What many have been speculating will happen for some time has finally taken place – the government has said that face masks are to become compulsory to wear in all shops and supermarkets in England from July 24th, ie, next Friday. It is classic CoVid era Boris, this one; it appears to be a decision made under some amount of resistance from Number 10 and then with a staggered introduction that might please no one in the end.
I suppose one could cite the relative difficulty of getting masks, but there are two ripostes to this. One is that you can make one at home relatively easily. The other is that the British government, unlike other western governments, hasn’t exactly busted its back making masks copious within its borders. One only has to consider the ones being publicly given out on the Paris Metro as a comparison. Part of this seems to come down to the ambivalence at the heart of HMG toward face masks and whether they were ever going to be made compulsory in England.
Yes, this is a crisis situation, facing a novel problem and thus you can try and cut the government some slack for having to constantly be changing the goalposts. The only problem is, with the notable exception of America, every other western nation seems to have handled this better, at least in terms of guidelines and messaging. There has seemed to be a fight from the beginning, with some in government wanting to go as liberal as possible in restricting personal freedoms, with others pushing for stricter guidelines. The result has been an emerging situation in which the government has opened itself up to criticism from all sides – again, the face mask introduction is the perfect example of this. For those on the very pro-lockdown, we’re all going to die side of the spectrum, the delay of 10 days will seem like madness and be used as fodder if there is an increase in new cases. Meanwhile, the introduction of the face mask rule at all will cause those on the “this is nothing more than a bad flu”, let’s get the economy up and running and sod the risk side of the spectrum to feel like the government is being overly cautious, enforcing something that will be a very visible sign that things are still far from normal, thus inhibiting the economic recovery unnecessarily.
I’ve said from the beginning that I have no idea where on this spectrum is actually factually correct; I will not join some of my fellow writers in becoming an amateur epidemiologist. I can only talk about the politics. And again, I think the Boris crew look flat-footed and indecisive this time. Once more, we have restrictions put in place with a delay that will make sense to few people not on the government’s payroll. I believe the repercussions of this could start to build for Boris Johnson now. He has opened himself up to the critique that he both didn’t do enough and did too much. The messaging doesn’t help either: please go out and spend money in restaurants, we’ll give you ten pounds. Please support your local shops as well. Oh, but wear a face mask along the way because you might die if you go to the shops, actually. And of course, there are ways to handle the friction between keeping everyone as safe as possible and getting the economy going again. There are international examples too. Yet the British government isn’t making best use of them.
Some on the left have criticised Keir Starmer for not going in hard enough on the Tories during the crisis. Yet this is because he wanted to buy credibility with as wide an audience as possible to be able to criticise the government during the fallout, which is fast approaching and may arguably be upon us already. This is all with a no deal Brexit looming, less than six months away now. The problems could start to snowball for this government very soon. Yes, it’s still comfortably ahead in the polls due to Labour’s brand being so tarnished by the Corbyn era. The Tories can’t assume that will last forever – or even much longer.
I have a book out now called “Politics is Murder”. It follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. There is also a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters thrown into the mix while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!