Arriving at work at 7:30 am on Monday morning on the M4, I was delighted to find myself stuck in a traffic jam.
After the strangely quiet highways and half-empty wagons of the past few months, traffic jams seemed like a welcome norm.
No one likes to commute, but for a brief moment it seemed like rush hour and the bustling, boisterous, vibrant and creative business life that came with it had perhaps started to return.
Big luck. Such hopes were brutally dashed. The economy has never been a strong point for the Prime Minister. But now he appears to be completely in the grip of his scientific advisers, no matter how dubious their statistics or their tenuous understanding of the damage they will inflict on businesses and jobs.
After the eerily quiet highways and half-empty wagons of the past few months, traffic jams seemed like a welcome normal. Traffic photographed towards London on the A40
What’s really heartbreaking is that the latest version of the lockdown comes at a time when businesses are getting back on their feet. The economy was doing better than most had dared to predict, but those green shoots were smashed into the ground.
As recently as last month, Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane wrote in this newspaper that Britain is on track for an early recovery.
Not anymore. This recovery depended on consumer spending in stores, restaurants and pubs, stimulated by the return of employees to their workplace. Government efforts to reinstate workers in their offices have always been far too timid. The steering is now completely reversed, much to the delight of the Work From Home warriors.
This irrational and misjudged crackdown has put a hammer on confidence in the business world, where many have started to harbor serious doubts about Boris and his handling of the pandemic. There is very little light at the end of this long dark tunnel.
The new restrictions, Boris said, could last six months. This brings us to March 2021 and means that we will be living in some form of lockdown for an entire year.
Very few companies can withstand such a marathon of pain.
Government efforts to reinstate workers in their offices have always been far too timid. In the photo, Queen Maxima of The Hague, the Netherlands, works from home
The advice to resume work at home is particularly perilous. Not only is this a slap in the face for employers who have spent fortunes securing their premises to Covid, but it also risks damaging the country’s work ethic.
As an emergency measure, it was very effective. But the speed with which many employees have seized on it to say they should be allowed to work wherever they want in perpetuity raises questions about their commitment. For hundreds of thousands of people, unfortunately, the problem will not be working from home, but whether they have a job.
Whitbread, owner of Premier Inn, announced yesterday it was cutting 6,000 jobs and Wetherspoon’s said it was cutting 450 of its staff – and that’s before the new measures.
It is undeniable that there will be many, many more.
While all of this is bad, the psychological toll is even worse.
Just when relief seemed to be in sight, businesses were crushed again. It is simply overwhelming for businessmen, most of whom have responded with great courage and generosity to the pandemic.
Entrepreneurs sometimes get a bad rap, but many have emerged with flying colors.
Guidance has now completely reversed, much to the delight of Work From Home warriors (file image)
Legions of businesses large and small have joined in the nationwide effort to defeat the virus, shifting production to PPE and helping hospitals and local communities.
They have done everything they can to adjust to living with the virus, but have been struck in the teeth and betrayed by the government’s inconsistent and ill-considered handling of the crisis.
Businessmen are under no illusions that they must comply with all reasonable measures to protect people from the virus.
They know it’s in their best interests to do so, because the sooner we conquer Covid, the sooner they can ring their boxes.
So if they were presented with clear, consistent, and rational rules, they would find a way to deal with it. Unfortunately, this is far from the case.
One minute the ministers are pushing us into restaurants to “eat out to help,” and the next day we’re treated like mean kids who can’t be trusted to behave reasonably in a pub afterwards. our 10 pm bedtime.
As the atmosphere across the country darkens and grows in fear, it’s hard to remember that just a few months ago Britain was an open, entrepreneurial and freedom-loving country.
These are qualities that foster a vibrant and confident economy and that have attracted investors from around the world.
Now, with his misinterpreted Covid regime of curfew and even military drafting, the atmosphere is chilling.
It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that this is starting to feel reminiscent of a repressive regime, with an intimidated population too petrified to venture out for work or play.
Aside from the direct economic costs, which will be huge – £ 100 billion and given government support – if we drift much further in that direction, we will pay an even greater price. For centuries our economy has thrived on openness and freedom.
Letting ourselves be ruled by fear runs counter to everything that has made us a great trading nation and threatens to ruin our chances of prosperity after Brexit. How to embark on a future outside the EU in a state of national funk?
I am not qualified to pass judgment on the medical prowess of Whitty and Vallance, upon whose request the Prime Minister imposed his new limits, although their opinions are disputed by rival experts in their own fields.
What I can say for sure, however, is that this is a very dangerous – and probably unnecessary – bet with our already weakened economy.