There seems to be a lot of confusion about Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on May 10, and what it means.
Let’s have a look at it again:
— MATT LUCAS (@RealMattLucas) May 10, 2020
Oops! That was in fact Matt Lucas – but it was a good impression and after hearing the real speech again, you may think it a fair approximation.
Here’s a real Johnson. I’ll try to include other social media comments at appropriate points as I go through his speech:
An important update to the nation on coronavirus: https://t.co/tRvIjJLrCu
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) May 10, 2020
You have to wade through a lot of piffle paffle and wiffle waffle for the first couple of minutes. Anybody who has been paying attention will already know that much of what he says here is not true.
For example: “It is a fact that by adopting those measures [restrictions on our freedom that mean we have to stay at home except for necessary trips/exercise and keep two metres away from other people when we are out] we prevented this country from being engulfed by what could have been a catastrophe in which the reasonable worst case scenario was half a million fatalities.”
This is not true. By adopting these measures, we made it less likely that we would catch Covid-19 during the weeks in which those measures were adopted, meaning the National Health Service – that much-maligned organisation that the Tories have been starving for 10 years, in order to claim it is unable to cope with our health needs and so persuade us it is ripe for privatisation – would be better-able to cope with the thousands of new cases that have still been recorded every day. And it still has not been able to cope, because the Tories ignored advice from 2017, to stockpile personal protective equipment and have enough ventilators available.
The worst-case scenario, as This Writer recalls, was 250,000 deaths over the course of five or six peaks in infection rates. The UK has only just crested the first such peak. If a second arrives – and this seems likely, considering the latest information from Germany and China – then it may be as much as 10 times worse than the current wave that has caused around 60,000 deaths (although only half those are currently included in official figures).
He moves on to some waffle about millions of us being concerned over damage to their livelihoods and their mental and physical health, caused by the lockdown. He makes no mention that harm to people’s well-being is being caused by his refusal to introduce a Universal Basic Income, as the other measures the government promised to protect us were either inadequate, didn’t materialise or do not provide protection for everybody who has been endangered.
He wants to set out a plan to get us all back working for the benefit of the billionaires who run the country (he certainly doesn’t).
He says he has consulted across all four countries of the UK – although this seems unlikely, considering that Wales and Scotland immediately rejected his plan, such as it is.
It’s a conditional plan, he says: “We must protect our NHS. We must see sustained falls in the death rate. We must see sustained and considerable falls in the rate of infection. We must sort out our challenges in getting enough PPE to the people who need it, and yes, it is a global problem but we must fix it.” And we must ensure that the reproduction rate of the disease – ‘R’ – does not exceed one (this would mean that every person contracting the disease would be infecting more than one other person; creating a situation that the health system could not handle).
Then he takes a diversion to talk about the Covid alert system that some bright spark has devised. It’s like the DefCon system that warns us of the likelihood of nuclear war, with level one showing no evidence of the disease in the UK and level five meaning the NHS has been overwhelmed.
The Covid Alert Level will be determined primarily by R and the number of coronavirus cases, he says. So what was the point of talking about all the other things? I would have thought the death rate, at least, might have some bearing on whether we were at DefCon 5 or not.
“Over the period of the lockdown we have been in Level Four, and it is thanks to your sacrifice we are now in a position to begin to move in steps to Level Three,” he says. But he doesn’t say what levels four or three actually mean.
So what’s the point of telling us that?
He moves on to another diversion – telling us that, to keep pushing the number of infections down, we must reverse rapidly the epidemics in care homes and in the NHS; and we must have a world-beating system for testing potential victims, and for tracing their contacts. That may be true, but the general public cannot do anything about either of those matters. It is for the government and the NHS to do these things – not us.
The next part is ironically hilarious. He states that he wants the health service to be “testing literally hundreds of thousands of people every day.”
He has not managed to test even 100,000 people a day, yet!
There’s more waffle… and then, more than halfway through the speech (seven minutes, 10 seconds if you want to check), he finally admits that “no, this is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week.”
So we’re all staying at home, then?
Johnson went on to describe a change in emphasis for the lockdown that means some people will be required to go back to work. This applies only in England, although he did not make that clear at any point during his broadcast. Indeed, with all his talk of co-operation across the four UK countries, any viewer might easily be confused into thinking we all have to go back. We don’t.
At 7pm on Sunday May 10, Boris Johnson effectively ceased to be the prime minister of the UK and became prime minister of England.
— Martin Kettle (@martinkettle) May 10, 2020
“We said that you should work from home if you can, and only go to work if you must. We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work. And we want it to be safe for you to get to work. So you should avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited. So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home.”
Why would you remove a clear instruction (Stay At Home), to replace with something ambiguous & nonsensical, if you wanted aforementioned instruction to continue?
This Government knows exactly what it is doing & they will be shifting the blame onto everyone but themselves.
— James Foster (@JamesEFoster) May 10, 2020
Construction workers, as I recall, were never told to observe the lockdown. That’s why navvies up and down the route of HS2 are grinding up the countryside, hell-for-leather. As for people working in factories: it will be interesting to see whether bosses pay any attention to social distancing rules.
The fact Boris targeted working class and service professions as those who should physically return to work regardless of lockdown restrictions is perhaps one of the most mask off demonstrations of social murder at the heart of government policy
— Jason Okundaye (@jasebyjason) May 10, 2020
Johnson said his government had been working on new guidance for employers to make workplaces safe but, given the Tory government’s lack of exertion on other promises during the crisis, this seems unlikely – or the result will probably be slapdash.
PM's statement gives bad employers carte blanche to force workers to return to work without any risk assessment or safety guarantees.
Also total lack of clarity about what restrictions remain; it's no wonder Scotland/Wales don't support the meaningless 'stay alert' slogan.
— Jennie Formby (@Jennieformby1) May 10, 2020
There should be no return to work until it is safe to do so.
If work cannot be done safely, it should not proceed.
People must come before private profit.
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) May 10, 2020
No one should return to work before it is safe to do so.
If the PM wants some workers to return, he must first agree the necessary protections with trade unions. Instead the official guidance to ensure their safety is yet to be published.
— Dan Carden MP (@DanCardenMP) May 10, 2020
Oh that’s ok then. No doubt everyone will have time to do that. https://t.co/WWfndg7CkJ
— Judy Hamilton #ShieldingFor6Months&Longer 😷 (@secretspartacus) May 10, 2020
If workplaces aren’t safe – or if employees are not satisfied – then bear in mind that s.44 of the Employment Rights Act gives them the right to walk away from the job, as their work will be unsafe.
Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act gives you THE RIGHT TO WALK AWAY FROM UNSAFE WORK. Too many of us don’t know our rights. Do not go to work if you feel you’re jeopardising your health and the safety of others and contact your trade union.
— Hasan Patel 🌹 (@CorbynistaTeen) May 10, 2020
By telling people to avoid public transport, Johnson pushed them into getting to their newly-reopened places of work in their cars – one person per vehicle – thereby ensuring traffic jams, parking problems and a massive spike in pollution.
In the event, thousands of people flocked back to public transport. The government promised guidance on how to use buses, trains and the Tube network safely – but in a typical display of the incompetence for which the Johnson administration is now justly famous, this arrived at 2pm today (May 11) – long after it was likely to do anybody any good.
He has just sentenced so many people to death. Its too early to ease restrictions. He has forced people who have no financial relief from the state to go back to work.'Actively Encouraging' poor people to work. People will die 3 weeks from now that didnt need to die.
— Siobhán McSweeney (@siobhni) May 10, 2020
Moving on to leisure activities, Johnson said it would now be possible (for people in England alone, remember) to take more and even “unlimited amounts” of outdoor exercise: “You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household.”
He added: “You must obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them.”
Is he hedging his bets here? Suppose there’s a spike in Covid-19 infections after people go back to work – will he try to blame it on people taking exercise in this way?
Moving on again, he said step two of his plan to ease the lockdown would start on June 1 at the earliest: this is when he plans to begin a phased reopening of shops and send children back to school – in England, remember. Not in the rest of the UK.
The Department for Education appears to be taking this as an instruction: children will be sent back to school on June 1, whether it is safe to do so or not:
As confirmed by the Prime Minister this evening, we are asking education and childcare settings to prepare to open for more children from 1 June.
We will publish further guidance setting out more information for early years, schools and colleges tomorrow.
— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) May 10, 2020
Here’s a good response to that:
Expect a big spike in Covid infections if he imposes this measure on that date. Children are major transmitters of disease at the best of times. And how does he expect to get children in school to conform with social distancing rules?
Boris Johnson is expecting first year primary school children to follow the social distancing guidlines & if he didn’t abandon all the ones he fathered & spent a few years raising them he would know that this is a dangerously stupid idea
— Ben (@BenJolly9) May 10, 2020
Step three would start at the beginning of July at the earliest, and would involve the reopening of parts of the hospitality industry and other public places – if they can sustain social distancing.
I don’t think we need to think about this yet. By July 1, if Johnson has gone ahead and implemented the first two steps of his scheme, England will almost certainly be in the midst of a second wave of coronavirus infections and deaths.
I would suggest to people living there that this would be an appropriate time to demand the resignations from Parliament of Johnson and all those involved in his policies relating to Covid-19.
He goes on to say that “it will soon be the time – with transmission significantly lower – to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air”. What good will that do? The right time for restrictions on travel into the UK was January – possibly earlier.
There’s more waffle – a lot of it – and then he ends with his new, meaningless, slogan: “Stay alert, control the virus and save lives.”
— The Prole Star (@TheProleStar) May 11, 2020
Other responses are more directly critical:
I rarely comment on politics here, and avoid publicly siding with one party (all pretty useless at the moment) because no one should give a shit about celebs opinions. But it’s hard to imagine a greater display of inept leadership and muddled thinking then Boris just displayed.
— Jonathan Ross (@wossy) May 10, 2020
PM’s mess of a statement has caused more confusion than clarity, creating worrying uncertainty about the return to work & how safety will be assured, opening up divisions between the UK’s nations and displaying a complete lack of clarity about what activities are now allowable.
— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) May 10, 2020
Dear Prime Minister
Where was the emphasis on employers to provide safe working conditions
Where was emphasis on protecting lives of working people
Where was emphasis on test, track & trace
Where was the emphasis to put people before profit
Where was the social solidarity
— Claudia Webbe MP (@ClaudiaWebbe) May 10, 2020
The PMs statement was shambolic. We have the highest death rate in Europe & he tells us it’s time for workers to go back to work but not use public transport. It’s a Government who has no idea, no plan & no care about the communities we serve. #livesbeforeprofit
— Paula Barker MP (@PaulaBarkerMP) May 10, 2020
On a serious note the only change in that announcement was that they’re now sacrificing the working class out loud. JOIN. A. UNION.
— Eve Livingston (@eve_rebecca) May 10, 2020
— Mel (@melaniekmelvin) May 10, 2020
In summary, Johnson’s speech says:
Construction and manufacturing workers in England must go back to their jobs. Employers are receiving advice on how make their workplaces safe.
Nothing else has changed.
And the chances are that nothing will. The evidence of today shows that he will fall at the first hurdle – but we will have to wait a couple of weeks to find that out.
The verdict: Johnson’s new plan means alertness won’t matter; the virus will not be controlled and lives will be lost.
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