by Chris Proctor
I take a certain pleasure in watching politicians when they have no idea what to do. Most of us would shrug our shoulders and go to the pub. Not politicians. For some obscure reason they feel obliged to pretend they combine universal knowledge with papal infallibility.
Trumpy is the most alarming because he actually believes it. This week he swanned up at the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and bestowed his thoughts on viruses to leading academics and researchers. Later he told the media, ‘I like this stuff. Maybe I have natural ability. You know my uncle was a great person. He was at MIT. He taught at MIT for, I think, like, a record number of years. He was a great supergenius, Dr John Trump.’
And even while breaths were still being inhaled, Trumpy continued with the most redundant sentence ever uttered by mankind: ‘People are really surprised I understand this stuff.’
Well, yes. If he did, I would be.
Our own mini-Trump huffed and puffed about the virus with all the assurance of a hamster trapped in a lion cage. He was at pains to point out that there were two stages, ‘containment’ and ‘delay’ and he was confident that we were in one of them, although he was not entirely sure which. He opted for ‘containment’ while his Chief Health Officer Mr Whitty had previously said we had moved to ‘stage two’.
It was decided to call Cobra, which sounds rather like ‘asking Alexa’ but not so useful. However, I am a great fan of Cobra because of its James Bond-sounding associations.
‘OK, B J. Let’s slide into Cobra and see who’s looking rattled.’
‘Get me the CMO and the BFA...
‘That’s the Chief Medical Officer and …’
Actually, Cobra’s a bit of a let-down if you scratch too deep. It’s the name of a room: Cabinet Office briefing room A. It could easily have been called ‘Broom Cupboard’ or ‘No Entry’.
The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, while he could get a word in before Boris turned up, said, ‘1% of those contracting Covid-19 will die; that means 99% won’t.’ Media folk ignored this statement on the grounds of lack of alarm. More popular was the Sunday Times ‘central estimate’ for a death toll of 100,000. No one is sure exactly where the figure came from, but it was most likely a rotund Yank with a red baseball cap and a supergenius uncle.
One of his supporters, incidentally, is the only chap to come up with any form of solution and is to be greatly praised for his advice. Pastor Steven Andrew of the claimed million-strong USA Christian Church says an antidote to the virus would be to adhere to God’s laws, especially in terms of sins such as being gay, worshipping false gods or supporting abortion.
Meanwhile, nearer home, the unthinkable is being thought. This may be too distressing for many, but Labour's Harriet Harman has spoken in the Commons about ‘the nuclear option’. What could this be? Travel bans? Locking up the over-60s? Shooting one in three?
Worse. Harriet’s ‘nuclear option’ was the frightening possibility of closing down Parliament. Can you imagine the panic in the streets if it emerged that there were no MPs in the Palace of Westminster? Abject crowds would wander aimless and hopelessly throughout the land. Harriet clearly has her fingers on the nation’s pulse; for as long as it keeps ticking, she’ll be there.
And while on the subject of washed-up pointless yesterday’s people, Rory Stewart, the candidate for London Mayor representing Narcissists, sought a headline by insisting that the government had made a ‘serious mistake’. Rory, one of the few Hong Kong-born Cockneys of Scottish extraction, demanded that the authorities ‘act much more aggressively to contain coronavirus’. He did not go into detail about this, lacking as he does natural ability and related supergenii.
To us humans, the situation is pretty easy to assess. We might not like it but there are only two important facts: first, we don’t know how it spreads; and two, we don’t have a cure. The only advice we have is to wash our hands, tactics proposed decades ago by my mother, who never aspired to the post of Chief Medical Officer. She would also have advocated wearing clean underwear in case of being hurried to hospital. I thought of sending that initiative to Rory so he had something else to say; but I heard from someone that he goes commando, or used to. But it may have been the Black Watch.
Meanwhile I await the sight of a politician appearing in front of a camera saying, ‘I know no more than you do. I hope we can all get through this without too much sadness. But the only advice I can offer it to pay attention to Chris Proctor’s deceased mother and cross your middle- over your index-finger.’
Chris Proctor has been head of communications at ASLEF and the Communication Workers Union, written for the Sunday Times, The Guardian, the New Statesman and Tribune, and is a columnist for the NUJ’s magazine The Journalist.