Richard North, 25/06/2020  

I thought my hit-rate might have dropped a bit, now that the interest in coronavirus is waning – but not a bit of it. The readership always fluctuates from day-to-day and drops a bit at weekends, especially if the weather is good. But 100K hits is the new norm and, this week we've already topped 120K on one day.

The new website, Turbulent Times is shaking down: we got a professional designer in to do the masthead for us and, after a lot of trial and error, she's come up with an absolute masterpiece. The fact that she's my daughter, Emma, is neither here nor there. She has an MA in art and, when she's not doing this, she designs and makes fabulous pottery.

Turbulent Times has become a bit of a family "business", therefore, as Pete has made it his platform – writing a nicely-judged piece yesterday. A few more tweaks and I'll be working on a schedule for migrating EU-Ref after 16 years of continuous blogging under this title.

Currently, Pere's working behind the scenes to recruit new writers. It was always our intention that, when we have TT fully-functional, we'll turn it into a multi-author site and widen the range of subjects covered. There is obviously a market for good quality, well-presented writing.

The same can't be said of Twitter though. As the website hits climb, my followers on that social media platform decline inexorably, "likes" and "retweets" are minimal and click-through visits to EU Referendum and Turbulent Times are negligible. There seems to be no breakout – Twitter users are the ultimate bubble-dwellers.

Interestingly, though, you don't have to be part of the "in-crowd" to make an impact. Our book, The Great Deception is ignored by the media and the academics are woefully sniffy about it, yet it has sold over 40,000 copies and continues to sell, 17 years after it was first published – nothing spectacular, but steady, almost certainly outselling the bulk of academic tomes on the EU.

Mind you, looking at the front pages of the national press today (example above), there is a huge constituency that we'll never touch. Anyone who seriously thinks that sitting on a crammed beach while we still lack the ultimate means to control SARS-Cov-2 really hasn't got all their marbles in place. They do not appear to be our natural readership.

On the other hand, there's the natural spirit of rebellion in all those pictures of crowded beaches. Ignoring the copious extruding verbal material pouring forth from the Westminster windbag, people are making their own judgements about relative risk, and calculating the risk-reward ratios.

It's there that they've got it wrong. The risk, however marginal, is hardly worth the "reward" of sitting on an over-crowded beach in bright sunlight. For me, large crowds of people trigger "flight mode" and rapid movement in the opposite direction – except airshows of course.

That said, almost anything would have been better than following PMQs yesterday – even taking a Black & Decker to the head, to provide extra ventilation. I popped to the Telegraph to see what Deacon had to say and, at first, I thought he was exaggerating... until I checked with Hansard.

Writing of the statutory exchanges between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, Deacon has it that Starmer began by asking about the Government’s test-and-trace system. So far, he said, two thirds of people infected weren’t being reached. Wasn’t this a problem?

Deacon has it that Starmer "spoke calmly and politely", adding that he did "recognise the hard work that’s gone into this". Yet Johnson reacted as if Starmer had drunkenly spray-painted "I HATE NURSES" across a statue of Florence Nightingale.

He deplored Starmer's "prognostications of gloom" (even though he hadn't made any prognostications, gloomy or otherwise) and demanded he "pay tribute" to the hard work of the test-and-trace team (even though he just had).

Cross-checking with Hansard, we see the unabridged version, starting with Starmer's question:
Yesterday, the Government announced the next stage of easing lockdown restrictions. If that plan is to work—and we want it to work—we need an effective track, trace and isolate system. The Prime Minister promised that a world-beating system would be in place by 1 June. The latest figures from yesterday’s press conference hosted by the Prime Minister show that 33,000 people are estimated to have covid-19 in England. The latest track, trace and isolate figures show that just over 10,000 people with covid-19 were reached and asked to provide contact details. I recognise the hard work that has gone into this, but if two thirds of those with covid-19 are not being reached and asked to provide contact details, there is a big problem, isn’t there?
Then we have Johnson's answer:
On the contrary. I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been stunned by the success of the test and trace operation. Contrary to his prognostications of gloom, it has got up and running much faster than the doubters expected. They are getting it done—Dido Harding and her team have recruited 25,000 people and so far they have identified and contacted 87,000 people who have voluntarily agreed to self-isolate to stop the disease spreading. I do not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have predicted that a few weeks ago. I think he should pay tribute now to Dido and her team for what they are doing.
Personally, I think Deacon let Johnson off lightly: "Dido Harding and her team have recruited 25,000 people and so far they have identified and contacted 87,000 people". That's less than four people per person - and how many weeks have they been running?

Then we get to the second round: Starmer asks whether the Government still thought a tracking app was essential, and if so, when would one be ready. Again, Mr Johnson reacted as if Starmer had just kicked over Captain Tom’s walking frame (nice imagery that!). Indignantly he accused the Labour leader of "yo-yoing", and barked: "Is he supporting what we're doing, or is he against it?"

Checking back with Hansard for the original version, we see Starmer say:
May I now turn to the app? This really matters because unless someone with covid-19 can name and identify everybody they have been in contact with, the app is the only way of tracing unknown contacts. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) made precisely that point yesterday. He gave the example, “How on earth do you trace everyone in close contact at a seafront or in a park without an app?” Up until last week, the Government maintained that the app was “critical—another of their slides—but at the weekend the Health Secretary downplayed the app, saying it was only ever additional support. So which is it: critical or not?
Johnson again gets under way:
I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman can name a single country in the world that has a functional contract tracing app—there isn’t one. What we have—and what, I am afraid, has left the Opposition slightly foundering—is a very successful NHS test and trace operation, which yesterday they supported. Yesterday, they said it was good enough for this country to go forward with step 3 of our plan, but today they are yo-yoing back again and saying that it is not good enough. They need to make up their mind. They need to get behind NHS test and trace, support it and take the country forward together.
Picking through the quagmire, Deacon finds that the oddest moment came when Johnson asked a question of his own. "Can [Starmer] now confirm", he blared, "that he wants all children who can, to go back to school this month?"

"Yes", replied Starmer.

"He still can't make up his mind!" bawled Johnson. "He still won't say whether children should go back! I think it’s absolutely infamous that he can come to this House one day and say he supports our programme, and then the next day he won’t confirm that he wants kids to go to school!"

Judging by the furious energy of his performance, Deacon – having made a fair summary of the exchange – observes: "Johnson has recovered from his bout with the virus. But he might want someone to take a look at his ears". But that's assuming his ears are connected to anything.

If I had to listen to that guff for a living, I'd sit on a crowded beach – and shoot myself.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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