WWith so many leaks and briefings, there is very little suspense left in a Downing Street ad unless their lecterns are still standing or not. I guess there is always a chance that someone will divorce directly.
So, we already knew what the so-called “Freedom Day” would entail and we already knew that if it came, it would be July 19, unless it was postponed to another day. Johnson pledged to remove all legal limits: on the number of people at sporting events and theaters, at rallies, and on which businesses would be allowed to open. No face masks, no social distancing, no Covid certificates, no more asking people to work from home. How well it’s going to play out asking them to come back to the office is another matter altogether, but the beauty of it is, it’s not his problem.
The prime minister’s overarching imperative – you can see from the countless times he has said it – is “to move from the diktat of universal government to the personal responsibility of the people”. He’s tired of making all the decisions and wants someone else to try. In the absence of a clear candidate, he attacks us all.
In a way, that’s a relief, because his dictates were always so random; and yet it was a little unsettling to hear his reasoning. “We have to be honest: if we can’t reopen the company in the next few weeks, we have to ask ourselves, when can we get back to normal? At least technically it’s midsummer. We are outside, schools will have their “fire break” vacations, winter is when the virus is most powerful, so if not now, when? He’s a lot more like a guy from B&Q, who just lost patience looking for the right shade of white – what do you want him to do, go to Homebase? – that he does it as a man carefully weighing the complex and often incomparable risks and rewards which have been produced for him by the best minds in the nation. Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, two of those same spirits, accompanied him with almost palpable reluctance.
Unfortunately, more of us will die: if Johnson takes any pleasure in these briefings (too bad to see the love affair between him and the spotlight reduced to this shadow), it is by delivering the news of our own mortality, constant message since the beginning of the crisis. It must be a boarding school thing. Whoever finishes his oatmeal the fastest becomes memento mori for the day.
The final decision won’t be made for a week today, so Johnson has announced what we already know, on a timeline he has yet to decide. If there was anything new in the speech, it is that he returned from the “irreversible” stake on which he had hitherto hung his hat. The fifth point of his plan – after continuing vaccination, removing all legal limits, continuing testing and traceability, and maintaining the red list system at the borders – was to “do everything possible to avoid to reimpose restrictions ”. An eagle-eyed Beth Rigby from Sky News pointed out that the irreversible, unless it has to be reversed, isn’t really a thing. And while she’s had it, lifting restrictions in a country where there are a quarter of a million people infected, isn’t really “safe” either. “You cannot say that I am reckless and that I give up irreversibility,” he replied. He didn’t say why not. It was more of a shrug. It sounds like a ‘you problem’, not a ‘me problem’.
Two members of the public and five journalists took the plunge. If the numbers are rising so sharply, if we are so close to being fully vaccinated, if we don’t know how well the vaccine protects against long Covid, if we don’t yet have the data on adolescent vaccination, why to rush ? But it’s ultimately pretty hard to challenge a decision that was made by a man who is just tired of it all, and even more tired of being responsible for it. So they were left to ask Whitty and Vallance what they would do.
It was like when you get pension advice but they aren’t allowed to tell you what to do so you end up wondering “what pension you obtained? When will they personally stop wearing masks? What do they think of football (as a potential super-broadcast event, not a national triumph)? Whitty will continue to wear a mask in many of the scenarios listed, but failed to “keep the morons from recognizing me on the street.” I wonder if we’ll ever see her face again in real life.