Richard North, 09/06/2020  

With the new Covid-19 quarantine rules starting yesterday, the words "chaos and confusion" are being freely used – another thing that this government has messed up, to add to all the other things it has messed up.

One might suggest that Johnson's administration might have difficulty organising a p*ss-up in a brewery, except that that pleasure isn't legal any more, now that the lockdown is in place. It seems to be that the epithet will need to be redefined: "this government can't even prevent a p*ss-up in a brewery", seems more apt.

For further examples, one might refer to John Crace, except that his stuff no longer seems funny. Satire is truly dead when his reports read like a normal editorial.

Across the [electronic] way, the real editorial laments Johnson's "gamble" with the health of the nation, accusing him of "prematurely easing restrictions while the virus remains widespread".

But the truth is that Dominic Cummings lifted a corner of that rug a couple of weeks ago, and last week's demonstrators ripped it up and hanged it out to dry – or dumped it in Bristol docks, if you prefer. There is no lockdown: il est finimorte; an ex-lockdown. No-one could care less and the face masks are only worn to prevent the police cameras identifying you.

The Telegraph, though, is valiantly trying to keep its sense of humour, with its editorial proclaiming: "We need a clear lead from Boris Johnson". I think it must mean we need a clear lead for Boris Johnson, except that I can't see why it would be clear – Dominic wouldn't be able to see it then. Perhaps that's the point.

Digging into the depths of the deathless prose on offer, we learn that Johnson needs a "narrative". This is because even the fan club gazette has noticed one or two inconsistencies with lockdown policies as they stand.

People are told to stay two metres apart while demonstrations are allowed, it huffs. Small groups can meet in gardens but not go indoors if it rains. Drive-in burger restaurants open while churches remain closed. The state, it wibbles, has even decreed how sexual relations can be conducted among non-cohabiting couples.

And surprise, surprise, even the Telegraph has noticed that "many of these rules are now widely flouted, not least by people who have abided by the restrictions on their movements only to see no action being taken to prevent unlawful assemblies or stop vandalism".

In one of its all too frequent, "No shit, Sherlock" moments, the paper then observes that "this is not a good place for the country to find itself in", which is why we are led to believe (no pun intended) that a clear lead is needed from Johnson, even as plans for reopening schools are in disarray.

I still think asking for a lead for Johnson is more coherent. After all, if we'd had a lead from him, clear or otherwise, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in. This is very much in shutting stable doors territory, which is better than throwing Boris bikes at the departing horses, I suppose.

With the newspapers all over the place, in terms of their headlines, that itself shows that the grip of Covid-19 is loosening on the imagination of the media – and the public in general, if that signifies the same thing. And while Twitter indulges in an orgy of virtue signalling, most information sources have become unusable.

It's just as well, therefore, that I'm so fully engaged, rewriting The Great Deception. I can go the whole day without having to look at the media – although returning to it in the evening is like having to plunge into an over-full cesspool.

In between, I've been reading up on the French occupation of the Ruhr in 1923, a shameful episode which collapsed the Weimar Republic, leading – as some commentators believe – to the Second World War.

Not content with that, though, the French government went on to do something very similar after the war, occupying the Saar – from which they had only departed in 1935 - and taking over the coal mines and steel works (pictured above, in 1947, ironically kitted out in US Army uniforms). In so doing, they nearly collapsed the Marshall Plan.

This time, though, the Americans had stayed around long enough to call out the French games, an intervention which gave Monnet his opportunity to launch the Coal and Steel Community, preparing the way for the eventual creation of the European Union.

In an indirect sense, therefore, the Americans can be blamed for bringing the EU into being – far more so than people imagine. Without Dean Acheson and his staff of European integration enthusiasts, history might have been very different.

Ironically, there is a view which has taken root in one of the more rabid corners of Euroscepticism that the EU was a Nazi construct, and is now a mechanism for Germany to "win the war by other means", when all along it was those freedom-loving Americans who were at fault.

I wonder if Trump has the first idea how much effort was taken by his predecessors to create the structures which led to the EU and how hard they worked to steer the UK into the EEC and then to keep it there during the 1975 referendum, funding pro-EEC magazines such as the Economist, and keeping the European Movement afloat to the tune of $4 million of CIA money.

One thing which brings us right up-to-date is the core motivation for wanting the European nations to pursue economic integration, with the introduction first of a customs union and then a Europe-wide free trade area.

In the aftermath of the War, American factories which had geared up for war production, were turning to consumer goods, but so efficiently that their domestic markets could not absorb all the products they could make.

US firms desperately needed large-scale export markets, and could not deal with a multitude of countries each with their own customs laws and trade requirements. America wanted a "one-size-fits all" trading partner, which perhaps has lessons for us when Johnson tries to broker a trade deal with it.

In this modern world of ours, though, we have other preoccupations. The Times is retailing news of another Johnson mess, telling us that emergency measures have denied many parents of special needs pupils the extra help and support they need to cope, paraded under the headline: "Carers of disabled children face lockdown hell".

And to come is the Contact tracing app, which is now supposed to be ready "in weeks", in time for the next lifting of lockdown restrictions at the start of next month. This one is going to run and run, providing no end of entertaining headlines, not least because those who think they've had Covid-19 are less likely to download the app. 

Still, it keeps a lid on the news that the Tories accepted a £50,000 donation from Amit Patel, the pharmaceutical boss involved in price gouging the NHS. But then, Tory sleaze is so last century.

Meanwhile Bristolians are facing up to the prospect of demolishing much of their city after the realisation that Colston's money helped build much of it. Presumably, they can use unemployed policemen, as they seem to be very little use for anything else.

And yet, they know how to look after their own. The Metropolitan Police commissioner who oversaw the bungled VIP sex abuse inquiry has been given a role in the Cabinet Office, advising on the response to coronavirus and the Brexit transition.

His appointment was made even though in December Michael Gove, who is the Cabinet Office minister, said that the Met's treatment of Lord Bramall, the D-day veteran falsely accused of sexual abuse, had been “shameful”. It took Lord Hogan-Howe nearly 18 months to apologise to Lord Bramall, who died in December aged 95. To date, no officer has been held to account.

For many, though, nothing of this will matter. Yesterday I was writing about personal debt and, today, the Guardian is telling us that households face £6 billion debts because of Covid-19. Debt fuelled by pandemic and job losses will stifle nation’s recovery, a charity claims.

For Johnson, this might be good news. When the plebs are no longer able to buy newspapers (not that they do anyway), or afford the internet or mobile phones – and once they've had their tellies seized by Council bailiffs, the Tories will be able to do exactly as they please because no one will notice.

I think I'll go back to writing about coal and steel.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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