Having been speaking on the phone with residents in Southend over the past couple of weeks, there seems to be a consensus that the Government are doing as well as can be expected given the circumstances. As I was listening with an open mind I could see where they were coming from: countries across the world were facing the same problems and facing similar difficulties in working out the best course of action. The conclusion was that whomever was in charge would not made much of a difference as their hands would have been equally forced. And yes, broadly speaking, trying to control a virus passing from one person to another is clearly an impossible task. Even with the tightest lockdown imaginable, I struggle to think of any scenario where contact is zero. So I respect anyone who thinks there is nothing more that could have been done, but I cannot help but think that there are indeed certain things that might have been done differently.
What could have been done differently?
The most important question is what is the overriding goal? Not being a member of the government I can only interpret what has been said, and my understanding is to eradicate the disease entirely. Makes sense so far. In the meantime, it appears it would be to protect lives while at the same time trying to protect the economy. The question then is how can this be accomplished?
Firstly, what we need to come to terms with is that preventing a contagious disease from spreading is realistically impossible. We need to accept this because it is the foundation of decision-making going forward. It needs to be accepted that Boris does not have the power to prevent this happening. There is nothing weak in a leader being honest with the situation, and we need this admission because instead of pursuing actions that essentially amount to looking like he is doing something, he could seek to put in place actions that are actually practical, logical, and genuinely protect us.
If I could have written a speech for Boris around March it might have gone like this:
“I must tell you that I cannot prevent the transmission of this disease. I can attempt to hoodwink you and bring in policies that appear as though action is being taken, but I will not do that. I could bring in policies that will result in you losing your job, but I know that this will make it worse. I could be responsible for small and big business to fail; for your mental health to decline; for you to be reliant on the government to exist; to create total confusion changing from one ineffective policy to another; but I will not do that because I must tell you the truth: I cannot prevent the transmission of this disease.
We already know that almost 99% of people who catch the virus survive with many not even knowing they have it all – so there is every reason to remain calm. However, we must be sensible and responsible because it can affect the most vulnerable in our society. It might be easy to think the effect is on so few, so we must look for our empathy and compassion and act with consideration and caution.
We need a cure and a vaccine, and while resources are poured into this, rest assured that the number of beds, Doctors, Nurses and Health Care Assistants available in the NHS will be sufficient to ensure we are all looked after - and all those that protect us will be protected with full PPE. No operation will be cancelled or delayed because I know the effect on your lives could be just as devastating.
I am one of the few people in the country that is privy to all the information regarding the disease and I will act with the upmost integrity and responsibility and keep you informed of the facts as they are. I will resist the temptation to make political capital out of this crisis and manipulate numbers to suit my agenda.
Although reducing the likelihood of catching the disease through draconian measures could be taken, the chaos to our lives would far outweigh what would amount to only temporary and inconclusive results. We can, however, adapt certain aspects of our lives to help each other in our combat against it.
Our generation has never encountered anything like this and so we must head forward together with a shared mentality that whatever we as individuals can do to help, we must take that opportunity to do so.”
Alas, we are now in December and the journey without end continues. Boris did not get the beds we needed. He cancelled operations. The vulnerable weren’t protected. He is closing down businesses. He is costing jobs. The information we receive is riddled with politics. And worst of all we are stuck on the idea that his policies will make a difference.
For Southend, given the framework of options that have been presented by the government, it appears as though moving us into Tier 3 is perfectly acceptable. However, this is the problem. We are now only thinking in lockdown terms. We think we are lucky if we are in Tier 2 or 1, but this cannot be right. Make no mistake about it, Tier 3 is a disaster for the town.
I believe we desperately need to undo our thinking and go back to the start. We know so much more than in March, and although a speech today written with the full benefit of hindsight can be rightly criticised, it must be wrong that we would continue on the current trajectory with the information that is available.