In particular, opening all the schools on the 8th March seems to be driven not by evidence that schools are safe and not contributing to the spread of CV-19, but by the fact that schools are this ludicrous political football that has enormous narrative power. Keep the schools closed longer than initially advertised, and it will be cowardly - indeed, it seems to be the case that the lockdown naysayers have laid the groundwork by saying that Johnson is overly influenced by his scientific advisers - rather than cautious. Open them all at once in a Big Bang and that phrase will sell lots of newspapers and make people feel like it's all going back to normal. Never mind that schools aren't going to be able to do some of the things that need to happen to keep us all safe; never mind that regardless of the danger to kids (which may indeed be small) schools are staffed by people who aren't - usually - kids and will be at considerable risk; never mind that kids in school are not only in contact with each other but their own home and family networks. What matters is that they have something to shout about tomorrow. It's a really sad reflection on government that it is done by this kind of focus-group-approval method. There's no leadership in it, just trying to be popular.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought