20 Apr 2020

Just as I failed to forecast the 30% fall in stock markets, I also never expected the reaction to Covid-19 to begin to diverge along traditional political lines. Life is just one bloody surprise after another these days.

It turns out that people on the right, among whom for this exercise I number myself (though see below) think that national lockdown and uniform loss of personal liberty is a dangerous and irrational reaction to a pandemic that primarily targets the old and medically vulnerable. The economic cost is probably both huge and beyond the understanding of the people who are taking medically-driven decisions.

People on the left are more likely to worship the NHS and to think that protecting it is worth any cost. They think that complaining about job losses and more trivial inconveniences is in extremely bad taste and that “we’re all in it together” is the right spirit. Though we’re not all in it together because the virus discriminates against some groups that the left favours, including, of course, frontline medical workers and ethnic minorities.

The numbers say that the real victims of viral discrimination are the elderly and particularly elderly men. Unfortunately their care is not funded by the NHS and even a 99 year old man walking around and around his garden is not raising money for them. These are not groups that appeal much to the left because, on average, they tend to vote the wrong way. Remember the calls for a second Brexit referendum in 2019 because it was felt that enough Leave voters might have died to reverse the decision?

These are all relatively (I use that word carefully) mainstream views. Criticisms of China and the WHO, though contentious, fall under the same heading. But there are plenty of extreme conspiracy theories. Round up the usual suspects.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant rise in accusations that Jews, as individuals and as a collective, are behind the spread of the virus or are directly profiting from it.”
Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress.

Some people seem to think Covid-19 is our punishment for screwing with God’s planet, which is reminiscent of AIDS in the 1980s being seen as the Lord’s comment on homosexuality.

And let us not forget that a brainless few have set fire to 5G phone masks.

The Conservative government, deprived, nearly permanently, of its mini-Winston figurehead, appears to think that it is at war. Its political strategy appears to consist of an attempt to break the Labour Party’s “ownership” of the NHS. Instead of being urged to save lives by taking extra care of the elderly and medically vulnerable we were told to stay indoors to “save our NHS”. This prioritisation of an institution over people seems positively Orwellian.

In 2020 it is highly probable that NHS spending will grow as GDP goes into meltdown and unemployment soars. Health spending as a proportion of GDP, 3% in the 1950s, 4% in the 1960s and >7% last year, could reach double digits. At the same time it appears that people with everyday emergency conditions are being neglected and dying as a result. It’s a mess and I’m not sure if the government is wise to hide behind public opinion, of which there is no shortage whatsoever. Real leadership sometimes involves bravery and disdain for short term criticism.

The decision deliberately to maim the economy is the result of cowardice in my view. Government ministers talk casually of pubs and restaurants being closed until Christmas. They’ll be closed much longer than that because they will all have gone bust by then. In my opinion, the government would be well advised to talk up the restarting of the economy and attempt to grab some credit for it. You can be sure that it will get all the credit it deserves for the job losses, the falling incomes and the bankruptcies.

If we are at war then 2024, the probable date of the next General election, may turn into 1945 when the voters rewarded the government for its victory by kicking it out. Ladbrokes are offering 11/8 against Labour winning the most seats. I have ventured a symbolic £20 on that outcome.

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