To the surprise of no-one who has been paying attention, the British economy has slumped in the second quarter of 2020 by an almost unprecedented 20.4 per cent.
Of the major European economies, only Spain has performed worse (22.7 per cent). Socialist France has dropped 18.9 per cent; basket case Italy has dropped 17.1 per cent; anti-lockdown Sweden is a clear economic winner, having suffered a drop of just 8.6 per cent.
Britain has not experienced an economic shock of this magnitude since the Great Frost of 1709. The big difference is that the Great Frost was real and the damage it did to the economy was unavoidable. I very much doubt that future historians are going to be quite so forgiving about the Boris Johnson administration’s grotesque overreaction to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic — and the economic disaster that this engendered.
Some generous souls are claiming it’s not Boris’s fault — which may be true, up to a point, of which more in a moment — but whoever is to blame one thing is abundantly clear: Britain is a failed state, the Sick Man of Europe, and those of us who grew up believing that to have been born British was to have won the lottery in life have now been sorely disabused of the notion.
How can this possibly have happened to the land of Magna Carta and English Common Law, the heroic seafaring nation which coloured the atlas pink and stamped its character on half the world’s nations from Australia and the U.S. to India and South Africa, that invented most of the world’s best sports, produced most of its greatest literature, beat Philip II of Spain, Napoleon, the Kaiser, and Hitler and discovered almost everything worth discovering?
Just when did Britain become so incredibly, embarrassingly shit?
Well, it’s easy to blame Boris, as I have done on occasion, for being a priapic lard-butted lightweight chancer who should never have been given the keys to Number 10. As we’ve learned to our cost, he’s all mouth and no trousers, great for an impromptu bon mot or jolly photo op but perfectly useless in times of crisis, being too easily led, having no opinions of his own, the backbone of sponge and the moral character of a Plecostomus catfish.
But I do think Allister Heath has a point when he writes in one of his characteristically excellent Telegraph columns:
Even more depressingly, a Swedish approach was always unrealistic in Britain. Panic and hysteria were the only possible outcome when the failure of the system became apparent. I’m not seeking to absolve Boris Johnson of blame, but he would have found himself in an impossible situation had he sought to ignore the official advice, and he inherited few, if any, working levers to pull.
Heath is invoking here one of the great what ifs: what if — as had originally been the vague intention — Britain had carried on following the Swedish model devised by the epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, whereby instead of locking the whole country down, life had been allowed to continue more or less as normal, thus allowing the less vulnerable section of the populace to develop herd immunity?
This is what has happened in Sweden, and Sweden is coming through the coronavirus pandemic with its character, its economy, its children’s schooling, and its social customs virtually unscathed.
Britain, on the other hand, is an embarrassing mess: a nation of snitches and cry-bullies, tinpot fascists and mask-compliant bedwetters, fattened and softened like the doomed rabbits in Cowslip’s warren on free handouts (courtesy of their future grandchildren), terrified not just of going back to work but even of venturing into shops and pubs, increasing the likelihood as each day of cowering inertia passes that Britain’s economic recovery will look less like a V and more like an L with a very, very long bottom.
But could it have been any different? Like Heath, though I’m reluctant to let Boris completely off the hook, I wonder whether even someone with the character and forcefulness of, say, Margaret Thatcher could have done much better. Thatcher, remember, great though she was, never had to face the challenge that all prime ministers since 2007 have had to face: a country corrupted to the point of ruination by the closet Trotskyite (see: Peter Hitchens, passim) Tony Blair.
Tony Blair created an entrenched leftist Deep State — a heavily politicised judiciary and civil service, for example — which has rendered it almost impossible for even a robustly conservative prime minister to do conservative things.
Not that Boris is a robust conservative, obviously. He’s a squish. But even had he been otherwise, even if he hadn’t been enfeebled by that unfortunate bout of Covid-19, I doubt he would have been capable of standing outside 10 Downing Street earlier this year and saying to the nation: “I know this is a big ask but you’re going to have to trust me on this: we’re going to copy our friends the Swedes, and though there may be a few more deaths to begin with, and though we’re going to take a hell of lot of flak, in the medium to long term it will be better for all of us…”
Had he done so he would have pitted himself not just against over-influential demagogues like the revolting Piers Morgan, not to mention the whole of the BBC, Channel 4, Sky News, and virtually every newspaper, the civil service, everyone in the judiciary apart from Jonathan Sumption, the Opposition, and most of his own government, but also against his scientific advisors and also against his chief policy advisor Dominic Cummings (who seems to have bought into the coronavirus scare far more enthusiastically than one might have expected of someone who keeps writing show-off blogs about how many clever sciencey books he has read).
Somewhere in a parallel universe much better ordered than ours, Patrick Vallance, Chris Whitty and Neil Ferguson are digging holes and then filling them up again on a remote Hebridean island as part of a government make-work scheme for the terminally unemployable.
In this universe, unfortunately, they are respectively Britain’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Chief Medical Officer, and the epidemiologist responsible for the massively discredited computer model which scared Boris into implementing his disastrous and pointless lockdown.
One day, all three of them are going to have their testicles barbecued daily by little red devils in Hell as part of their eternal punishment for the fascistic lunacy they helped inflict on Britain.
But even that trio of ineffable crapness cannot be held wholly to blame for Britain’s miseries: if it hadn’t been those three giving that dreadful advice, it would have been another trio of nonentities with different names but exactly the same views and political outlook.
As Heath says, it’s not individuals who are really to blame so much as what he calls “the British state’s systemic incompetence”.
“…the uselessness of Public Health England, the deep, structural failings of the NHS, the influence of modelers rather than proper scientists, the complacency, the delusion, the refusal to acknowledge that the quality of the British state and bureaucracy are abysmally poor.”
What he doesn’t mention — probably for reasons of space – is that these are exactly, but exactly, the same people who fought so hard and dirtily to keep Britain shackled to the corpse of the European Union.
In some ways, you could argue, the economic and social destruction that has been wrought on Britain in the last four months is the revenge of the Brexit losers.
They wanted Britain to remain part of the EU because it suited their Davos-style globalist instincts for a bigger state, more regulation, governance by democratically unaccountable technocrats, the abolition of coins and banknotes, higher taxes, a larger public sector, and so on.
Coronavirus — or rather the government’s misguided response to it — has delivered so much of their wishlist that it makes Britain’s relationship with the EU almost academic.
Remember how, in the run-up to the EU referendum, the Remainers tried to scare us with Project Fear predictions that if we voted Leave the consequences to the economy could be disastrous — perhaps resulting in a drop in GDP as much as 1.3 per cent.
Well here we are, having experienced, in just one quarter, a collapse in GDP more than 15 times greater. And yet all those Remainer Establishment doom-mongers are strangely uncomplaining. How could that possibly be?
I’ll tell you why. First, it’s because having stood four-square behind the government’s overreaction to coronavirus, without ever once considering the economic or social implications, they would expose themselves as hypocrites of the first water.
Second, it’s because they don’t actually care that much. They’ve won: the private sector of the economy has been crushed; the NHS is an untouchable monolith; it’s increasingly hard to use cash; the people have been turned into compliant zombies who’ll do whatever the government tells them.
Sure, a few million may end up unemployed, thousands of businesses have been needlessly destroyed, children and students have been denied months of education, and a once-proud people have become a horde of cowering, finger-wagging bedwetters. But no one ever said the revolution would be easy.
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